Today we're going to the zoo! The weather is, for the time being, stable and nice. Because of the constant rain for the past few days, the temperature has finally made it back down to the mid 20s. Nice.

Either tonight or tomorrow morning I'm heading up to Frankfurt to meet up with my father and my grandmother. Then tomorrow we hang around Frankfurt, see what there is/n't to see, and then Monday it's off to....PORTUGAL! Then on 03.08 it's back to Germany for a bit.

My apartment has been cleared as "acceptable", and I don't need to pay anything extra for non-existing damage. My finals were passed as well, better than expected. So, I officially made it through my year of school in Germany without screwing up once!

My mind is too scattered to write much; I'm extremely excited to go pet the goats.



The Final Countdown (dah nah naah naaaaah, dahnahnahnahnaaaah, dah nah naah naaaah, dahnah nah nah naaah...)

I am in official stressed-out mode. I even have the stress-break-out as proof. Beware: GERMANY GIVES YOU PIMPLES.

I have my first of two final exams at 18:00. In little more than half an hour. Just thinking about it makes me have to pee.

The weather in Germany is full blown summer. But not as bad as in California. I hear on the radio that it was 49ºC, and that people have died. As for my area of Germany...there was severe weather damage and possible tornado touch-down in Karlsruhe (20 or so km south of Landau). There is construction between Neustadt and Landau, creating traffic problems, and generally making train travel a pain. There is also a 3-meter long snake loose somewhere around Heidelberg, most likely by the river. People who see the snake are advised to keep their distance and contact the police--who have already stated that capture of the snake is highly unlikely.

I want to know what a 3-meter-long snake is doing in the south-western part of Germany.

Now... a bit of info on Landau. As I've mentioned before, the best bakery is the Discount-Bäker, because the products are cheap and good. The best (in my opinion) café for morning/afternoon coffe, as well as breakfasts (waffles with vanilla icecream and hot raspberries...OOHO!), is Café am Markt. The best restaurant/bar for salads and overall "cool" factor is Green, which is located at the southern end of the city center. Irish pub: Brennan's. Best café/bar for drinks, relaxed hanging out, and dinner foods is Leo's, which is located at the northern end of the city center. Best store for cheap housewares, tools, paper towels or TP is Kodi. Best store for cute, colored and stenciled canvas bags is Schlecker, which is right next door to Kodi. Not to be confused.

The worst place for anything beverage like is what I call the "red and yellow bakery". The only perk of it is that it is also open on Sundays, and has good Johannisbeer struessel cakes. And two-for-one deals.

The best (and only, really) book store to buy school books from is Buchkaiser, but specifically the one on Marktstraße. You get a complementary canvas bag when you purchase several books. The other Buchkaiser (on an intersecting street) is good for everything else, specifically travel guides.

The only two clubs I know of are Freiraum (good for prices, crappy for dance floor situation) and Logo (meh for prices, but great for dance floor situation; a.k.a. more places along the wall to sit and take a breather inbetween good songs). If you want to go to an all-night club, like one that's open until 5 a.m., it would be necessary to travel south to Karlsruhe (and, in turn, spend the night, because trains don't run that late), north to Mannheim, or west to Straßbourg.

The only (known) place where you can get free ANYTHING is the University's main campus. The University has the only free parking lot in the city, as well as free internet connection. The downside of both is that it's not safe to leave your car for more than a day (maybe not even that long) in the parking lot (winter break left three cars with passenger windows smashed in by thieves. Thieves. What a great word. It's not used often enough!), and the library is only open 9.00-19.30, Monday-Thursday, and 9.00-16.00 on Fridays. NO WEEKEND HOURS. If you need internet during the weekend, it's down to trekking to the city center to a T-Mobile HotSpot location (Café am Markt is one, but it's €8,- an hour, and that's BOGUS), one of the internet cafés (prices unknown to me), or making sure you have snagged yourself a Rechnenzentrum card, which allows you off-hours acces to the Uni's three stuffy, dusty computer labs. The card costs €10,-, which you get back upon return of the card. I don't own one.

30 minutes to test time, and I'm done here, for now. Quick tips, but tips nonetheless. Maybe I should ask those who read if they have any questions about life in Landau, or Germany in general. That would, at least, give me something concrete to write about...


The In's and Out's of Getting In and Out (short blurb)

Getting registered for (pretty much) anything in Germany--or at least in Landau--seems to be much easier than getting out of the system.

For example: At the beginning of my stay here, I had to register at the Auslandsamt to gain a temporary citizen-of-Landau status, my student visa, as well as fill out a stack of forms. And pay €50. Other than the immediate language barrier (which is now nonexistant), the sudden need to pay €50 cash, and needing to come back a second day to finish everything, the process was painless and simple.

The same thing goes for the University. We went to the Student Affairs Office, waited in line, nodded our heads a lot, and were registered at the University for the first semester, and later automatically for the second. Simple.

Insurance wasn't that simple -- we were more or less bullied into signing up for German insurance, regardless if our US insurance promised full coverage or not. True, insurance here is cheaper, but the lady didn't have to be so aggressive and condescending about the whole thing. But other than that, it was "sign here", "bank info here", and finished.

