Tuesday, October 4, 2011

a new temple for us

we were excited to hear at conference that we'd be receiving a new temple here. i know it sounds excessive, but you all know there are a lot of mormons here!

it's also good to know that the old tabernacle will be salvaged. it was so sad when so much of it was destroyed last year in the fire.

here is a picture of w just a couple weeks before the fire. they used to have live actor nativity performances there before christmas. that's when this one was taken. then, a picture of us in front of the building after the fire. i just watched jane eyre, and the burnt building reminds me now of the gothically romantic home that burns down at the end of the story.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

berlin & amsterdam

ok, so this is a pretty strange post. most of the segments come from my emails to brian, but some i wrote up today. i don't want to go through and edit things--so there are typos as well. forgive me. also, this is really long. forgive me again.

Sunday, September 18 I arrived in Berlin this morning at 9:30am Berlin time (which is 1:30am your time). I slept a little on the flight from SLC to Atlanta, and then a little on the short flight from Amsterdam to Berlin. But the long 8 or so hour flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam, I didn’t sleep. This is the first long flight I’ve taken though where I got up and moved around during the flight several times. B, I also watched Midnight in Paris that new Woody Allen movie we’ve heard so much about. It was fun, and it would be fun to watch it with you since we both love the Moveable Feast era of Paris.

When I got to Berlin, I caught a taxi to my hotel. My taxi driver was nice—about my age. His English was good, but not perfect. He mentioned that Angela Merkel (the Chancellor of Germany) was a “he”. When I told him that I felt ridiculous because I had always thought Angela Merkel was a woman, he said that she was. Ah, the importance of pronouns!
My hotel room wasn’t ready when I got to the hotel, so I dropped off my bags and then took the subway down to the Berlin Jewish Museum. It was an interesting museum. They had artifacts and stories of German Jewish people who had suffered, and often died, in the holocaust and the build up to the holocaust. Almost ½ the Jews in Germany left the country prior to Germany invading Poland in 1939. By the end of the holocaust, 6 million Jewish people were killed—200,000 of them were German. The museum also chronicled the history of the Jewish people: their diaspora, customs, writings, etc. I especially liked learning about a woman named Gliekl who wrote her personal history, starting in 1691 (she spent almost 20 years writing it). It’s the first Jewish personal narrative by a woman. She had 14 children—12 of which survived—and co-ran the money changing/precious gems trading business she and her husband operated. Then, when her husband died, she ran the entire business on her own. I also learned that the pomegranate is an important fruit to the Jewish people. They eat a pomegranate on their new years to indicate that they want the new year to be sweet and provide them with as many blessings as the pomegranate has seeds. That makes me like pomegranates even more.

i saw this view of a big globe above skyline and thought it was humorous. of course, "die" in german just means "the."

After the museum, I walked along Friedrichstrasse and made my way to remaining standing Berlin Wall. It’s been a rainy day today, which seemed like an appropriate way to see Berlin and focus on things like the holocaust, the Berlin Wall, WWII, etc. It was really neat to see the wall and be reminded of how recently it was that there was East and West Germany. I was 9 when the wall officially came down! After walking along the wall, I walked in a passageway slightly underground that outlined the rise and fall of Hitler, the Nazis, and the impact that had on the German people/culture and the world.

Interesting, Hitler was a national of Austria. I knew that, but he became the leader of Germany, which he could only do once he “became” a German national. I couldn’t follow exactly how they did that, but it seemed pretty under the table. He apparently got some interim position which gave him German citizenship, and then almost immediately he became the leader of the country. I saw a picture there of Hitler riding in a parade procession down the side street that I walked along to get to the Berlin Wall. I found that a bit unnerving.

I then walked back to Friedrichstrasse and saw Check Point Charlie, which I have to say wasn’t as neat or as imposing of a presence as I thought it would be. It was smack dab in the middle of traffic on Friedrichstrasse. But it’s the same building it was back in the day, which was neat to see.

