Mistakes were made

New York City meets Munich


November 9th, 2011 · Learning German

Almost every day, I am diligently spending time using the Rosetta Stone language training software, slowly improving my German skills. My vocabulary and understanding of grammar and verb tenses are definitely increasing. The software is rather methodical, which makes it very effective, but sometimes it can feel a little tedious matching sentences and pictures together over and over again.

But every now and then it can get interesting, like this example, where this young woman tells me she’s picked the red shoes:

Freut mich!

Pictures like that are much more memorable for me than the pictures of kids eating pie. I’m hoping this theme will be explored further in future lessons. It would be useful to learn what “Passen diese Schuhe zu meinen Strümpfen und Straps?” means, for instance.

You never know when you’ll need it.

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It’s not you, MVG, it’s me

October 11th, 2011 · Germany, Transportation

Registering of residency is a practice here in Germany that doesn’t exist in the United States. When we moved to Munich, both Conny View definition in a new window and I had to visit the Public Service Bureau to register that we now live here. You need to provide some documentation, such as a lease, and in our case our proof of marriage (since I am not an EU citizen.) It’s a simple process, and it makes sense. For any other agency or institution that wants “proof of residency” there is now a single, legal document we can give. This is unlike the United States, where everyone has a different list of what is considered acceptable documentation that you live somewhere. This also provides the municipal governments with useful information for services like schools and knowing the size of the general population.

About a week after we registered there was a huge piece of mail addressed to me jammed into the mailbox slot. The postman could not put the envelope in the mailbox because it was so wide, and so stiff. Turns out it was a “Welcome Package” from MVG, the Munich Transit Authority. This glossy, full color marketing binder contained a greeting from MVG, extolling the virtues of Munich mass transit, and providing a bunch of useful information on tariffs, routes and contact information. The thing looked more like what a cruise line would send me, not the bus and subway people. It has cutouts on the dividers, and pull out maps with stickers you can use. This thing isn’t cheap.

The Weclome Package.My first thought on flipping through this expensive piece of marketing material was that the people of Munich are paying way too much on their transit fares.

We tucked the binder away for reference, and I didn’t think too much more about it.

A week after that I got another letter from my new best friend in Munich, MVG. At least this time it was in a normal-sized envelope. Inside was an offer for a free weekly pass for the entire transit system as their gift to me, a new Munich citizen. I just had to go on the web site and log in with the provided account and password, and they’d mail me the pass to activate starting on any day I want.

These people really want me to use the transit system. In fairness, Munich has great public transportation which includes buses, trams, surface trains and subways. We’ve been using it when we need to, so this offer was a nice freebie. But seeing that I had to go online and wait to get the pass in the mail, there didn’t seem to be any urgency. I procrastinated and put the offer aside to use later, with Conny’s help.

A week after that, my obsessive pen-pal MVG wrote me again. This new letter told me about the previous offer from a week earlier, and expressed concern because I had not logged on to the web site. They speculated that maybe I misplaced the earlier letter as I unpacked from the move, or perhaps I didn’t receive it in the first place. In any case, they provided me again with the account and password, and let me know my free weekly pass is waiting for me.

(Not the real MVG mascot.)At this point I expect someone in an MVG mascot outfit to break my door down, drag me to Ostbahnhof, and force me to ride all over the city until I profess my undying love and commitment to transit in all its forms. How can a transit authority be so needy? I feel like MVG is stalking me. I almost want to insist on walking everywhere now, just out of spite.

I don’t understand why the municipal transit authority has to engage in such a hard sell. There are no other mass transit options. Unless I drive or walk, they are the only game in town. Do they think new residents move here from caves, having never seen transit of any kind? That the buses, trams, subway entrances and train stations mystify people who move here? Did someone at MVG imagine people are shuffling slowly down the sidewalk thinking “Gosh, I wonder what those things are with all those people riding on them. I guess I’ll never know.”

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Nein Prosit, Bitte

October 4th, 2011 · Germany

The 2011 Oktoberfest ended yesterday. We made one last visit.

No more beer, please.

Thank goodness its over. Keeping up with these people is going to kill me.

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Can do

September 27th, 2011 · Apartment Life, Gadgets

Old fashioned can opener.When it came time to pack up to move to Munich, we tried to get rid of everything we didn’t need, and anything worn out and ready to be replaced. No place was this more true than in the kitchen. It made no sense to move a worn out plastic spatula, a tired frying pan or a cruddy can opener.

This led to some confusion when unpacking, though. Trying to remember what we threw out or gave away and what we packed caused several incidents where we were sure we packed something, but couldn’t lay our hands on it. Though in many cases this wasn’t a huge issue since Conny View definition in a new window’s parents had ensured, by either loans or gifts, that we had almost all of the necessities.

For instance we had a snazzy new can opener. On a day to day basis we don’t actually need to open a lot of canned goods. And those few times we do, like for feeding the dog, they had pull tops. The first can I needed to open was a can of lychees to make Conny a lychee martini. That’s when I discovered I had no idea how to use this new can opener.

It was the kind you just crank by hand, so how hard can it be? I struggled with it for a few minutes, before I finally discovered an approach where the can would spin around when I cranked. I went the whole way around the can, and the lid seemed unfazed.

Conny couldn’t figure out how to make it work either, and since she was busy finishing up dinner, she finally suggested I make another drink for her instead. I gave up and put the can back in the cabinet, defeated by a simple, mechanical can opener.

Two weeks must have passed before the next need to open a can. This time is was tuna fish. Since I wasn’t in a rush, I went to Google to figure out how this dang can opener worked. It took one search to find a YouTube video showing me exactly how to use it.

In short order, I had the can of tuna fish opened. Turns out we had one of these fancy safety can openers, that cuts under the rim instead of the lid. Works very well and no sharp edges, just like the man on TV says. The only trick is the lid sometimes needs a little help coming out and the opener has a little gizmo on the side like a pair of pliers to help.

I thought back to the can of lychees. On a hunch, I took the can out of the cabinet and gave the top a little push with my finger. I had actually used the opener correctly, and it was open all along.

I threw out those lychees and chalked it up as a cheap lesson.

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My first dump

September 26th, 2011 · Apartment Life, Germany

So much cardboard…With all the unpacking, we generated a large amount of recycling. We had several stuffed boxes of flattened cartons and paper. While our building has a bin to put such things in, they only come for paper every other week, and that would mean we’d fill it for about a month. That wouldn’t make us very popular with our neighbors.

My father-in-law offered to help haul it to the recycling center with his car. Since he also looks after the building we’re in, it was a chance for him to get rid of some other junk while having me help with loading and unloading. Seemed like a fair deal to me.

That was before I helped him carry up the old freezer from the basement. The German vocabulary word of today is schwer.

Since there was a lot of stuff to take, he had borrowed a small trailer from a friend. We loaded it up with all the moving cartons, that freezer, some old cabinet, a broken chair, and a beaten up bike. Then we were off to the dump.

Though, honestly, when we got there, I couldn’t call it a dump any more. It was the cleanest, most organized recycling and trash facility I have ever seen. There were containers and compactors for all different categories of trash, and lots of men in orange jumpsuits guiding cars and people around. I got scolded for putting the wood counter top of the old cabinet in the “furniture” bin, when it should go in the “wood” bin.

Leave it to the sloppy American to screw things up at the Munich dump.

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