Tuesday, May 30, 2006

These Shoes Were Made for Breaking the Law

I have been flagrantly breaking the law for almost two years and did not know it until today, when a rather rude and poorly coifed German woman brought it to my attention.

In the midst of one of my terrible Tuesdays, I stopped by my office to drop off some things. After feeding the meter, I was taking a few books out of the trunk. All of a sudden I heard a voice from behind me.

Rude woman: That is not possible! You cannot wear those!

(Claire twisting and turning trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Claire finally spots rude woman. Rude Woman looks very cross and has a hair color that violates the laws of nature. (Seriously, someone told middle-age German women that it was okay to dye their hair fire engine red. I wish that person would shut up.))

I turned to the woman. "Excuse me?"

Rude woman: Those shoes! You cannot wear those! It is illegal to wear those shoes while driving!!

I would like to point out that the woman was yelling across a parking lot and practically spit the words at me. She walked away shaking her head and in a very angry state. From her demeanor, you would think that I had just sprayed "666" on the church wall across the street. This incident left me completely breathless and speechless. Difficult to imagine, I know.

This woman is a perfect example of what I like to call "German-ness." I have addressed this before. Germans are very direct in their opinions. Someone told me that they are just being "honest" (which is much better than superficial Americans). I think it is RUDE! Even if my shoes are "illegal" it is completely inappropriate to yell at a stranger across the parking lot as if they have just had committed a crime against humanity. Dude, NOBODY ASKED YOU! What are you, the Assimilation Police? Are you with the Shoe Gestapo? I don't yell at you about your terrible dye job.

Things like this happen a lot. One woman stopped me to tell me that my clothes were inappropriate (I was in a skirt and it was chilly that day), and a neighbor was almost nose to nose to me and said, "You are too pale. You look sick. Are you sick?" "No, ma'am, I am sorry that my natural skin tone offends you." Come to think of it, only German women seem to say these things to me.

Anyway, I was angry about this woman for hours after this incident. Unfortunately, when things like this happen, I can never think of anything clever to say. I wish I could have stopped her, gotten her phone number and then called her later with a good retort.

After my dressing down, I walked into my office building and asked Media Man if it is true. Are my shoes illegal? Media Man shrugged. My business partner, the New Yorker (who is a very well shod woman herself), laughed, looked down, and shook her head yes.

Would you like to see my illegal shoes?

They look pretty harmless right? Apparently it is illegal to drive in them because if you had to break quickly you may slip out of them and get into an accident. I brought this up to my English students later in the afternoon. They agreed that the woman's behavior was inappropriate, but sadly my shoes are still illegal.

I posed a question: if I was doing the speed limit and following all of the rules of the road and a drunk driver ran a red light and hit me, what would happen. "Claire, it is not good to drive drunk, but you would still get into trouble." This says a lot about the German mind-set.

I came home and took a good look at my shoes. I am still trying to figure out the shoe rules. Is the slide the problem? Is it because they are open toe? Heels are not okay? Can I drive barefoot? Questions, Questions . . .

This pair may be illegal. Although there is a strap and they do not slide off, the heel maybe to high and they are open toe.



This pair is close toe, but has a high heel.

This pair may be okay, but I wear them in winter and not in the summer.



I really do not understand why they sell these shoes, if you cannot drive with them on. What do German women do? And why, why, has my brother-in-law, who is a police office, never said anything? Seriously, he has watched me get out of a car a dozen times in shoes like this. Not a word was mentioned. I just spoke to the German about this, and he has never heard of this rule, but we will call my brother-in-law.

From now on I will put this pair under the seat of my car. Better to be safe than sorry. Also, if another woman yells at me, I am going to shake my shoes at her!!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I never did like breaking up with people. You see, I have a problem with rejection. I do not like to be rejected. Who does, right? It makes me feel small, unimportant and unwanted. Yuck. Rejection is bad. I do not like to reject others because I know how it feels (I take the "do unto others" thing VERY seriously!). As a result, I often get stuck in relationships with men, women, long distance providers and can never get out of them.

In fact, before the German, the majority of my relationships ended with either a mutual acknowledgement that the relationship was over or I was dumped (which is why I don't like rejection!). Wait . . . is it strange that I would rather be rejected than reject others . . .?

Anyway, I am now really in agony because I have to break up with someone . . . my realtor. He is a great guy but . . . well it is not just not working.

