Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Eisenach and Wartburg Castle

We just got back from a weekend trip to Eisenach, where we stayed in the small with Sebastian’s parents (Sebastian is our good friend and neighbor in Magdeburg). in a neighboring village called Schnellmannshausen. This is a village with maybe 100 houses, certainly several sheep, a beautiful stream, rolling hills and some lovely German folk.

Along with visiting the Wartburg castle, which was a tiring but fun adventure, one of the more interesting events during our stay was just sitting at the dinning table, talking with Sebastian’s parents about Germany’s history–specifically East Germany. See, they lived in east Germany their entire lives. Until 1989, they lived under the rule of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). Sebastian’s grandparents, who live downstairs in the same house, remember life before WWII and the aftermath split of the country.

This just blows my mind.

When I see an old person in Seattle, I think, oh, nice, you must have seen a lot in your life. But in Germany, when I see an old person on the tram–or meet in a friend’s house, I’m totally at a loss. They lived through Nazi Germany, and, most likely in Magdeburg and in other parts of eastern Germany, probably lived in the DDR.

Fred and Rita, Sebastian’s parents, took us near the east/west Germany border, a short drive (just over the hill) from their house in Schnellmannshausen. They pointed out the area that the Stasi patrolled and explained the areas where you could, at the time of the DDR, encounter land mines and auto-firing border protection weaponry. Prisoners in their own land. They showed us the papers that allowed them to travel in and out of their town (within the rest of East Germany), which was specially guarded and identification enforced because of it’s location. Rita even had a receipt for an automobile request she made, which had a 20 year waiting list in the DDR. They explained all about the corruption and problems with the socialist experiment and how it broke down. Fred was even offered to become part of the Stasi, which he obviously declined.

More »

German Oddities: Part 2

*NOTE: these are complete generalizations that I’ve gathered from only a few days in Magdeburg and may not be an accurate sample of Germany as a whole*

There are no Scoop-the-Poop Laws

As evidenced by my walk to the tram stop every day, the city apparently doesn’t care about dogs crapping on the sidewalks. Although the sidewalks are covered in snow (and ice) at the moment, you have to be extra careful not to step in the (probably) more slippery substances that are so carefully placed every few feet.

Shuffling Cards

Tonight, I learned that most Germans are not adept at shuffling cards in the Riffle bridge format ( This is quite common in the US–but maybe it’s more common to play card games there…

Pushing Buttons

If you want something to happen, you have to push a button. The trams (streetcars) have doors that will not open for you unless you push a green button on their middle. The trains work the same way (most of them).

Ready Made, Chilled Cheeseburgers

You can buy ready made cheeseburgers in the meat section of the grocery store… bun and all.

Sit When You Pee

In nearly every restroom I’ve seen, there is a sign insisting that you sit while peeing.


In the two apartments I’ve visited, both have keys in all the doors.


You can drink just about anywhere. People drink on the train, walking down the street… pretty much anywhere.

Zwei Bier, bitte!

Other Photos From Our Trip

Want to buy a rock?

Here’s an example of 4 different trash receptacles on a train:


I am now uploading all of my trip photos to Facebook–but you have to be my friend to see them :)

More »

German Oddities

We’ve now lived in Germany for a few days and I have noticed a few things that I find odd. Here they are for your amusement:

Peanut Butter is not that common

We have been spending time playing board games and getting advice from one of our neighbors, a 20-something college student here. Until last night, when we made rolls and had them with various spreads (including peanut butter), he had never in his life tried peanut butter.

“It’s not common here.” He said.

Looking at the bottle, as our housemates pointed out, sure enough, it was “American Peanut Butter.”


Garbage and Recycling Separation is on a Whole New Order of Specificity

Everywhere you go (even on the train) there are at least 4 different bins to put your garbage, organic compost, recycling and recycling of many various types. It’s nice to see that they care so much, but I haven’t gotten used to it yet in our kitchen.

We have a place for compost, another for newspaper and other papers, another for glass bottles, another for wet garbage that cannot be composted, another for dry garbage that cannot be recycled or composted, and if we wanted to comply fully, we could start more buckets for things like corks that you might get from a wine bottle (which have to be taken to a special place).

It’s Helpful to Always have a Euro… and Bags

The grocery store has a neat system for shopping carts. You have to unlock it by depositing a 1 Euro coin into the key slot. When you return your cart, you get your Euro back. Now I keep a special Euro with my keys in my pocket :)

The grocery store also charges for bags. Everyone brings reusable bags with them shopping. What we tried to pass as a law in Seattle is just common practice here.

