So it’s come to this. All the books I brought with me are not keeping my interest long enough to really delve into them. In lieu of those, I’m now reading Twilight, a work of fiction geared toward girls in their tweens. Last October, if you had asked me what my life would be like a year from now, I probably would not have guessed this.

What's the German word for "potty mouth?"

We got to meet some of the neighbor kids today. When I say meet, I guess I should clarify: we got to listen to some of the neighbor kids as they played games all around our apartment through the day, shouting German commands at each other as they were likely involved in some sort of imaginary blitzkrieg scenario. It wasn’t much of a bother, although they certainly have filthy mouths. I may not know German, but I caught the word “Scheisse” more times that I can count on my fingers and toes.

However, it became quite enjoyable when a couple of the kids found some sticks and starting twirling them around. Alas, we had our very own German version of the Star Wars kid!

Some fun pictures from 'round town

Stumbled on this one at Schlecker, the drugstore of Meersburg:
 "Billy Boy, the exciting other condom!" Colored and aromatized, and with a fun little condom man presenting a bundle of fruit... who wouldn't buy Billy Boy?

And at a shopping mall in Konstanz:
Yes, it's a jewelry store. And yes, it's called Christ. Can anyone guess what I exclaimed when I saw this place? At least I didn't go inside; I can only imagine the sales pitch. "Go ahead, buy the matching diamond earrings and necklace. Christ wants you to."

An Austrian gender-bender

Ellen and I are planning a trip to Austria and Slovakia next week, so we’ve been doing a lot of hotel and train searches on the Internet. We found a hostel that is supposed to be the very best in the world called Wombats, an unsettling but also mysterious and goofy name. What’s even better is the order form on the website for booking rooms. You know you’re going to an “interesting” place when the “Gender” part of the form includes the options “Male, Female, or Male & Female.” And yes, they’re just asking about one person.

German Stereotypes and the Hilarity that Ensues

Ellen had a discussion with some of her kids about stereotypes and how one German stereotype is that Germans don’t have a sense of humor. So she challenged them to tell her a joke. Here are the results:
  1. The ball rolls down the stairs, and then falls down.
  2. Two cows are sitting in a tree, sewing atom bombs. A green pig flies by, and one cow turns to the other and says, “I guess that’s just the way things go.”
  3. A loaf of bread walks down some stairs. Then he realizes he has no legs, so he walks back up.
I personally loved the last one, because it’s similar to a favorite joke of mine. “Two muffins are in the oven. One turns and says ‘Is it hot in here or what?’ and the other muffin says ‘Sweet Jesus, a talking muffin!’” As far as the other two are concerned, I think they’re kind of hilarious, but probably not for the same reasons the Germans do. Mostly, I enjoy them because they seem to prove the very stereotype these German children were trying to disprove.

A Disconcerting Choir Concert

In an effort to become a good and upstanding Meersburger (and no, I'm not talking about beef), Ellen and I went to a choir concert at the palace building in the center of town. It was a choir singing German songs, so not much to report since I nearly fell asleep. However, two things stood out:
  1. After several of the songs, we clapped, as is custom just about everywhere I’ve ever been. And then something strange happened. Everyone gradually started clapping in unison, like some kind of rally. You can call me prejudiced or whatever, but a roomful of Germans clapping in unison made me think of a Nazi rally for some reason. Nevermind that I’ve never been to a Nazi rally, or that I don’t even know whether Nazis clap. (I wouldn’t think they do, since clapping is a happy, boisterous activity, and I always imagine Nazis to be cold, calculating, joyless people who look like Timothy Dalton from the "Rocketeer.”) Anyway, the point is it was bizarre and unsettling.

  2. The concert kept going and going, and applause came at very random intervals. In fact, one lady tried to start a slow clap early on and several people in the choir and among the ushers hushed her. Towards the end, the director of the choir spoke and said there’d be one more song (at least, I think that's what he said), so after that song everyone gave a big applause and standing ovation. Then the conductor said a few words, which I had thought were thank you’s and goodbye’s, but then they did another song. After that, everyone clapped again, but a little more hesitantly, since they had already blew their load on the first standing ‘O.’ And then, if you can believe it, they started singing again! That was when Ellen and I ducked out of the never-ending choir concert.
From now on, I'll be avoiding such concerts and participating in more monkey business, when possible.