I think Realtor Guy knows that it is not working. He keeps calling and no one picks up the phone. The German and I look at the phone, "You pick it up! No you!" When I finally broke down, answered the phone and spoke with him last week, he made an off-handed comment, "I thought you were angry with me!" Then, he made that nervous laugh we all make when we are afraid that we have spoken the truth.

Realtor Guy, you are really nice and funny. You build beautiful kitchens, and I would love to keep this relationship going, but I just can't. It's not you, its me. We are in very different places right now. You are in a place where you want me to spend a lot of money and I am in place where I have no money. Do you see the problem?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Part Where Claire Loses her Cool (aka Rant About the German University System)

Yesterday I lost my cool while teaching. This is a rare event as I usually try to remain composed in front of the class even when I am tired, bored, or really have to go to the bathroom. But the students finally got a taste of the "real Claire."

My usual 30 minute communte turned into an hour because of the highway road construction. I must now travel around the city to get where I want and take a different exit. After a large BMW cut me off, I finally made it to the university 5 minutes before my class was to begin. I covered some organizational points and began the lecture. Immediately two students began chatting in the back. It is true, professors truly can see and hear everything from the front of the class. After about 5 minutes I had had enough.

Claire (in best, haughty German): I did no get up at 5:15am after 5 hours of sleep and spend an hour in traffic only to get paid __ Euros an hour to teach while other people are speaking. If you are not interested in what I have to say, you are more than welcome to leave.

Dead Silence. After a moment I moved on and finished my lecture. The class was pretty quite the rest of the time.

I regret loosing my cool, but man . . . the uni really pisses me off sometimes.

There are several problems with the German university system. First, there is no registration for classes. You pretty much show up to the classes you like. This makes the class difficult to organize on many levels. I am never sure how large my classes are going to be. Sometimes it results in classes being too large for the small room they are assigned. For example, last semester my class was held in a small room. During the first few weeks, I had people sitting on the windowsill and hanging out of the door. At about week 4 several people started to loose interest and stopped showing up.

A second problem is evaluating the students. Often, if you want to get credit for a class (a "Schein") then you have to either take the final exam or do an oral presentation (which includes a write up of the presentation of about 15 pages). I do not believe that a final exam or oral presentation (one or the other, not both!), is an adequate way to test whether or not someone has actually learned anything from the class. Often students make really long presentations that have nothing to do with the class. This happened a lot when I was a student in Kassel in 1997/1998. I tried to do different things in my class this semester. I was told that this is not okay. Talk about destroying any attempt at creativity in the classroom!

A third problem is money. Simply put, German universities do not have any. This has led to a decline in the number of jobs in different departments, libraries in need of books, and overcrowded classrooms. Money is a problem for students and teachers. To explain this, I need to make a point about getting tenure in Germany.

After finishing your PhD in Germany, you usually get a "Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter" (associate teacher) position at a university. These jobs typically last about 3 to 6 years. During this time you are expected to teach, publish and write a "Habilitation," essentially a second thesis or dissertation. If you are lucky, at the end of this time, you may be offered tenure at the university you are at. Most often, you go to another university and another associate position. You can do this round robin search for a permanent position for YEARS. I recently heard that it took one woman almost 10 years to get a tenure track position, and she has published a ton.

There are currently fewer and fewer "Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter" positions in Germany. Instead, to cut costs, universities are allowing tenured professors to retire without filling their positions and hiring "Lehrbeauftrage" (adjuncts). A "Lehrauftrag" is for one class and one semester, but usually renewable. "Lehrauftrage" are paid by the classroom hour. If I get sick and cannot teach one week, I do not get paid. I only get paid for the hours I teach. I am not paid for office hours, preparation time, or extra meetings to help students through their exams. And I am not paid well. How can universities get away with this? They know that people such as myself need the teaching experience in order to get tenure. So we have no choice but to work under less than optimal conditions to get that allusive job. I actually started teaching English only because I was not making enough money at the uni.

German students currently do not pay for their education. However, next semester tuition fees are being introduced to the tune of about 1000 Euro per semester. This has made a lot of students angry and led to many student protests. Graffiti seen at the Uni: Rich Parents for Everyone.

