Eurotrip 14′

Eurotrip14 earned itself a title alongside Snowpocalypse11 and other silly titles given to events Kirby and I have deemed important enough in our life.

Da group

Da group

Our travels took us over a large segment of Germany, and we even dropped in on Amsterdam. We didn’t leave out any form of transportation. Liz and I took the bus to Berlin from Hamburg, traveling through the Nordern Deutschland hinterlands, much like the plains of Oklahoma but with stands of reclaimed pine forest.

push pin map of our journey

I had the chance to see Berlin a second time, but this time with American tourists. Kirby was an especially loud and proud American, the first night in Berlin we went to a rather upscale mall or ‘Kaufen Passage’ and he proceeded to buy the gaudiest cut-off sleeve denim vest they had. I considered buying a lovely pair of short euro swim trunks, but they were indistinguishable from most of what Goodwill has to offer, so I saved my euros. Next step in operation guess what country we’re from was waving at all the passerbyers like any good ol’ country boy would. I refrained from most of that behavior because I actually have to live here after the trip. Later that night we were rejected entry into a posh new club The Pearl because “we looked homeless”, read Kirby and Brandon. Who wants to go to a club anyways? The denial was probably due to equal parts denim jacket + shaggy headedness, though I do feel discriminated against everytime I use my Kredit Karte. I’m met with the stern response “Ausweiss bitte” (ID please) every time I swipe it (someone even told me “This is not your card!”). Liz just pranced right in and out of the stores and paid with her card without a second look.

Denim & Deutschland

There was plenty of Bartlesville gossip spread around the table the first night in Berlin, and Alli fully enjoyed getting a background into our humble high school hometown. It made me realize that what we do in high school is insignificant. Our trajectory in life is guided only slightly by our pursuits and endeavors there. The here and now is where our destiny is decided.

Group Picture

Group picture from our younger years

Ken is a typical Germany, he likes fast cars and has style like Ryan Gosling in Drive. He topped out our ride from Berlin to Munich , the Volkswagen ‘Astro Van’, at 190 km/hr on the unrestricted section of the Autobahn. Mind you, most portions of the Autobahn actually have a limit. The cross winds that day were strong otherwise he would have gone faster so he said, though I don’t think the Wagen had much more power in her.

The Ken man and Liz

The Ken man and Liz

On our way into Munich, we visited the Dauchau concentration camp memorial. This particular camp was one of the more sterile, less brutal labor camps, intended for housing political prisoners. It was harsh reality, that the same halls we walked through were the very place where thousands, if not hundreds of thousands people died unjust deaths just because they dissented or spoke out against the mission of the 3rd Reich. That was one of the most tangible ways I have experienced history. Seeing the infamous ‘Arbeit macht frei’ on the entry gate made it all the more real. One good thing that about all of this is that Germany is open and transparent about their past history, they don’t try to cover up or brush it aside.

Work makes one free

After a thoroughly depressing experience, we had some light-hearted fun in Munich, with a traditional dinner at the Ratskeller. There was music, dancing, and most importantly delicious Bavarian fare. We had wurst, wurst, and more wurst. I’m not exactly sure what I had my taste buds and stomach were satisfied. Food was king on this trip; If we saw something we liked or were advised by Ken to get, there was no stopping us. After dinner we wandered aimlessly around Munich, taking pictures and just being rambunctious little kids, staring up at the crazy architecture of buildings like this.

Rathaus (Town Hall) at night

Rathaus (Town Hall) at night

Liz asked me why I couldn’t have studied in Munich and not Hamburg. I have to admit, the weather was two fold better than Hamburg. It was in Munich that I received my first real live sunburn while in Germany. There were many beautiful places we visited the next day, including the Biergarten, where they served the Bier by the liter, and Nyphemburg Palace with it’s wide open lawns and swans, and the street market. In the market, Kirby was finally publicly shamed for dressing like a white trash wangster, as a group of high school aged girls just pointed and laughed at him openly. He claims he didn’t notice them.