But now... I went to the insurance office yesterday to notify them that I needed to cancell the insurance plan as of the payment in August, and things were not that simple. After waiting for almost 10 minutes without anyone offering to help me (Latvian banks and Polish post offices have little stations where you push a button for the respective department you want to talk to -- very nice and organized. At the insurance office here in Germany, all you have are lots of chairs and potted plants), a younger woman asked if I was waiting for anyone in particular (does it LOOK like I am, slick?), and then proceeded to help me. After telling me information I already know ("it looks like you're on our normal insurance plan"...YOU THINK?), she went away to talk to someone who knew more than her. When she came back she told me that they would need, when it boils down to it, a written confirmation (I hear that and am reminded by doctor's or parent's notes as excuses for being late to school) note that states I will actually be leaving the country when I say I am. And such a note can be attained from my University here in Landau.

I ask, what, pray tell, does the University have to do with when I leave the country?

I managed to leave the office without crying in frustration and swearing (that happened outside), discussions with both of my parents followed, and I still thought that it was stupid to go the Uni to get this paper. Wouldn't a photocopy of flight tickets and passport work? I told the girl at the insurance company "I still don't see how the University has anything to do with this" (to which she replied, "Yup, okay! But we need a note like that, and you can get it from the University."), but it was like anything I said or asked bounced off of her face.

THEN, later, Sonia suggested going to the Auslandsamt. GREAT! Now THAT'S something that makes sense! Go to the office where I registered as officially staying in Germany for an extended period of time, and get a note from THEM! SOMEPLACE THAT HAS SOMETHING DIRECTLY TO DO WITH MY ENTERING/LEAVING THE COUNTRY! So, getting out of the insurance plan is difficult, because I have to go around to several offices just to take care of this.

Other than that, my student status expires in September. I've also to make stops at the bank and at the post office. Hopefully those will be easier things to take care of.

Until then... a little over two weeks left. Conversations with others are even more so filled with contemplative silences where it's understood that for those few minutes no one is allowed to look or talk to each other, because it might end up in a teary mess.


The Story of the (un)Stolen Bike(s)

Two days ago (Tuesday for those who have trouble thinking back that far) I went to our Hausmeister to get a new light bulb, new vent filters, and to tell him that I was fairly certain someone had stolen my bike. I said "fairly certain" because I had checked the area around our apartment end several times over, as well as the bike cellar, but with no results. I was more baffled than upset, because how--tell me-- how does one person get TWO bikes stolen in five months? The first bike (yes, crappy, upside-down bike that I never ended up photographing, sorry guys) was noticed as missing during my mom's visit. Which was upsetting, because I never had the chance to even try and sell the stupid thing. €35,- that I'll never ever get back.

With bike No.2, I was half upset, as mentioned, because of the number of bikes now stolen from me had doubled, and because I wouldn't get my €20 deposit back from the Bike Man. Which would only be fair, but still. On the other hand, I regarded the bike being gone as one less thing I'd have to take care of before leaving the country. Mixed emotions, as you may be able to tell.

So, Hausmeister informed me of the following: 1) it's nothing new that bikes are stolen from the apartment area 2) sometimes the thieves will pull a bike into the bushes, cut off the lock, and then ride it away, and 3) sometimes the thieves will drive up in a car and just hoist the bike into the trunk and drive off. No consolation, no suggestions on what to do. It gave me a general feeling that calling the police would just end up being a waste of €0,19. (I'd like to make a quick mention that the day before I had found out that yet ANOTHER one of my favorite bands, Mest, had disbanded. So I was already in an iffy mood) So I went to class on foot, which is no problem, told fellow group-workers that other than Mest being through and my second bike being stolen (they found that amusing, and I don't blame them), I was doing great.

After class I ended up talking to Hanane, Kathy, Andrew, and Anya, and told Hanane how there was nothing that could be done about the bike being stolen. She expressed her sympathy and we continue talking. Then I stop talking, and Anya said jokingly "Oh, my bike!" But there it was. My bike, with my Apt.# sticker (silly Hausmeister), and my lock, was across the alley from the University building. Just standing next to the wall like it had been there waiting for me. I was speechless, dumbfounded, surprised. Confused beyond all reason. The last time I had used and seen my bike was Wednesday. Friday and Saturday I went to Heidelberg, but used public transportation both days to get there and back to Landau. Sunday I didn't use it, nor Monday, because by then it had established itself as stolen. I had been racking my brain to remember what, exactly, I had done Thursday, but kept drawing a blank. A perfect blank, which is scary, but funny at the same time. I remember leaving the apartment and going to the library, but around 1 P.M., and I don't ride my bike to the library -- and besides, the bike was in the city center, which is twice as far. I have no receipts from Thursday, which means I didn't do any shopping of any kind. Unless someone played a very very cruel (aincidentallytly stupid trick, because who would drag a locked bike all the way to the city center just to make me sorry?) trick, or if something so terrible happened Thursday that I completely blocked it out of my mind, I've got memory issues. An entire day, gone, just like that. I'm still left in wonder about it today, as I write.