Apartments Don’t Come with Anything

We viewed an apartment today and noticed it has no ceiling light in the bedroom. It has the wires for it, and a light switch but no fixture. Apparently, it is up to the renter to supply these things. In fact, the apartment we were viewing was particularly unusual for an available rental in Germany because it had cabinets, a refrigerator, an oven, a kitchen sink, etc. Normally, apartments come with no appliances at all. When you move, you take everything, including the kitchen sink.

Electric Bills are Guesstimated then Fixed

When you rent an apartment, you pay for your rent plus a utilities rate based on your square meters. When your lease is finished (not every month), they calculate your real usage and either pay you back the overage or send you a bill for the unpaid amount used. I’m sure you can see issues that could arise from this.

I’m sure there are many other differences that I either haven’t noticed yet or have already become accustomed to. I’ll keep you updated with what I encounter.

More »

Move to Germany Part 1: Packing

So we moved to Germany. This all started when our friends, Brendan and Stina decided to settle down in Magdeburg after traveling around as buskers. Actually, it started a few years ago when Lena and I made a pact that we would someday live abroad for a year. We had tentatively toyed with the idea of Singapore or Taiwan but hadn’t writ anything in stone. Then along came news from our friends that rent is cheap in Magdeburg, life is good and the EU is a travel mecca (as if we didn’t already know the last part). So we thought about it for a minute (in itemized format):

  • I work as a telecommuting web developer (so I can work from anywhere in the world that has a decent net connection)
  • My wife isn’t tied down with a job (aside from taking care of our daughter, which, although is certainly a form of being tied down, it’s a mobile form)
  • Our daughter, Ilya, is only 1.5 years old (or was when we made the decision) so she isn’t in pre-school yet.

So, all the stars being in alignment, we purchased plane tickets.

Yesterday, we flew 10 hours (non-stop) from Seattle to Frankfurt. We found much amusement during our fretting about selling off our belongings and renting out our house when our friends and family would constantly remind us that “once you get on the plane you can just relax.” Of course, none of these people are experienced in the art of flying 10 hours with a toddler. It was, as we expected, more exhausting than the whole lead up to moving.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We spent the last several months selling off nearly everything we own. Every week, I would look around the house and gasp, “I can’t believe we still have so much stuff!”
Even on the last day, as we packed up a stack of things to store at Lena’s mother’s house, I couldn’t believe how much we still had. I remember moving up to Seattle 10 years ago with two boxes and a mattress. Now, with a family and two houses, I’ve acquired enough stuff to crush the life out of me 10 times over.

But we paired down, sold things, drove to Good Will about 25 times, stored a few things at parent’s houses and eventually got it down to:

  • 1 Pack ‘n’ Play (Ilya’s portable bed)
  • 1 Stroller
  • 2 large suitcases (very large)
  • 3 backpacks (one for each of us)

Fifteen minutes before driving to Seatac airport, I looked at my wife, she looked at me and we both agreed. We have too much stuff. Maybe we can get rid of one of these large suitcases!

We were ruthless. Nothing was spared critical scrutiny. And we did it. One large suitcase, jammed pack.

Now, this seemed great. We had less baggage, less stuff and more mobility. At least, it seemed that way… until we got to the airport.

As we loaded up the large suitcase on the Lufthansa check-in weigh station, the attendant looked at us with concerned eyes, “Is there any way you can get this down below 32KG?”

It was 38 Kilos.

“Uh, maybe…” (that’s like 13 lbs. to shave off).

He gestured to the other end of the airport. “You could buy another piece of luggage. It’s a $160 charge if you can’t get it down to size.”

So, I ran. I ran to the whole other end of Seatac to a Hudson News, which sold these little travel bags. I bought one and ran back.

We ripped apart the suitcase, finding all the heaviest items that would fit. Score. I think we got it. Now the large suitcase was 28KG!

Back at the check-in desk, a new attendant gave us another sad look. “Any way you can you get it down below 23KG?”

“What? I thought it was 32…”

“Between 23-32KG there is a $160 charge for oversize. You have to get it below 23KG per bag.”



I ran back and bought another little bag. Again we ripped apart the suitcase, moving all the heaviest items over to the small bag. And, once again, we got it down.

22.8! w00t. Now our awesome ideal of traveling with 1 large suitcase instead of 2 has become traveling with 1 large suitcase + 2 small travel bags. Sigh.

Now to board the plane…

Tune in later…

…for the next installment: “Ich habe mein Gepäck vergessen! (I forgot my luggage!)”.

Follow Updates

To follow Adam and his family on their exploits, see these wonderful services:

I will be posting at least 1 photo a day here (also automagically posts to twitter): (for easy RSS subscription, visit my lifestream blog:

Twitter (get’s dailybooth, plus many additional posts):

My tweets get posted to my facebook wall, so you can also find me here:

Ilya’s photos will get posted here, along with my misc. sleep deprived ramblings:

Any great music I discover here, I will post on (also gets posted to twitter):

More »