I am actually in favor of a small tuition fee. When you have to pay for your education, then you have a vested interest in doing the best you can and actually finishing in a reasonable amount of time. Who wants to waste their own money? I do not want to hear about rich parents and having to work. I do not have rich parents. I am still paying for my education. Working? My senior year I worked two jobs, took 18 hours of classes per semester, held positions in two different clubs, had an active social life and still maintained my "A" average. And I am not the only person who did this. The majority of my friends had the same life style. If "lazy Americans" can do it, certainly German "Wunderkinder" can do it too.

My students complain about paying for crappy service. I said that perhaps the service would get better if people were actually paid. Students do have a good point about tuition though. In the US, I sent my checks directly to the university. Here, the student will first pay the state, which will then distribute the money based on need. Yeah, that won't lead to inequality at all (dripping sarcasm inserted here).

Is is any wonder that I have decided that I have had enough of all this scheisse. Next semester I will teach a class, and it will be my last. I am overseeing a few students' masters thesis and then I will call it a day. I do not like to loose my cool, and it is just not worth it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Nice Memory

Have you ever had one of those days where you just cannot get your motor running? I got up about 3 hours ago and just want to go back to bed. It is not because I did not sleep last night. I returned to Cloppenburg at 6:00pm last night. After sleeping on the couch from 7:30pm to 9:00pm, I went to bed and slept soundly from 11:45 to 7:45am. I do not know what it is. I am not in a bad mood and do not feel too stressed out. I am just very tired. No, mom, I am not pregnant.

On to other information . . . I had a wonderful time meeting the girls! Lisa (happy birthday, dude!), Christina (move over Martha, here comes Mausi!) and Jen (she is the scheisse!) are some truly beautiful women. They were kind and funny. We talked and drank and had pillow fights and Jaaames was at our beck and call. Fortunately, the weekend was not a ruse to lure me to Darmstadt and sell me into the sex slave trade. However, there was a rather odd conversation about sex toys.

I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated, and did not know what to say when I first got there. But after an hour I felt like I was chatting with old girlfriends. I just wish I could have spent more time in Darmstadt (I missed lunch with J!), however, I felt bad leaving the German two weekends in a row.

I am sure that the three of them thought I was with the CIA or something, because I was full of questions. I cannot help myself, I am curious. One of the things that most interests me, is how we (i.e. expats) all got here. I thought I would post my story.

The German and I met in early October 2002. I had been in Oldenburg for about a month. I was just beginning my field research for my dissertation and was using the University of Oldenburg as my "home base" in Germany. As part of my visa and stipend requirements I had to enroll at the university, which was a pain in the arsch. However, I found a really great professor, Dr. N, to sponsor me.

One of the worst things about the university, is that you have to wait to get your student id. In the U.S. they usually make you one on your first day, but not in Oldenburg. They send it by post. Until you get that piece of paper, you do not exist at the university. This was especially difficult for me because I needed a computer id / login to use the computers (at that time I did not have a laptop). When I finally got my student id in the mail, I immediately went to the IT office to get my login. Long story short, the women would not help me, and left me almost in tears.

I stomped off to Dr. N's office to complain. Dr. N was not there, but Doris (a newly minted PhD and adjunct) was. Doris was very sympathetic and said that she would help me. We walked out of the office. I noticed a guy sitting in a chair near the door as we left. 20 minutes later after visiting several uni bureaucracies and getting no where, we returned to the office. I noticed the same guy still sitting in the hall. I proceed to complain some more and was just about to leave when the guy from the hall walked in.

German: Excuse me, but I overheard your conversation. I can help.

I turned around and there was the German. I will never forget that first look into his blue eyes. He was / is very cute.

Claire: Um. Thanks, but I will be okay.

German: No. You could use my log-in. I never use it.

Claire: (with wide eyes) No. That is okay.

German: Sure, why not.

Claire: I don't know who you are!

Doris: Oh, that is Mr. S. He is one of my students and very smart. You should take his help. Wait, Mr. S., why are you here?

German: We had an appointment an hour ago.

DUDE! He sat in that hallway for an hour and was afraid to interrupt us. I decided to take his help and waited for him to finish his business with Doris, and then he showed me how to use the computer system at the uni. All I could think about was how cute he is.

Some other stuff happened, but that is not important. We became a couple at the end of November 2002. He proposed in April 2003. We were married in July 2004. Things moved quickly between us, because we always knew that my time was short in Germany. We did not want one of those long, drawn out long-distance relationships, and we knew that we wanted to be together. Some people ask me how I knew that he is "the one." I am not sure, but I just did. I have not regretted it since. Well, except maybe the snoring . . .