So my bike has been unstolen, the classmates informed (the one teasingly accused me of drinking too much Weinschorle, the other congratulated me and said "One bike in your garage is worth two in Landau"), and everyone else amused and probably as confused as I am.

The world has turned and left me here...(and taken my sanity with it)



"Zidane, who had earlier scored France's goal, was sent off after violently headbutting Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest during the second, tense period of extra-time." (FoxSports News)

I wish I could find a picture of the headbutt. Zidane and Materazzi had a mini discussion, Zidane started to walk away, and things looked finished between them. But then Zidane suddenly turned around, and, with a completely blank expression, headbutted Materazzi in the chest. Looks like Materazzi tried to get one last snide remark in.

The France-Italy game was close... oh so close. Hanane was too nervous to watch the shoot-out and walked several blocks away to wait until the game was over. WM is finished, and the world seems a little bit more quiet.

Friday to Sunday also marked the "Sommerfest"-- also known as yet another reason to set up food and drink stands around the city center and to celebrate, not only WM, but the concept of summer. Good wine, good food, bad music. It's great. During the past 10 months, Landau has had between four and five "festival markets." The fall wine fest, the Christmas market, Maimarkt, Sommerfest, and I'm pretty sure one more in between somewhere. I may be counting the (Fake)Irish fest as one. But still. Another good reason to love this country.

The weeks are winding down. This week I have my final presentation (in German, about the history and reform of the German language), and then two written exams the next week. Then my dad and grandmother come to visit me, we go to Portugal for a few days, then head back for the final days of my Germany 2005-2006 experience. After some advice from my dad I've decided to treat the return to the U.S. as a visiting trip. I am not leaving Germany or Europe for good, I am just leaving for a bit. Then I'll work my way back here. I will, just watch me. In the next weeks I'm going to make a personal effort to post as many observations and whatnot about Landau and the places I like in it and... OHMYGOD THE WOMAN BEHIND ME DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF RELATIVE SILENCE IN A LIBRARY!!! Her computer volume is always on high, her cell phone is always on, and she sighs like she gets a prize for it at the end of the day. LEUTE!... the places I like in Landau and the best places to buy necessary things. I'll start on that tomorrow.

WM in another four years! I'll be ready for it next time -- I now understand how fascinating it all is.


Soccer is on

A few weeks ago the Germany-Argentina game was nuts -- 90 minutes plus overtime plus shoot-out. Germany pulled, which was a surprise to many. I ended up in Kaiserslautern to watch the game on one of several big-screens set out around the city. Because I had a tiny glass jar of horse radish in my bag, I wasn't allowed to enter the area of the screen (unless I threw the stuff away, but I had just bought it that morning and needed it for that evening and wouldn't be going back to the grocery store, so screw that) so we found another screen with a patch of grass not far away. Everyone else who had drinks and horse radish sat on this patch of grass. The screen was in good view, unless there were four cocky, jerk people standing in the way who thought that they had more right than the 40+ people sitting down (like polite society will do) to watch the game. Don't dwell on it too much. They copped attitudes. The best thing was to watch the reactions of the Germany fans during and after the shoot-out, not to mention when it was official that Germany had won the game. I got a few video clips, which I may or may not try to post here. I first have to remember how to post video files. I can make do with some pictures, though.

And no, that kid is not sitting on the head of a real person.

Then came the Germany-Italy game. Almost 120 minutes of intense, no-results game. Then, literally, in the last two minutes of the game, Italy scores. We are surprised and upset, because we thought it would come down to another shoot-out. I darkly say, "Wouldn't it be crazy if they got another one?" And then Italy scores again. 2:0 Italy, in the last two minutes of the game. UnbeLIEVable. Everything was quiet at the Wohnheim (our student dorms). All was quiet in the city center. People who were watching there went quietly home, not saying anything or much of anything. It was unreal, like it didn't even happen. I even didn't believe it -- it happened so fast... I was also, however, honestly concerned that the ice-cream cafés would be boycotted or burned down by the next morning. Thankfully they weren't.

Last night Germany played Portugal for 3rd place; Germany won, of course. I thought it would come to another shoot-out, but by 75 minutes in the game Germany was suddenly up 3:0, and it was over. Portugal ended up scoring one goal (which I hoped they would, because it was Figo's last game and I felt sorry for him), but it was, as mentioned, OVER. Then I went with the Tutoring Family for several laps around the city in the car, honking the horn, waving flags, and shouting "DEUTSCHLAND DEUTSCHLAND!!!" It was great because it was like Germany had won WM. That's one good thing -- the patriotism here is constant; every day is a reason to be happy to be a German, and WM is just a reason to take it to a whole new crazy level.

Tonight is the France-Italy game. I asked Tutoring Family mother last night who she would cheer for, and she looked at me and said, "France." Which, at first, surprised me, because I know she loves Italy, and that she had an Italian boyfriend at one time, and generally loves Italy. But then she added "They threw us out", meaning that Italy pushed Germany out of the running for WM. Which is true, and which makes it a bit easier to know who to cheer for tonight. Chances are that most of Germany will be cheering for France. YAAAAAAY FRANCE!!!

Keeping fingers crossed...