I then returned back to my hotel. I felt pretty disoriented regarding time. It was cloudy, rainy, and a bit dark out. I had been out walking/exploring for a long time. I didn’t have a watch or cell phone that worked. And I was tired. I got into my hotel room to find out it was only 3:30 though! Ha, I thought it might have been 5:30. I took a 2-hour nap and then got up to get some dinner. The funny thing was, when I got up, I felt pretty confused. I kept feeling like I needed to talk to someone or meet up with someone, but clearly I didn’t need to. I guess I must have dreamt something along those lines.

I toyed with the idea of going to that neat German, cozy restaurant again for those great meatballs, but I forgot my umbrella and that was further away than I wanted to walk without an umbrella. So I went to an Asian fusion-type place close to the hotel. The food wasn’t great, but it hit the spot. I then ran over to the Indian place I went to last time and ordered that mamey ice cream I’ve thought about ever since I didn’t order it before. I got the ice cream to go, which the guy who helped me seemed to think was a bit strange, but I just wanted to get back to my warm, cozy hotel room. The ice cream came in a ceramic bowl with a lid, and he gave me a metal spoon since they didn’t have any plastic ones. He was a nice guy. I ran across the Spree River back to my hotel and put on my pj pants and ate my ice cream in bed while reading Murder on the Orient Express. The murder in the book hasn’t happened yet, but it’s about to.

Oh, I also wanted to let you know that I saw a magpie today. That was fun. I didn’t realize they were over here too, and I always consider it a good omen to see a magpie.

Monday, September 19 After my meetings were over, Nancy and I took a taxi back to the hotel. I changed out of my meeting attire and got into more comfortable clothes. We walked along Friedrichstrasse to a favorite shoe place of ours (I didn’t get anything) and then up to H&M where I did get a pair of skinny jeans for 9.95 euros, which is a little less than $15. They’re pretty skinny, but they’re remarkably comfortable. Nancy said I’m like a true European with such skinny jeans. We’ll see how many people confuse me for a French or German woman when I get back home. Actually, my taxi driver yesterday thought I was from France, which I thought was a funny guess, but maybe he doesn’t know a good accent-less American accent when he hears one.

After shopping, we went to find a place to eat. We settled on a French place along the Spree River. It was really nice. I don’t usually gush about a place, but the food was really good. We had a couple starters (which ironically are called entrees in French)—a toasted goat cheese square on top of cooked tomatoes and arugula and a foie gras with cheese and raspberries. I loved the goat cheese one, and the foie gras was interesting. It was my first time eating it, and I think interesting is the best word. Not bad, not great, but unique. For dinner we had chateau brion (I’m not sure how it’s spelled), which is a very fancy steak with French fries. Apparently, it’s common to have a fancy main with French fries on the side. The steak was good. Then I had a crème brule for desert. It was all nice. I’m sitting on my bed now feeling not overly full, but satisfied and very tired.

I’ve figured out how to take the underground and overground trains to my client’s office—so that’s how I’m going to get there tomorrow. I hear that the pope is coming here on Thursday. I guess that’s causing a little bit of a ruckus here, but I’m not sure how busy that may make Berlin.

Tuesday, September 20Guten! That means hello. I’ve also learned that platz means place, mitte means middle. I also know that I also know that you pronounce the name of the river Spree as “shpree.” Oh man I’m really becoming good at this.
Today I used the underground and over overground trains to get to my client’s office. I did just fine until I got off the underground going in the wrong direction and then asked a very nice man how to get to the location of the office, and he told me the exact opposite direction to go. I ended up spending about 30 minutes getting to a place I could have easily gotten to in 10 tops. I was pretty hot and sweaty by the time I made it to the office (I was walking quickly and carrying my laptop and purse). But I cooled off quickly when they opened the windows in the room we were meeting in. It was an upper level room with huge windows. It felt so good.

I meet with Oliver and Jana today and taught them how to do configuration work on their sites. It was a long day of mostly me talking, which is at best tiring for me and a little dull for those listening, but the time passed quickly and I think I kept their interest pretty well. I have a fairly flat, uninflected voice, but I tried to compensate for that by adding a touch of inflection here and there. I notice it, but I wonder if anyone else does. Either way, the training went well.