The kingdom

The kingdom

daring them to pet the swans

daring them to pet the swans

The next sojourn took us on to the fabled city of Amsterdam via overnite train.  Once a wealthy port city with the strongest fortifications that the 17th century could offer and worldwide shipping kingpin, Amsterdam is place with many hidden treasures that could be explored for weeks on end. But we made the most of the two days we had there and came to a general consensus that it was our favorite place. No one really appreciated the cheese as much as I did, but we all loved the orange juicing machine in the grocery store. Kirby and I did a cost-benefit analysis on it though and came to the conclusion that unless you had a orange tree in your backyard, you might as well stick to the regular stuff. This lead to him tossing around more of his far-fetched business plans and me just agreeing and telling him he’ll be a millionaire one day. I can’t mention any of them because they are all patent pending, but I’ll leave you with a hint, ‘car phone’.

Friends

Friends

On Wednesday night, Kirby and Alli went to the Beyonce concert, and Liz and I had tickets to the CHVRCHES concert. Unfortunately, the concert experience in Amsterdam is run differently from the US. We showed up at the venue at 9:30 for a show with doors opening at 8:30 expecting them to just be starting their set. We were met at the door with people leaving the show. But its ok, the four of us will get to see them at Lollapalooza this summer, so all is right in the world. To make up for the hole in me where CHVRCHES was supposed to be we went to the Pancake Corner, where we devoured flapjacks with a radius of my forearm. And you better believe we came back the next night for more. We had bonded over food by the end of the trip (Currywurst and Doner Kebabs were big hits. Kirby still owes me two doners from a bet btw),  and we had bonded with our hold hands and tell each other your favorite part of the day sessions.

Jupiter II - our accomodations in Amsterdam where we held hands and talked about our day

Jupiter II – our accomodations in Amsterdam where we held hands and talked about our day

We flew home (for me at least) to Hamburg early Friday morning, having gone to bed at 4am and waking up 6. Alli had the sleepy sillies at the airport and kept trying to convince us of her conspiracy theory that Amsterdam was some kind of elaborate hoax the Dutch were playing on tourists (at least I thought thats what she was getting at, she can explain that one later). On the other hand all Liz cared about were the dogs, going crazy over every single one she saw.

early morning travel is alright when you're with friends

early morning travel is alright when you’re with friends

Once in Hamburg we immediately crashed, but were revived in time for me to show everyone around the Hanseatic und frei Stadt Hamburg a little bit. That evening, on a whim from a brochure Kirby saw, we went to the Hamburger DOM. It was basically a state fair with a German flair, and it had lots of crazy rides that are probably illegal in the US. We rode the rides and ate the food, which led to the inevitable of Kirby almost puking up his dinner, mainly because he went on the swinging arm ride even I refused to go on for fear of my life. And it was only appropriate that they had fireworks that night to cap off our week long adventures. Great times had by all!

Die Reisenrad auf der DOM

Die Reisenrad auf der DOM

Well thats what I’ve been up to the past few weeks, and now classes have begun, so the fun times are coming to an end for now. Hopefully more to come when my family comes to visit me soon, right? ;)

 

 

Alpen Adventures

This weekend separated the boys from men. It was full of adrenaline, testosterone, and the sheer will survive. Ok, maybe it wasn’t that extreme…but the preceeding accounts of my perilous adventures in the Alpies may cause great anxiety in the parental figures of mine who read this. Although in this post, the pictures will do most of the talking. All photo creds go to Wolfgang and his Betsy.

Many firsts were achieved, so I’ll go ahead and rattle them off

  • First time in Italy (touched Switzerland as well)
  • First time in the Alps (picture the Rockies X 2)
  • First time driving a car in the Alps (good place to take a rental car, right?)
  • First time driving a manual in the mountains (…it was fun)
  • First time driving a manual in the mountains in the snow (with snowchains)
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Striking a pose next to the weather station on Plateau Rosa

Wolfgang and I set out on our adventure with high hopes on Thursday morning, flying out of the Lübeck airport, just a hop, skip, and jump away from Hamburg on the regional train. It was more of a barn hangar than an airport, as we booked our tickets on the budget friendly airline RyanAir for a ridiculously low price. After arriving in Milano, and after getting scalped by the rental car operator, we set off into the labyrinth that is Italy’s road network, headed for the Aosta Valley and the small town of Valtournenche. In the twilight hours of the evening, we passed by castles perched up in the hills that suddenly came upon us, as well as terraced vineyards.