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Little Zen for the Weekend

I am about to leave for a girls night in Darmstadt. The German was not exactly thrilled that I will be gone for a second straight weekend, but considering I don't have many girlfriends around here (drinking cosmos with the pigs, not as much fun as it sounds), he relented.

I rode the fence all week about whether or not I should go. Yesterday, I finally decided what the hell. I went to the train station to get a ticket. The man at the counter looked me in the eye. "140 Euro." I knew that it would not be cheap, but really! After I commented on how expensive it was, he scolded me!! "Well, if you had booked in advance, it would have been cheaper." "What is 'in advance?'" "At least 3 days."

I left without making a purchase. I decided to drive. 5 hours. Ha! I laugh in the face of 5 hours in a car. I remember packing up all of my belongingd in my Toyota Carolla (it was so full I could not see out the back) and driving 13 hours from South Bend, IN to Charleston, SC . . . with the stomach flu! I called the German. "No! Driving around Frankfurt is like driving around LA." "Sweetie, you have never been to LA." "You know what I mean. I don't think Smartie can take it, and I want you back in one piece, get the train ticket." I would like to take a moment to mention that never has a man been so concerned about my welfare. When I look in his big blue eyes, I know that he is totally serious and worried. I love the German!

So, I went back to the train station. I smiled at the guy. "I'm back!" As he was preparing the tickets, he suggested that I buy a Bahn Card. I would immediately get a discount and I can use it for my weekly commute to Oldenburg. The price was less than 140 and I will save money all through June and July. Dude, why did you not tell me this in the first place?! When I mentioned that this a spontaneous to trip to visit friends, he laughed. Finally! Proof that Germans are not spontaneous and everything must be planned.

Before I leave you, I would like to mention that I actually check my site meter now and again. I discovered that there is a person who Googled "Claire is an idiot" and landed on my blog. Man, how many idiot Claires are there in the world??

Friday, May 19, 2006

Auschwitz

The atrocities of history cut deep into the fabric of society. Although time will heal these wounds, a scar remains. Sometimes the scar will fade until it so pale that you can barely see it. However if you rub your finger over the area, you can feel it and the pain that it emanates.

These were some of my thoughts as the gang and I visited Auschwitz last week. It was a very emotional trip, but one that I think is worth making.

Auschwitz is actually located outside of Krakow. There are several ways to get there. We contemplated renting a car and driving ourselves, but quickly abonded that idea when we saw how crazy the drivers are in Krakow. Instead, we hired a taxi and taxi driver for the day. It is not as expensive as it sounds, and a lot less stressful.

The drive to Auschwitz was beautiful. The Polish country side looks a like the German country side, but there are subtle differences in the architecture.


Auschwitz is actually comprised of three main camps. You arrive at Auschwitz I, which is actually comprised on many large buildings. This was the first camp. It was chosen because the buildings were already standing and because of its train connections. The buildings belonged to the Polish army, and the Nazi's took it over in 1940. The first prisoners were Polish political dissidents. Auschwitz I is also the location of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign.




The second part of the camp is Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The Nazis began to build this part of the camp in 1941. An entire village was evacuated and destroyed, and the materials from the homes were used for the camp. Auschwitz II-Birkenau is the site where the trains would pull up and people who arrived and were deemed unfit for work were sent straight to the gas chamber.

When you visit Auschwitz, you must first take a guided tour, beginning at Auschwitz I. We had an amazing tour guide. She presented the everything in a very matter-of-fact tone. She did not have to elaborate. The facts are stunning in themselves. She took us through the barracks that have been renovated and now contain exhibits on things such as arrival, extermination, life in the camp, and liberation.

I held myself together pretty well through the tour. But I began to loose my composure as we walked through the exhibit of the things the Nazis took, including mountains of brushes, combs, shoes and suitcases. I stopped and looked up at the pile of suitcases. The tour guide said, "Remember, each one represents a person and a life." I started crying and had to take a minute before I could stop.

After the tour of Auschwitz I, there is a shuttle service to take you to Auschwitz II for the rest of the tour. It was very intense. Through it all, she kept telling us to ask ourselves what kind of person commits crimes like this. It was stunning when she said that about 7000 Nazi soldiers were stationed at Auschwitz as some point. Only 880 have ever been arrested.

