What a year!

A year ago, the 25th of January 2006 I arrived in Belfast. Recently, in spare moments I never failed to think about that and to be surprised how fast a year can fly by and yet how it can change so much.

I am sure that those of you who have experienced the students-exchange-lives have thought about all that as well.

We were, and are, part of a world which cultures become closer and closer, where understanding between cultures grows and war becomes more and more unlikely. Hopefully. And the exchanges and making friends from different countries helps that along the way. Hopefully.

Unfortunately, time is short, wherefore (is wherefore an actual English word?) I cannot dwell on that matter very long. Just a couple of days and then exams are due and there’s a lot of learning to be done until then.

Sigh. What a year!


Storm and RAGE

Last Thursday the hurricane “Kyrill” hit Germany. Some people died and fire brigades and police were permanently in action. Fortunately in Aachen and in the Saarland it was relativley quiet. No damage done there. But it was nevertheless a bit frightening not to be able to walk straight anymore…

The most noticeable side effect was that traffic collapsed completely in Germany during the afternoon of Thursday and was not rellay reestablished until Saturday morning.

I experienced this because I had to return to the Saarland on Friday. It took me 9 hours to get from Aachen to Dillingenby train. Always by means of local stoptrains because almost all long-distance trains going from North to South (or vice versa) had trouble passing the Ruhrgebiet which was heavily struck by the hurricane. Fortunately Tanja and I were travelling together so it was not the least boring. We had to change our destination and take a different route than the one intended but luckily my parents could come and pick us from the train station.

Usually, under these circumstances, I would have refrained from travelling but I had tickets for a concert on Saturday evening. (My brother’s Xmas present for me). The concert included a band called “RAGE” which is one of Germany’s best heavy metal bands.

So Saturday evening  my brother and I went to the concert hall full of excitement. They had 4 bands on the list for the evening and unfortunately that was all the organizers had managed to do. The breaks between the bands (when they had to re-arrange the equipment, replace the drum set, check the microphones [the peak of boredom: listening to a brain-amputee roadie endlessly bleating “one-two-check, one-two-check…” into the microphone]). Even worse: all the testing didn’t pay off. The sound was awful at times.

By the time the headliner finally arrived on stage we suffered from tiredness, hurting backs and feet and boredom. (We had by then already spent 5 hours of waiting!).

But when RAGE entered the stage all the sufferings paid off instantly. Those guys really rocked the house. They are just three (drums, guitar and bass/vocals) but they sounded like four or five. Their guitarist (Victor Smolski) is a “guitar-nazi” (as Leo put it). He manages to play chords and solo simultaneously. And he is funny to watch. He must be so focused on the guitar that he completely looses control about his body and his face. The Bass-player and frontman Peavey Wagner is also awe-inspiring. In a different way as I may add, for he must be 2 meters tall and weigh well about 300 lbs. A grizzly bear with a bass guitar and a voice that could have easily cut through the crowd without the PA.

When we left at 1:30 am Leo and I were completely exhausted but nevertheless happy.

What a weekend!

Köln – Cologne

Tanja has got a job in Bonn, I am studying in Aachen. Cologne is situated somewhere in the middle of the two other cities.

The thought which Tanja and I had was to move in together somewhere in Cologne. Therefore, in late fall last year we started searching for apartments in Cologne. It is not easy to find something which is not too far from the train station (Tanja and I’ll have to commute), reasonably priced and not too ramshackle. We phoned, we drove to Cologne, we visited … without much success.

Then Tanja found this offer for apartments which are owned by the federal government and which are rented only to employees of the federal government (you guessed right: Tanja is employed by our federal government). These apartments are usually pretty cheap (at least for Cologne standards – they are subsidised by the government) and therefore difficult to get. But when we applied it looked like we had good chances to get a 70 m² one with 3 rooms, kitchen, bathroom and balcony. There were two identical apartments with these specifications and two parties (including Tanja and me) had applied.

Unfortunately, between Xmas and the new year a co-worker of Tanja put in a last-minute application and that girl is in a better position because she’s got children. So, Tanja and I were out of the contest. (There is an burocratic manchinery which is in charge of those federal apartments and they assign the flats (if possible) to people who are in need (less children=less need). Which is basically a good thing, even if it turns out to be not in our favour…

You can imagine that we didn’t feel like this was going to be a good start to the new year, with the prospect of more checking “to let”-offers, phoning, arranging meetings and uarrgh…but what can you do?

Yeah, what can you do?

I tell you what: you can receive a phone call from a totally baffled Tanja who tells you that we can have the apartment anyway! Which left me completely baffled, too. But it turned out that the office in charge had gotten something mixed up and given out wrong information. The correct information is: Tanja will get one flat and her co-worker the other one. From May onwards we’ll be renting a completely refurbished flat, with new floor, new wallpapers, new bathroom etc. Three rooms, a large hall, large bathroom, kitchen with balcony facing a nice green backyard (as is the sleeping room, btw) and all that for a price that could usually just get half of the above listed (Cologne is awfully expensive when it comes to housing).


A happy new year to everyone

A few things occurred between Christmas and now which I find worth sharing.

Tanja’s Christmas present for me was train tickets to München and back plus tickets for the German museum. Therefore on Friday, the 29th of December we embarked a train which brought us to München. We stayed there with a couple (Tanja knows her from primary school times and I met him in the football club). He has moved recently to München because he found a new job there. First thing we did: we went to a traditional restaurant where I had one of the world famous “Schweinshaxe”. Tasty. Together with a dark beer…hmm. A huge chunk of meat with dumplings and red cabbage – a man’s dreams can come true.

The Saturday was spent in the German museum. It is an extremley large technical museum (Ulster Museum? A mere fart compared to this one!) with exhibitions on more than 45 000 square meters. We had to pick a few of the exhibitions because it is impossible to see it all in one day. We did ships, airplanes, space flight and astronomy. The exhibitions are truly awesome.

While in the museum I texted Leon and he agreed to meet us in the evening. Although there wasn’t much time he showed us round a bit. Thank you Leon!

Sunday we walked around München on our own (i.e. Jan, Anne, Tanja and I) and admittedly, München is a really nice city. Wealthy, clean and very well kept.

The first day of 2007 was spent travelling back.

The first important event in the new year was that my brother moved out to a shared flat in Trier. I helped him as much as I could moving his stuff into the hired van, bringing it to Trier and moving everything into his new room. My little brother now is the proud owner of a new job and a new room (admittedly, he just rents it)!! And my parents are now alone (save for the cat) in their huge house.

Now I am in Aachen again, with the task of preparing the (allegedly) most difficult exam of the studies of electrical engineering. The days between my brother’s moving out and my return to Aachen were mainly spent hanging around with Tanja, reading, watching “Lord of the Rings” for the blatillionth time, eating Christmas cookies and sleeping. (Get the power in for the learning marathon!)

However you have started the new year, I wish you all that it may be a happy and healthy one!