Risked our lives pulling off to the side of the Autostrada to snap a picture of this fortress

When it suddenly started to downpour and the temperature began dropping like a rock, we knew it would be a good weekend. Snow was in no short supply in this region of the Alps, in fact one can ski year round in the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, located at the base of the Matterhorn.

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Wading through the ridiculous amount of snow around the pension we stayed at

The pension we stayed at, Albergo Panoramo Al Bich, was nested precariously up in a high Alpine meadow* (Just a guess of what it looks like in the summer, the 50 or so feet of snow covering the ground made it difficult to tell what lay beneath). It is inaccessible by four wheeled vehicles, although there is a trail for snowmobiles. We also saw a helicopter land right in the front lawn, presumably to pick up a heliski client.

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Helicopter dropping by the Albergo

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Looking down at the trail and parking lot below

The trail up the mountain to the lodge was a perilous journey without snowshoes, but we made due by digging our heels into the snow like real men.

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The sun finally came out on Sunday, revealing spectacular views of the mountains

I woke up to a blinding light coming from the window Sunday morning. Around two feet of snow fell over the weekend, covering everything in pure whiteness.

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The Matterhorn in all its glory

We were fed two square meals a day,  cooked and served by two sisters who were about our age. Their family owned the pension; it was a true Italian household. They spoke some English, but there were a lot of miscommunications between us, most notably on the first night.

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How I felt trying to communicate with the Italians

When we first arrived, we were famished from a full day of travel and only a sandwich for lunch. So after checking in, we simply asked the sister who knew less English than the other…..food? She got to work in the kitchen and we patiently waited, drooling in anticipation of authentic Italian food. We had no idea what we had set in motion. First a picnic basket filled to the brim with bread was brought out, and we finished that in under 10 seconds. It was immediately replenished with another. Then a steaming dish of manicotti came out. At this point, I was thinking, “Wow what I quaint little meal”. Then came the Italian sausage roll (sorry but Germans do it better). Then a salad. And more bread. But wait theres a more.. for dessert we were a served a whipped cream, espresso, nutella, and nuts concoction that sealed the deal. Best meal of all time. I thought the food would never stop coming out. But it finally did, and we awkwardly asked for the bill. When she handed it to us, I almost passed out when I saw  3 digits before the decimal. Picking my jaw up off the floor, I reluctantly forked over the money. We later learned that we had payed for half of our stay, the food was included in the 1/2 board accomodation price.

He wanted to be friends

He wanted to be friends. I think he just wanted my sausage.

A shot of the Matterhorn  near the base of the resort on the trails

A shot of the Matterhorn near the base of the resort on the trails

That’s me laying on the trail in awe. That’s how most of the time was spent, looking up at the mountains instead of paying attention to other skiers and the trail. These mountains were like none other. They are so indescribably immense. I took it all in and enjoyed every moment I had in the mountains.

bt

I would like to take a pause from my usual topics about my travels for some introspective writing about myself. I may have rushed into my writing too fast and failed to create a preface into not just my travels but my life and who I am. Being aware of who you are and how people see you is critical to bearing fruit in life. I think some people are so wrapped up in what’s around them that they miss what’s within them. How we present ourselves to the world is an outlet of expression; self aware individuals use this to their advantage.

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Brandon in meditation

I’ve had a lot of time to myself here, which has allowed for plenty of time for meditation and reflection on life behind and ahead of me. When I told everyone that I wanted to study abroad in Germany, there were many who thought I was crazy. Taking some of the most difficult courses of the meteorology requisites in another country and language seemed like a recipe for failure.

After reading the book David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, of whom I’ve read most of his other books, I took on a whole new view of my condition. Gladwell says this of the biblical account, “What the Israelites saw, from high on the ridge, was an intimidating giant. In reality, the very thing that gave the giant his size was also the source of his greatest weakness. There is an important lesson in that for battles with all kinds of giants. The powerful and strong are not always what they seem”. He speaks earlier in the book of how the giant may have suffered from acromegaly – a disease caused by a benigh tumor in the pituary gland (Gladwell 2013). The tumor causes an overproduction of human growth hormone, leading to great size, but at the same time impairing vision. David took advantage of his opponent, who assumed he would partake in the traditional hand-to-hand combat of Gladiator ages. He took his opponent by surprise with the sling, knocking him dead with one shot. Later on in the book he expounds on desirable difficulty, that when those who are faced with what seems like an insurmountable task, overcome against all odds. They are put at advantage over their peers. Gladwell poses the question, “You wouldn’t wish dyslexia on your. Or would you?”. Gary Cohn, the president and COO of Goldman Sachs is dyslexic; his shortcomings gave him the impetus to get him where his is today. Underdogs possess a subtle and powerful advantage over their foes. I don’t think I’ve seen or talked to a single person who really believed OU would beat Alabama (well besides the boastful Barry Switzer). I was in the middle of reading this book when I found out from my Dad that they had won.