For lunch, they took me out to a small German-food restaurant in the Pottsdammer Platz area. It was a nice day so we ate outside. When we arrived, Jana asked me if I trusted her to order me a typical Southern German dish. I said yes, of course. She then asked if I liked ham.

The dish was called something ensalat. It was long strips of shredded ham with long strips of shredded cheese (a type of Swiss cheese) with some sliced onions on top and pickles on the side to garnish. It was nice. I wouldn’t say the most exciting dish ever, but tasty. Jana was a big fan of the dish, and it was fun to try something new and that she liked so much. On the way back to the office, I told her that if we ever made it back to Charlottesville at the same time, I’d take her to a Mexican restaurant (she doesn’t know Spanish) and order her a dish. I didn’t tell her the dish, but in my mind I imagined huitlecoche. I always like getting that when I can. Before I get the dish, though, I better ask her if she’ll trust me to order her something good and if she likes funguses.

At the end of the day, I chatted with Jana’s boss, Christian. We talked about German work policies. He told me how companies of a certain size are given the opportunity to create a company council that works full time to ensure that company worker’s needs are met. So, for a company like my client’s company, they could have a company council of about 5 people. Those 5 people no longer work doing their original jobs at the company but instead work full time to be on this council. And someone like Christian comes up with job descriptions for his employees, and then those job descriptions are reviewed by the council and the company’s higher ups. They agree on salaries for certain categories of workers based on these job descriptions. Christian said that these councils sometimes cause a lot of problems within companies. The people on the council can stay for 2-4 year terms, and the company still has to pay them while they don’t actually do the job they were hired to do. Some people take this very seriously and some cause a lot of friction within the company and become very unpopular among the employees. In many ways it’s a job killer, Christian said. But, you’ll be happy to know, this isn’t mandated by the government. It’s something that can be done, and people here have a constitutional right to have this council, but it’s not required if no one in the company wants one. It was an interesting discussion. He also told me about how difficult (nearly impossible) it is to fire someone here or to sue someone. Yesterday, he told us the most horrible story at lunch. He told us how his grandfather had gone in for a routine procedure, and the hospital gave him the wrong medication. It was previously documented that it was the wrong medication. Because of this he had a stroke. Because of other blatant medical errors he fell out of his hospital bed twice, each time breaking his leg and a rib or something. Anyway, it would seem like the most clear-cut case of suing a hospital/doctors and winning. He said that eventually, after many expert witnesses, they won the case, but then the hospital refused to pay them. They just wouldn’t pay. And, if you can imagine, there’s actually little that can be done to get your money. It was infuriating to hear. Jana said several times that it’s one thing to win here, and an entirely different matter to get your payment.

After working all day in the office, I successfully made it back to my hotel and then went out for my beloved meatballs and home fries. They were very tasty. I also had a baked cambert cheese with cranberries. Honestly, I loved the taste of the crannies—so tart. It makes me wish for Green Pond. I took my book with me and read by the dim light of the fading day and a candle at my table. My book (“Murder on the Orient Express”) has gotten to the point where the guy has died and we’re discovering details and clues. It’s quite a fun read. I also enjoyed taking in the ambiance of the restaurant. It’s the same place I went to last time with the rustic charm of old wagons hanging from the ceiling, mismatched wooden chairs and tables, candles light in front of mirrors to reflect the light. It’s a fun restaurant, and I very much enjoyed it again this time.

After dinner, I walked back to Friedrichstrasse and back to my hotel. I’m going to read some more from my book and then head in to bed. I wanted to work some tonight, but I can’t get a good internet connection. I think what I’ll do is just plan on staying at the office tomorrow after I’m done being their teacher.