I left the camp with many questions. First, who is responsible for this? Is it the French who demanded such a harsh treaty at the end of WWI, which sent the German economy into a tail-spin, which fostered the rise of Hitler? Is it the Americans, who did nothing to help fleeing Jews from Europe? Is it the average German who lived in fear and did not stand up to its oppressive regime?

There is no one figure to blame. History is like an endless row of dominoes. Once the first one falls, the next will follow until someone steps in to stop it. I often feel like that now when I watch the news. I was told not to forget about holocaust, so that it would not happen again. But it is has happened again and is happening again now. Dafur, Rwanda, Serbia. Who will stop the dominoes? Silence gets us no where and neither does screaming. We must talk and listen to each other.

My second question, what is justice? How can justice ever be served in this situation? I really have no idea about the answer to that.

I hope that this post did not bring you down, but rather made you think. Think about these things and be nicer to your neighbor. It is not much, but it is a beginning.

Have a beautiful weekend, my friend.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

National Identity

I have to admit that before I went to Poland last week, I had not given much thought to Polish history or culture. There are many Polish immigrants in our area and the German comments on the number of Polish national soccer jerseys that the students wear to school. The German does not approve of this form of showy nationalism. He is German and thus, for him, Nationalism is as bad as putting ketchup on your schniztel (seriously, don't do it, they will kick you out of the country).

During my trip, I kept thinking that Poland is something of an enigma and perpetually stuck at the crossroads of history. Twice the country was wiped off the map by invaders who did not believe that Polish boarders should be honored. It was a country continuously sacrificed to the appetites of empire. This history could lead to an inferiority complex. But I quickly realized that the Polish will have none of that.

In fact, I observed a healthy sense of Polish identity and pride in their country. What I did not realize, was that I was traveling to the heart of this pride: Krakow and Wawel Castle and Cathedral.

Beginning in 1038 (a really long time ago!), Wawel Hill was the residence of Polish kings. A Gothic castle was built in the 1300s. Although destroyed by fire in 1499, the castle was restored and rebuilt, this time in the Italian style. When the capital of Poland and royal residence was moved to Warsaw in 1609, it pissed off many Krakow natives. In fact, I got a sense from a few tour guides that Krakow does not care for Warsaw much. The castle was sacked in the Swedish invasion of 1665, and burned by Swedish soldiers in 1702. See - never trust a Swede (just kidding!).


Over the next 200 years, the castle went through a yo-yo period of restoration and invasion, as it was occupied by Prussians and Austrians. The castle became a museum in 1945 and is well worth a visit. I especially enjoyed the stamped leather walls. I wanted Ch-ard to distract the dozent so that I could touch the walls, but was paranoid that some alarm a la Mission Impossible would go off. As I toured the castle I pretended to be a Polish princess being forced to marry an evil man. Ch-ard carried my train.

We were not the only visitors to the castle. The grounds were covered with groups of school children, about 9 to 13 years old from the look of them. Looking at their bright faces and inquisitive eyes, I can only imagine that the guides were spinning fabulous tails about the greatness of Poland and the Polish kings.


This idea was reinforced when we went into Wawel Cathedral, which is next door to the castle. The cathedral is filled with royal tombs and is the site of Father Karol Woytyla's (Pope John Paul II) first mass as a priest. The ornate tomb of St. Stanislaw, the patron saint of Poland, lies within the cathedral. I watched as the tour guide told the small children about the tomb. When she asked a question, ten tiny arms flew in the air, eager to share their knowledge of their Polish heritage.

I was completely fascinated by these groups of children. At this young age they are being taught what it means to be Polish. Is that a bad thing? I think not. A country has finally secured its boarders, defeated an oppressive communist regime and is attempting to establish its identity. And the thing is, the EXACT same thing happens in the U.S. The children instantly transported me back to my childhood field trips. Seriously, we visited Fort Sumter like four time when I was in elementary school.

Polish national identity remains interesting for me. After partion, war, and communism, a new factor may influence its development: The EU. How can we reconcile our national identities with an overarching European identity? Some people do not think that it is possible, and that there is no such thing as a European identity. But that, dear reader, is a topic for another blog.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Good Friends are Hard to Find

After a lot of work, and a bit more sleep, I finally have the energy to write again. Monday and Tuesday I kept thinking about what I wanted to write. Unfortunately I came home from work yesterday with a migraine and feel asleep on the couch. I don't have to go to work today until 6:00pm, so I finally have time to clean the house, blog and go to the gym (not necessarily in that order).