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More times than not in football, golf, soccer, or any other sport, pyschology trumps athletic prowess. I heard my Dad talk about how how hard it is to sustain a lead in golf, to keep shooting under par hole after hole. Coming from behind is easier. Earlier this week I was reminded of my youth football days by this post http://bubba11thg.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/the-touchdown-bunny-hop-and-thoughts-on-richard-sherman/. And I then came across something I wrote in middle school about a victory from behind, and the excitement my Bruin White teammates and I shared.

The warm Saturday night sky was illuminated by harsh cones of white light, gleaming off the helmets of the fifth grade YMCA White football squad. The bleachers of the Berryhill High School football arena was sprinkled with cheering moms and their obnoxious cowbells, piercing through the sounds of pads crackling like popcorn. An esoteric sense of urgency hung in the air, like the moisture clinging to the dermis of the gridders. The obese orange orb hovered just at the horizon, poised to drop below it. The wafting scent of barbeque smoking from the concessions area, drawing in spectators like vultures to a carcass. The Bruins had clung to the lead for a half, and presently were tied as the blinking numbers of the scoreboard ticked off the concluding minutes of the fourth quarter. It had come down to one play, as the Berryhill gang had held their red zone. Kirby Schoenthaler came under center with the flashing milliseconds now at hand. As profuse perspiration watered the playing surface, the ball snapped up into the deft hands of the main man. Hitching towards the pocket, the ball was released, spiraling towards the lanky tight-end Trevor Maul. Beckoning for the ball, his gloved appendages snatched the ball out of mid-air before being stymied in the in zone by the opposing outfit. Then, with a cacophonous uproar came the entire team, rushing the in zone to congratulate and celebrate the hero of the game. This victory by close margin will be remembered by every young man a part of that infamous troupe.

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Bruin White circa 2003

Though I wasn’t the best football player, I’ve always had a knack for writing; it is probably the loudest way I express myself. The German youth also like writing, but their writing utensil of choice comes in a can. There seems to be a lot of pent up angst against the ‘system’ here, and teenagers find it expedient to release this in the form of graffiti, tagging any and every blank piece of real estate they can find. From the red A (the universal symbol for anarchy), wall murals underneath overpasses, and most famously on the remaining section of the Berlin wall left standing as a memorial to a divided past.

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Inpromptu mural in my neighboorhood. 2014, spray paint on concrete

The typical connotations of graffiti in the US is that of urban blight. Quite the opposite here, to the point of social acceptablitiy and invetiablility. I see it as a mark of virility and of a blossoming new culture recently reunited. I fit right in with their obsessive love of anything relating to the 80’s or 90’s… they can’t get enough of the music and fashion of that era. Here, the predecessors to the electronic music that has become so popular as of late was born. I’ve heard it said that German techno music comes from the marriage of engineering and philosophy. I don’t know what that means, but maybe one day I’ll find out.

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East Side Art Gallery of the Berlin Wall

Diversity

Our perception of other cultures cannot be merely based on what we see through the construed lense of the mass media. We have to go out into the world, meet and understand people on a personal level. This is a pervasive theme in the Western world, that we are somehow superior to others and they should come to us, speak our language, and act like us. This is conceited stance to take. Rather, we must embrace the diversity of other cultures, and allow them to show us new things. Everyone from my Deutsch language class at the Colón Language Institute hails from a different country, besides Wolfgang and I. This map gives a better handle on the breadth of the diversity in the class. Each star represents a person from that country.Image

I’ve quickly become friends with them all even in this short weeks period. It has been very easy to make friends here; everyone has so much to offer one another. (Much thanks to my new friend Vinnie for the unicorn towel and proper hair care techniques). I’ve even been able to sharpen up my Espanol language skills communicating with those from the Spanish speaking countries. They make up around half the class, putting the few English speakers in the minority. Because of this the teaching style is mainly written and gestural; English is used very rarely. It can get quite chaotic at times in class, with several language flying around as we try to understand what’s going on in our native tongues. At the beginning of the class there was a fill in teacher who could only speak French and Deutsch, so to answer our questions we had to rely on Ann-Marie who is trilingual, speaking English, Spanish, and French. It was quite undertaking using the chain of translation to try and ask questions and get answers from the teacher.