Wednesday, September 21 / Thursday, September 22 i stayed late at the office as you know. what you don't know is that right after i finished writing to you last night, i found that i was alone on the second floor of the office building, and i was locked in. there was no way to get out, and there was no one around as far as i could tell (my only way of knowing if people were around is if i stood by a glass door that led to the stairway (which i was locked from entering). i found a phone and could call people internally, but i couldn't figure out how to call out of the building.

anyway, long story short, finally two friendly woman came down the stairwell and talked to the hausman and figured out how to get a key so that i could get out. i was locked in the building for about an hour, which isn't all that long, but it felt long at times. Especially when I thought I might have to spend the night there.

christian, jana's boss, just came into the conference room where we'll be working today and felt very embarassed that this happened. i told him not to worry about it. it is humorous--especially since i didn't have to spend the night in the building.

once i got home, i was so tired, i didn't want to get anything to eat, and i read for awhile but fell asleep reading.

Thursday, September 22 last night i went out to the pergamon museum--berlin's museum of ancient history/art. it was neat. i'll share more with you later. it was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel, which was great. then i went back to that frenchy restuarant and had a relatively small dinner. a goat cheese/veggie tart. that was about 10 euros. then two bottles of still water (since you can't have tap water) and those were a total of 7 euros. they were really small bottles! i couldn't believe it. the water almost doubled the cost of my meal. it's strange eating alone, but i brought my trusty book and my journal, which made eating alone not quite so weird.

relief sculpture at the pergamon.

i finished my book last night. you'll be surprised to know that the reason why the case was so difficult to crack (on the orient express) was because all of the passengers were in on it. they all took part in the murder. and then, since the circumstances could justify this, the detective who cracked the case decided that they could all be let off the hook since the man they killed was such a bad guy. it was interesting. i'll be leading the book club discussion on this book in october.

Friday, September 23 After I finished training Jana and Oliver, Jana and I took the train to the “village” she lives in. It’s a pretty short train ride out of Berlin. It was good to have a chance to talk with Jana and see the countryside.

Jana’s husband and baby met us at the train station and took us home. They have a fancy’ish yellow sporty car. I knew that Rene (Jana’s husband) was into cars, but not only is he into them, but he likes driving them very, very quickly. I was a little nervous driving with him through the narrow, small-town streets, but he got us home safely. He was going over 100 km/hr at times, which was fast given the roads we were on.

I hung out with Jana, Yannick, and Rene for awhile. Rene doesn’t speak a lot of English, but is nice. Jana and I went on a lovely walk through her neighborhood and the fields flanking her neighborhood. It was beautiful. The houses were lovely, and the fields and trees were nice. The weather was great too. It just felt so peacefully invigorating.

A few of the things that Rene did know in English were names of conservative politicians (Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, etc), and he knew the term tea party. He was not a fan of either these people or movements, which was humorous and suited me just fine.

Jana made a traditional German meal of bratwursts, sourkrout, and mashed potatoes. It was tasty (I have to say, I do prefer currywursts to just regular bratwursts, but they’re good). I have to say, as well, that I ate a lot of meat while I was in Germany.

It was nice to go see Jana’s house (it had a very European sensibility to it) and experience something besides the city. Rene took me back to the train station and helped me get on the 10:30pm train to Berlin. It was delayed, which meant I didn’t get back to my hotel until almost an hour later. But I slept well that night.

Saturday, September 24 On Saturday I slept in a little bit and then had a nice breakfast (as usual) at the hotel. Man, they know how to feed a person. I then packed up and checked out my hotel. My plane to Amsterdam didn’t leave until 5:30pm so I took the morning and afternoon to see more of Berlin.

me with the river spree in the background.

I happened upon an outdoor market (right in front of the Pergamon) and enjoyed perusing the stalls (art, antiques, books, records, etc). I do enjoy markets, and I particularly liked the antiques. I picked up a few things.

I then made my way to the Berlin Dome, their big, Catholic cathedral. I always enjoy seeing cathedrals and this one was impressive. Any old building in Berlin is impressive since so much of the city was destroyed during the war. There was a wedding going on so the bells were ringing. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t get to go inside.