Monkey Mountain, hier komme ich!

Ellen told me the very first day I was here about a place she had heard about very nearby called Affenberg, which literally translated means Monkey Mountain. Since monkeys are basically the most awesome animal alive (right behind turtles, naturally... they’re just so wise), we made it a priority.

Riding the party train.

After September, all of the small tourist towns around here start systematically closing down for winter, so the bus that would take us both very cheaply from Meersburg directly to Affenberg had stopped running. Thus, we managed the two different buses to go 20 minutes total, and the 4 km walk from the bus stop to the Affenberg park, and about 20 bucks and an hour and a half later, we’re inside the monkey bin, looking for popcorn and learning the mating calls. Sadly, though I thought we would be allowed to play with the Barbary Macaques, we were only allowed to feed them popcorn. I grabbed a handful, held it out to the first monkey I saw, and he grabbed all of it and stuffed his entire handful in his mouth, spilling the rest out of my hand in the process. Fat bastard. I tried to pick up the pieces that dropped, but when he got into attack stance, I conceded the lost popcorn and moved on.

Brother from another mother.

We met new friends of all shapes and sizes on our nature walk through Monkey Mountain, and one of the smaller ones even tried to spoon me from the back when I wasn’t looking. I guess he wanted a little more than just popcorn. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves as far as the rest of the fur balls. On the way out, getting rid of the last of my popcorn, I offered it to an elderly looking monkey who had seen a few too many winters. He sneezed, as if to say “danke schon,” and I replied politely “gesundheit.”

More pictures of the day can be found by clicking the following picture:
Affenberg Salem, Germany

And now, for a short video presentation.

Life in Germany - first impressions

Excerpts from my first week in Meersburg, Germany.

10/10/08 – Day 1

Language notes: I know and have been practicing enough German that I can now hear and understand very basic German, and speak a very tiny bit as well. However, because I took Spanish for 8 years and lived in Spain for a semester, when I'm trying to express a complete sentence in German and there are words that I don't know, my mind automatically wants to substitute Spanish words. Ich mรถchte el otro... what the heck is that? Germish? Spanman? Strange, that's what it is.

Odd moment of the day: Seeing a German concert of 13th graders playing piano, violin, guitar, etc, as well as singing, and one of them plays Red Hot Chili Peppers' “Under The Bridge,” a song all about the city of angels, Los Angeles, and how it's the singer's “only friend.” It would be kind of strange just hearing that over here, but especially after moving here from Los Angeles, partly because I grew to greatly dislike the city. And, of all the things I did like about LA, it's “friendliness,” or I should say lack of “friendliness,” was not one of them.

10/11/08 – Day 2

It's become clear to me that Germans are total nerds, which is awesome, because I consider myself fairly nerdly. Case in point: the Mittelaltermarkt (Middle Ages market, similar to our Renaissance fairs) is this weekend, and it's the thing to do around here. They have signs miles away from town with directions to the market, traffic is crazy around here, and a large portion of this small city is completely closed off to anyone not participating or attending. Now, of course this could all just be because it's the weekend in a town of 5,000 people and whenever anything out of the ordinary happens, everyone comes running, but I'd rather believe in the nerdliness in the hearts of all Germans. So of course we went.

One highlight was Mausroulette, which is not quite what it sounds like. It doesn't involve a six-shooter, and it also doesn't involve a wheel and a very dizzy mouse. It does involve a small circle of different colored mouse-sized houses, and a mouse dropped in the middle. Also part of the affair is a German woman with discolored teeth and wooden shoes, speaking in Mittelaltermarkt German, which even Ellen, who has been taking German for about 10 years, couldn't understand. Imagine a foreigner coming to America and trying to decipher the language of the freaks at our Renaissance fairs. “Hast thou no honor?” “Dost thou a challenge make?” You get the point.