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I must say it is quite strange being the minority here. I’m not used to all the inquisitive eyes viewing me as a stranger in foreign lands. It does seem like not many American students come to Germany to study abroad. Everyone at the University seems to be very excited about us being here though. Dr. Bernd Leitl, who is our contact here and also the director of the institute  gave us the grand tour of the Geomatikum on Monday. It stands unassumingly one of the tallest buildings on the Hamburg skyline (~80m). The joint venture between the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and Universität Hamburg’s Institute of Meteorology is contained within the building. The outdated facility is being replaced by a new facility which is under construction, similiar to the NWC in Norman. By far the most intriguing part of this places lies in its deepest reaches in the basement, where one of the last wind tunnels used solely for meteorological research exists. This is Dr. Leitl’s lair, he performs most of his research in the wind tunnel studying a wide array of topics, including wind power siting, aerosol dispersion, urban environment wind modeling. When we sat down to lunch in the break room, we got the chance to see the machine which mills styrofoam scale models of the land surfaces used in the wind tunnels. German engineering at its fines

 

Sonntag – day of rest

This weekend has been spent adjusting, pushing my body forward 7 hours and orienting myself with the neighborhood that will be home for the next 7 months. Tomorrow is the first day of language class at the Colonnade institute, and hopefully I’ll start picking up conversational German so I’ll know that the old lady yelling at me as I was boarding the bus was asking for help getting her walker onto the bus (The bus lowers to the curb via hydraulics and I thought she was telling the bus driver to lower the bus so she could get on). I have met all the people that are living on the same floor/suite as me besides the girl from Hungary (she comes and goes). There’s Fazil from India, Jan from Deutschland, and of course Wolfgang from the US. Everything I’ve encountered is new, all of my senses have been stimulated by the modern industrious environment of Hamburg, Germany. Today, most of the shops and markets are closed, a sort of secular day of rest. Though on Saturday, I did encounter a fixture of what’s left of organized religion in Germany in the St. Petri’s Cathedral, just adjacent to the Congressional building in the heart of Hamburg.

Hauptkirche St. Petri

It was a dark looming figure over an otherwise vibrant and modern aesthetic architecture, a product of the Gothic era of centuries past. The best way to describe the architecture of modern Germany is if the designers tasked with creating Apple products created this urbanscape, heavily clad in glass and steel. Though I’m sure German design inspired Apple designers. Smells of a sundry of sausages cooking, which I just had to indulge in (wurst has made its way into my meals at least once a day). Even the people, who seem to be very style conscious and aware of their presentation, have a distinct odor, seeming to have applied an extra hint of cologne before going out. Sounds all seem harsh to my American ears; the language inflections, the tones the Hochbahn (light rail public transit system) makes to indicate the doors are closing, even the birds make unpleasant sounds! I guess that’s something I will grow used to over the next several months. There’s a pervasive cold and dampness entrenched in these northern reaches of Germany; with the maritime climate it never seems to make it out of the 40’s F. Walking through the village of Rahlstedt, where the renovated pre-WW2 barracks I live in are located

Barracks renovated into a dormitory serving Uni-Hamburg

(I’m afraid I’ll have to fight off Nazi zombies every time I go down to the basement/bunker), I noted that the ground cover of choice was moss instead of grass. The sun doesn’t make it up to a very high azimuthal angle this time of the year, shining directly in your eyes above the horizon. The Germans compensate for the dreary weather with their technological wonders; the hot water comes out of the tap almost hot enough to brew tea, and at extremely high pressure! Everything is environmentally friendly, I’m told that Germany will be completely weaned off of fossil fuels by 2020, with wind, solar, and nuclear filling in the gap. In later posts I’ll have more pictures of where I’m staying and the places around me.  Right now I’m relying on Wolfgang for internet as my computer doesn’t have Ethernet capabilities. That’s all for now.