I got a closer look at the TV Tower (a Berlin landmark) and found a statue of Marx and Engels. It was sort of funny seeing the statue of the two of them since when I found it there was a nice-looking young couple having a friend take big, smiling-faced pictures of them in front of it. I just wasn’t sure if big smiles were the appropriate way to stand with the two of them.

Then I meandered around a bit. I found a neat shot that sold Turkish lamps (intricately carved metal lamps), and I wanted to get one, but they were pretty expensive and I don’t think I could have fit them in my luggage. But they were neat to look at. Then I went to another outdoor market. Honestly, I can’t remember much about that one now, but I enjoyed it. The weather was beautiful, and it was nice to be out and about.

I got myself a mango ice cream while I was out (it was actually warm enough to warrant ice cream), and it was so good. It tasted very mango-y, which I like!

Eventually, I made it to the airport and caught my plane to Amsterdam. I got there without any problems and then took the train to the Centraal Station. From there, since it wasn’t dark yet, I opted to walk to my hostel. If I were to do it again, I’d get a taxi, but it worked out ok. I was just very hot and sweaty by the time I made it there.

Hostel living is not the ideal. It was quite a change from the lovely hotel I was in in Berlin, but it worked. Jana had given me an apple and pear—so I ate those for dinner. I also slept on the most uncomfortable bed (maybe not the worst of my life, but one of the worst). I didn’t sleep well on my little bed, and it didn’t help that I slept with my purse, backpack, and laptop on the bed with me. I didn’t have a good way of keeping them locked up and secure—so I decided that having them on the bed with me was the best option. Brother was I glad when morning arrived!

Saturday, September 24 / Sunday, September 25 i like getting out and seeing things, but it's not as fun when i'm doing it alone. i also don't get much of a chance to talk here. i guess i should be more outgoing, but i do talk to some people. it's just a quieter day than i'm used to. although, the funny thing is, i hear a lot of talking, but it's almost always in another languauge. and it sort of seems like background noise. anyway, all of this to say i miss you!

but i am having a good time. i got in to amsterdam without any problems last night and then walked to my hostel. if i had to do it again, i'd get a taxi, but so it goes. it didn't take too long, but it's still sort of heavy to pull and carry luggage so far. anyway, i'm going to get a taxi to the train station going home. it will cost a little extra, but i'm willing to pay that.

the hostel i stayed in was, unbeknownst to me, a christian hostel. i heard them doing a group discussion of the parable of the prodical son. i didn't feel like going out for dinner so i just ate an apple and pear that jana gave me the night before.

i shared a room there with three other woman. i was on a top bunk. And it was a long night. it was really uncomfortable. i knew when i left berlin i'd be leaving luxury behind me, but i didn't realize how far behind it would be. i didn't sleep well. i was rolling around the whole night. i did sleep some, but not much. finally, morning came, and i had my free breakfast of pancakes and left to go to the ann frank huis. i met a nice canadian couple in line. they were nice to chat with.

the ann frank huis was a neat thing to see. it was a bit crowded, but i actually got to walk through the secret annex they lived in for so long. it was neat and sad, of course. i got a book about the historical significance of the frank family, ann's diary, how that fits in with the larger historical context, etc. i'll need to read through it first, but i thought that could be a good thing to read with william. and then a younger daughter once she gets a little older maybe.

the ann frank huis

i then walked to see the dutch royal palace. it was smack dab in the middle of a shopping area, which i think took a little away from it, but it was impressively large. i also went inside an old church that was doing an exhibit of fashion something or other. i couldn't figure out why it was putting on this exhibit. it seemed strange given the environment, but the church was neat.

i then walked to the floating flower market. you might be imagining the floating market of indonesia, but this one's a little different. there's a bunch of house boat/barges type things all connected on one of the cannals. there were a lot of tulips for sale (and other flowers as well), and i was tempted to buy some bright blue tulips (they were the ones that caught my fancy), but i'd have to declare them in customs, and i'm sure i could buy some in the us. but that could be neat to have. i love it when our tulips bloom.

they had other flowers at the floating market as well.