Here is your cast of characters for the Poland trip:

Ch - Ard (AKA Chad, Peace Corps Volunteer Extrodinare)



Chad decided that he needed something different in life, so he quit his very good job in Green Bay and joined the Peace Corps. Yeah, I don't know what he was thinking. When I need a change, I cut my hair. They sent him to a small town in Ukraine, where the internet sometimes works and in the winter he wears his gloves while typing. Although it sounds like he is living with a really great family, I am not sure if the Ukraine is now at the top of the list of my travel destinations. I love Ch-ard. He is an inspiration.

The Married Couple (AKA Eimear and Brendan)


Eimear used to be a wild and crazy single woman, and then she met Brendan, a lovely guy who does the best impression of a German DJ. For someone who does not speak German, he has the perfect accent. They are the cutest married Irish couple you can imagine. The two of them have the patience of Job, as they bought a house and are now renovating it themselves.

The Crazy One (AKA Aoife)


Aoife is the one on the left. The is the only picture I have of her where she is sober and not pretending to kill Ch-ard (LONG story!). Aoife is my wild, crazy single friend. The girl is amazing. She works in finance, and in the evening she is go, go, go. We were at a bar on Friday. While I was literally sleeping in the corner, she was ordering another vodka/coke.

The five of us met up in Krakow last Wednesday. We rented an apartment in order to save money. Renting an apartment was a great idea. Ten people could sleep there comfortably and it was located in the heart of the old town. It had two renovated bathrooms, a new kitchen, and a washing machine. Ch-ard had not had a hot shower in months or seen a washing machine. I think we could of stayed in the apartment for 4 days and he would have been happy. Price for this luxury? 23 Euros per person per night.

Wednesday night, we went to the Mexican place next door. This is what a Polish person thinks a Margarita should look like. I was skeptical. It did not taste very good, but had enough tequila in it to get me tipsy.

I am planning two more Poland posts: Wawel Castle and Auschwitz. I have to work on my pictures and then I will post them to flikr. Take a look! I got some good shots.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Back in Germany

I got back from Poland late last night. Let me tell you, it was a lot of fun! Great friends, good weather, beautiful town, not much sleep.

I have many stories and tons of pictures, which I will spend the next few days sharing with you. However, I am a little tired right now and the work piled up on my desk while I was gone. (How did that happen!? I was only gone for 4 days!)

But I will leave you with this.

In my English classes, I often teach adverbs of frequency. I have my students practice by asking each other imaginative questions. I am really hoping to get this one this week.

Student: Claire, how often do you eat perogi in the Jewish section of Krakow with your Irish friends?

Claire: I almost never eat perogi in the Jewish section of Krakow with my Irish friends.



(Wawel Castle, Krakow)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Longest Day

The Perfect Day on Saturday was followed by the longest day, today. Because I was pretty much a slacker on Sunday and was running errands for the company and at meetings on Monday (yesterday), I did not get much lesson planning done yesterday. As result I was up until 1:00am this morning and finally managed to get to sleep around 2:15am. Unfortunately my alarm clock went off at 5:15am. After that, I pretty much hit the ground running.

6:35am: Leave the House
6:56am: Train to Oldenburg
8:00am to 10:00am: Politics Lecture
10:00am to 11:00am: Office Hours (where did all the students come from!?)
11:00am to 12:00pm: English Lesson / Help
12:29pm: Train back to Cloppenburg
1:05pm: Arrive in Cloppenburg and drive to Emstek
2:00pm to 6:00pm: English Lessons (I actually got a 30 minute break in between lessons. Yipee)
6:15pm to 7:45pm: English Lesson in Cloppenburg
8:00pm: FINALLY return home

The thing is, I am glad that it is a non-stop day. If I actually stopped, then I would collapse and realize how tired I am. I am not complaining mind you, as I realize that the entire situation was of my own making. Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Should have thought of that on Sunday.

Then it dawned on me that I have to pack because . . . Tomorrow I am going to Poland!!

About two months ago I got an email from a good friend who lives in Dublin. She told me about a group of friends who were meeting in Krakow for a week, and asked if would I like to join them. I talked to the German. Although the German has to work (teachers get a lot of vacation but cannot choose when they take it), he knows that I often miss my friends. Without blinking, he told me to go. Reason 180 that I love the German.