Another amusement: Many booths were serving Bratwursts, which I found out just means roasted sausage (brat = roasted, wurst = sausage), but only one I found was serving Drachenwurst, or dragon sausage. Unfortunately, I didn't have the mental capacity to ask if they were made from real dragon, but they tasted like I'd always imagined dragon sausage should taste, and thus were fiery and quite delicious.

10/12/08 – Day 3

Sunday in a small town – everything is closed, we don't have Internet yet, there's one English channel on TV and the book I'm reading sucks. I feel cabin fever setting in, so much so that I actually succumb to watching “The Holiday” with Ellen, and only because the only other movie she has brought, “Pride & Prejudice,” I've already seen. And so has she – many, many times, including the director and cast commentary.

10/13/08 – Day 4

During an evening walk, it struck me how few people actually say hello around here. Well, not “hello,” but their German version. Inevitably I started making comparisons to people in the States. Certainly, people didn't really say hello much in LA. At least, they didn't in Venice, or near LAX... Westchester we usually had decent results. Fair Oaks has always been quite friendly, to my recollection. So it made me wonder if it's just that people who live here figure that most of the other folks they will see are tourists, or perhaps they think they know everyone in their small town and anyone they don't recognize isn't worth the effort. Of course, it's possible they just aren't generally friendly with strangers. Or maybe I'm just intimidatingly handsome.

Also, I used to tease Ellen that she was going to be “meine kleine Hausfrau.” Well, it seems more like I'm her little Hausmann. I actually folded and put away her unmentionables and ironed her jeans today. And that was after making her breakfast. And lunch. This isn't complaining, though; let's be clear about that. I don't mind in the least helping around the place, especially since I have nothing but time and she's away earning money to pay our rent. Just thought it was a fun twist of irony.

Basically, it looks like I've got myself a sugar momma for a few months. Nice.

10/14/08 – Day 5

I never realized how much we're addicted to the Internet. At least, I am. I rely on it so much for entertainment, for information, for communication, everything. It's become a common mantra around the apartment: “If we ever get Internet, we can...” Ellen needed to know her height in centimeters for her visa application (God knows why the German government would need that information, but I digress), and we tried to figure it out by our own means first (“How many centimeters are on a ruler?”) but could not. Thus: “If we ever get Internet, we can look it up!”

So I realize this addiction, yet I'm honestly okay with it. I don't worry about it like everybody else. If somehow the entire Internet collapses and ceases to exist, it will suck, but I could go on living just fine. But it's a huge help while it's still around. How else could I get all my favorite American TV shows over here, or talk to my parents for free or for pennies? And that's not even mentioning the fact that we can easily convert inches to centimeters on a whim in all those multitude of instances that we need to do that. Or, should I absolutely need to, I can find out what that movie is called that one guy was in with the cute little girl who had that line everyone was repeating for months afterward.

So, I mean, it's helpful, you know?

10/15/08 – Day 6

Ellen is definitely getting tired of me. Here's how I can tell: when I ask her “Are you tired of me yet?” she doesn't say yes or no anymore, she just smiles and kisses me on the cheek. It's okay though, it was completely expected. Anytime you've got someone in your ear constantly asking “What does that mean? Does it have something to do with food or driving?” or “Why do they do that? How weird. Do all Germans do that?” you're bound to get a little fed up after awhile, especially if that person is basically your only friend for about 10,000 kilometers and there's no Internet to take your mind off things.

Oh well, she'll get used to it.

10/16/08 – Day 7

When the sun comes out here, as rare a occurrence as that is, the birds going nucking futs. I had the windows opened just slightly when the sun came out for a few moments this afternoon, and the utter cacophony that occurred blew my mind and nearly my eardrums.
  • So far joblessness has consisted of drinking, video games, and participating in dangerous activities. Luckily, it's not as bad as it sounds.
  • Oh little town of Meersburg, Germany, you'll be getting hit hard by the full brunt of Mark J. Lehman in less than a week. Prepare yourself.
  • There will likely be a fair amount of this self-conscious, self-flaggelating blogging going on over the next few months as I try to determine what sorts of skills I actually possess, besides the obvious BS. Hopefully there will be an equal or greater amount of actual novel-writing going on - you know, something worthwhile - but we'll see about that.
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