i then walked around some--sort of looking for some rembrandt place--and noticed some wayang puppets (excuse my spelling). the puppets were decoration for a restuarant. i noticed some indonesian-looking people in there eating so i decided to give it a try. i had a sort-of rijstafel for one (like what i had in berlin in april). it was good and filling. i had telor (the egg), a chicken satay, and rendong among other items that i don't know the names of.

the wayangs that enticed me into the restaurant.

feeling satisfied I left the restaurant. i didn't find the rembrandt place, but i did find an old mid 18th century row house museum i had thought of going to. it had a lot of interesting pieces of furniture and paintings. it was sort of like walking through a place like monticello, except without the guide. one interesting thing i saw was that most of the old portrait painting had two faces painted in the top right corner of the painting (a man and a woman in profile if i remember correctly). they were small, but noticeable. and it was always the same black man and black woman. i wasn't sure what that meant, but it struck me.

after that i meandered back to my hotel and got officially checked in. this morning they offered to get me into a room quickly, if i didn't care about having my own bathroom. But I did care about having my own bathroom. once i got back in the late afternoon i lied down for awhile (i was tired and my back hurt). i think the back issue stems from that bad bad bed at the hostel. then i went out to a grocery store for some water and a banana. i tried to get some small red berries as well (in dutch, the name started with an "r"), but they weren't on sale like i thought they were. so i didn't get them.

Monday, September 26 today was a good day. Thankfully, my body has kept pace with my schedule. by that i mean my feet haven't bothered me too much or my back (from the less-than-ideal bed i had the other night). this morning i got up and showered and then had my free breakfast at the hotel. the breakfast seemed pretty normal, except for the chocolate sprinkles (like the kind you put on cakes) that came to me in a small bowl. i couldn't figure out exactly how they expected me to eat them. i ate a spoon full (and thought that they did taste pretty good), but that was it. i guess maybe people put them on top of the jam on their bread?

after that i walked on over to an outdoor market closeby. i found you a nice birthday present and enjoyed looking at the antiques especially. i then headed over to the van gogh museum. you know i'm a fan of van gogh, and so this was a really fun museum. when i get back i'll have to tell you about all of the new (or maybe previously known but forgotten) facts i learned about him. the art was great, and the write ups they provided were informative--even for a person who already knows a bit about the man.

this is a copy of only a couple of pictures ever taken of van gogh. he's the dark figure in the foreground with his back to us. sorry, i forgot to rotate the picture!

i then headed over to another outdoor market--one that emily recommended. it was interesting to look around, but there weren't any antiques, and i have to admit that i find antiques more interesting. i did, however, find a place that sold little dutch pancakes that were so good. I actually went back for a second helping of them—that’s how good they were.

at this point it started to rain, but not hard--more of a sprinkle. i made it back to my hotel walking along prinsengracht straat, which has a cannal the entire way. there's a big church close to my hotel--so i can't always tell when i'm getting close. and i like how it tells me the time by its chimes on the hour. i should travel with a watch next time. But the chimes sure have been helpful.

i got back to my hotel and got my umbrella. then headed off to padi, the indonesian restaurant that emily recommended. i got the rijstaffel for one. i took my journal and wrote in it while i waited. although no one else was in the restaurant--so i didn't have to wait too long. the food was good. i got two chicken satays and scooped out all of the peanut sauce. none went to waste. they played oldies american music, which seemed a bit odd, but familiar. All of the songs seemed to be about longing for your true love, which made me miss B.

now i'm back at the hotel. it's only 7:15, but i'm tired and it will be dark by 8. if i pack tonight, i'll have time tomorrow morning to do a little more walking around. i think i'll probably walk myself to the train station. i keep waffling on this point, but i think i'll do that. that will save probably 10-15 euros, and i want to go for a walk anyway.

PS—I did walk to the train station the next day. It was tiring, but a good workout.

i saw this sign in amsterdam. i thought it was interesting that bell biv devo was still performing together, and performing in amsterdam nonetheless.

i saw this on the side of an amsterdam fish vendor. i thought it was funny.

a riff on the famous van gogh painting on the side of a place that sold french fries in amsterdam.