I will be meeting my wonderful friends, Eimear, Brendan, Aoife and Chad. Eimaer and Brendan (who are married) and Aoife are from Dublin. I met Eimaer and Aoife during my first adventure in Germany, in 1997 when I spent my junior in college as an exchange student in Kassel. Chad is from Green Bay, but is currently doing a stint in the Peace Corps as an English teacher in Ukraine (and you thought your job was hard!). Chad does not have a lot of money for travel, so Eimaer and Aoife decided to meet him in Poland.

I consider these people some of my best friends. The funny thing is, I only seem them every few years and exchange emails only every few months. But when ever we are together, it is like no time has passed. Eimear and Brendan were at my wedding and Chad was an usher. I am so excited to see them again. I am sorry that the German cannot come.

This will be my first trip to Poland. I have heard that Krakow is beautiful. I am armed with my camera and a travel book. I will only be gone four days and three nights, but I hope to make the most of it.

My biggest problem is learning to relax (hence the significance of my perfect day). I wanted to do some lesson planning tonight and was going to take some reading for my politics class to do on the plane. But then I thought . . . Screw it.

So, you are on your own until Sunday. If you are looking to procrastinate (and really, who isn't) check out some of my links. There is much good reading.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Perfect Day

Yesterday I had what can only be described as the perfect day. Because I am going to Poland on Wednesday (more on that tomorrow), I only have 8 hours of English lessons and 2 hours of Politics this week, all on Tuesday. I decided to take Saturday off and just work on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It was a good decision.

First, the German and I woke up around 8:00am. Although we intended on sleeping-in, we suffer from the side affects of always getting up at 6:00am during the week. We had a leisurely breakfast and then I caught up on my soap, Gute Zeiten Schlechte Zeiten. After getting dressed we went grocery shopping and the German repaired his bike while I puttered around the house and did some blogging.

The weather was beautiful yesterday. It was 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) and sunny. We decided to pull out the bikes and take our first bike trip of the season.

Our favorite "Kurzstrecke" (short trip) is to the town of Molbergen, which is 8 km (a little less than 5 miles) away. We ride on the back roads and past the fields and farms. We love to take this path throughout the season so that we can see how fast the corn and wheat grow. I decided to take pictures of the fields. There are no words for their lush greenness. The combination of the blue sky and green field always fills my heart with a warmth that is difficult to describe. That is significant, as I don't consider myself a "nature person." In general I hate hiking and I DON'T camp. But the green fields around here seem to get to me.

Unfortunately, I don't always pay attention to what I am doing, and as I waded into the grass to take a picture, the German said, "Be careful! There is Brennnessel (nettles) in there and it can sting." "Oh, honey, don't worry! It cannot be that bad." But he was right. After stepping back onto the street my foot felt like it was on fire. This is the German with his "I told you so" look.



When we get to Molbergen, we always stop for ice cream at our favorite ice cream place. This place is run by an Italian family and has the best ice cream around. I had three scoops of tiramisu ice cream. Yummy!



We got back on our bikes and peddled in the direction of Varrelbusch . On the left we saw a sign for "Gut Stedingsmuehlen." This house was built in 1509 but underwent significant renovations last year. Now the outside looks like a farm house, but the inside has sleek white tables and chairs. It is an interesting combination of the modern and the traditional. Although we had just had ice cream 15 minutes earlier, we stopped and got the coffee and homemade cake for 4.50 Euro.

The house is surrounded by a moat and there is a small pond on one side. The German and I sat in the Beer Garden and had our coffee. The pond was beautiful. The sunlight was warm on my face. The coffee was heavenly and their was Frank Sinatra playing softly in the background. I looked over at the German, and I realized that I was having a "perfect moment." A perfect moment is one of those rare times when there is absolutely nothing that you would change, and you could happily die right then and there.



After coffee, we took a walk around the pond and then climbed back onto our bikes. I highly recommend the "Gut Stedingsmuehlen." We are going back in two weeks for dinner with my in-laws, and I want to take mom and dad-squared there when they visit in August.

Because we felt a little guilty about the ice cream and cake, we biked another 9 kilometers (about 5.5 miles). We got home around 6:30pm. The German turned on the TV to catch up on the day's soccer games and we both had a Mai Bock beer. "Mai Bock" is a special beer only available in the month of May. I don't normally drink beer, but this stuff is pretty tasty. The German's day was made even better when Werder Bremen won 6 to 0. Unfortunately Hamburg lost, which made FC Bayern Munich the soccer champions this year. We do not care for Bavaria Munich too much. There are like the Yankees of the German national soccer league. If you are from there you love them with a irrational passion, but everyone else in the country loathes them.

After a few more beers and a semi-interesting movie, we went to bed.

What made my day so perfect? It was slow. I did not work. I was with someone I loved and enjoyed everything that life has to offer. Really, it is something that I should do more often.

I have a lot more pictures of Molbergen and Gut Stedingsmuehlen posted on my flickr account. You should take a look.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Planes, Trains, and Buses

The German and I are getting visitors - important ones. After much begging and then a little taunting, my mother and step-father bought plane tickets and are coming for a visit in August. I am very excited and a little nervous. I have already put the German and I on a cleaning and repair schedule so that the apartment is spotless when they arrive.

As a side note, I have decided to "re-name" my step-father. My parents (mom and dad) got divorced when I was two years old. When I was four, my mother remarried. They will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this year. When I talk about my mom and my step-father, I hate using the word "step-parent." It has such a negative conation. I also don't like to say "dad number two," because that seems to indicate that he is some how second in my affections, which also not true. I love my dads equally. I have known my "step-father" since I was three. He taught me to ride a bike and tie my shoe laces. Therefore, I have decided to call him "dad-squared," which is a dad to the second power.

I know that there are some who decry the end of the "family," but my parent's divorce left no permanent scars and I am happy to say that I have a healthy relationship and fondness for all those involved (mom, dad-squared, dad, and mom-squared). My dad and mom-squared celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary yesterday, May 5. Happy Anniversary, you two!!

Where was I . . . Oh yes, visitors. I am very happy that mom and dad-squared are coming to visit but was shocked when I saw the price of the tickets. I know that it is expensive because the will travel in August, and Charleston to Bremen is not exactly direct . . . but still! Those fuel charges will bite you in the butt!

Gas is not cheap. It is about $6 a gallon here. I usually fill up Smarty once a week for about 22 Euro. This week I had to travel to Oldenburg twice. Oldenburg is about 30 minutes from here. I did not really want to buy an extra tank of gas, so I decided to take the commuter train from Cloppenburg to Oldenburg. The train costs about 15 Euro, round-trip. Hmm . . . maybe I should have driven.

On the other hand . . . the train is so comfortable! It also takes about 30 minutes. Now that spring has finally arrived here in northwest Germany, it is also a very scenic trip. There is something serene about watching the trees and fields go by. I can take a cat nap or read the paper. It is really nice to have this "time out" during the day.

Because I did not have my car, I had to take the bus in town. I love public transportation. Seriously, you do not have to worry about a parking space and it makes life a little easier. On Thursday I was walking through Oldenburg. I had just had my hair done and was wearing my new high-heeled sandals. I felt great! The bus was coming up to the stop and I ran to catch it. As I stepped onto the bus, the back of my heel caught on the step. WHAM! I tipped forward and fell flat on my face. In less time than it takes to say "Claire is an idiot," I leaped backed up and shook myself off. "One ticket please!" Yup. I luv public transportation.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

HELP WANTED

Monday was May Day in Germany, which is Labor Day for almost every country in the World in the U.S. I celebrated "the day of the worker" by, well, working. After lamenting this fact, the New Yorker (my business partner here in Germany) and I realized that we REALLY need a new teacher. We are not sure about how to find a new employee, though. So, I thought a would put a want ad on the blog and see if anyone has any ideas.

WANTED: Native English Speakers to teach English

The New Yorker and I are co-owners of CNC Language Network, a small language school, located in Cloppenburg, Germany. Although we opened in January, we are expanding rapidly and we (being the only current teachers) would like to offer more classes. However, we need teachers!

You:
A native English speaker living in county Cloppenburg, Oldenburg or Vechta
College graduate preferable. Previous teaching experience not required, but also preferable. We will provide some teacher training and copies of our teacher's manual.
Good communication skills a must. Must like to work with people.

The Job:
Teaching English, mostly business English. Classes range from individual lessons to small groups (of about 10). Some classes will meet in our offices in Cloppenburg and others will take place directly at the company. All of our teachers are considered independent and thus are allowed to teach at other schools. However, our salary is competitive with other language schools in the area.

If you or anyone you know is interested, please contact me. If you know of someone thinking of moving to the area, let me know.

We are also looking for native speakers of French, Spanish, and Dutch.

Thanks for the help!