Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dr. Jackie

After three weeks in the States, I'm back in Germany. This is what I did on my trip.


Sunday, December 03, 2006


So after wandering the Weinachtmarkt all afternoon Saturday, I headed over to some friends for Feuerzangenbowle. At the Christmas market, they sell Glühwein (hot spiced wine) sometimes with rum or other stuff. For Feuerzangenbowle, red wine with spices (definitely including zimt (cinnamon)) is heated until it is steaming but not boiling. A scoop shaped rack is placed over the pot and a zuckerhat (sugar cone/loaf) is placed on the rack. A bottle of high alcohol content (at least 45%, this was 54%) rum is opened and the sugar is bathed in rum until it is soaked through. The sugar is lit on fire ('fire makes it good!') and the sugar is continually bathed in rum to keep the fire going (by the way, the whole pot was on fire too). The flaming sugar and rum carmelizes and falls into the pot. When the sugar is gone, stir and serve. It's pretty awesome.



Here's a massive update before I head out-of-town. I took all these pictures on Saturday.

I bought a bike a week ago and have been very timorously biking to work:

It's a folding bike (Bruce would be so proud!).

The garage down the street is split-level but while Sean was here it was never apparent. It was open yesterday, so I thought I needed some photographic proof:

Here's the window of the violin maker that I mentioned before:

So in the Zentrum (center), a Christmas market (Weinachtmarkt) has sprung up, and formerly cute little plazas have become even cuter little villages of stands that sell food, drinks, arts and crafts, etc. If you notice that some of the pictures aren't so great, it's because it's crazily crowded at the Christmas market.

Here's the most important stand, the roasted chestnut stand:

Here's the busiest stand, the one that sells alcoholic drinks. By the way, although the food often comes on little paper plates, Germans don't seem to believe in paper or plastic cups. All the drinks come in glasses or mugs and you put down 1.50 euros or so in deposit which you get back after you return your cup (although, if I were a tourist, I'd just steal the cups as souvenirs).

They've put up little Christmas trees up everywhere, but it seems sufficient just to prop them against things instead of putting them upright. Here's one against a light pole:

And here's a bunch leaning against a fence:

There's also some kiddie rides that blast mostly American Christmas songs:

A few stands sell cotton candy, popcorn, candied nuts (made there! smells so good!), and these giant gingerbread hearts that say things like 'I love you.' I saw at least one embarassed looking middle-aged woman wearing one around her neck.

This stand apparently sells wooden spoons:

And this one sells brushes for some reason (and I've seen plently of people proudly carrying wire bottle brushes they've purchased. Odd, huh?).

Uh-oh. Creepy puppets.

Another popular item are these paper lanterns shaped like stars.

And, of course, candles:

If you're looking for money, having a dog seems mandatory. These people are apparently soliciting for charity, but I've also seen street performers (a dog circus!) and beggars with dogs.

Speaking of street performers, there's a bunch. This guy is playing the accordian:

These two are rocking 'The Four Seasons' with just a violin and an accordian:

There's also an old lady with an accordian, a couple of kids with trumpets, the guy who plays 'Behind Blue Eyes' with his guitar, the typical set of guys with ponchos and playing some sort of pipes (are they supposed to be Peruvian or something? I'm never sure.), and more than one brass band. Here's one mostly made up of kids:

Past the old gate, there's Friesenplatz, where they've set up a mini ice-rink (also, if you squint, you can see Citibank behind the tree. So that's where it was!).

Sean thinks that Bonn looks like Epcot Center. I can kind of see that in this picture (are all the buildings 3/4 sized?).

One of the plazas has a regular outdoor produce market:

Finally, creepy Santa Claus:


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Chocolate Museum

In celebration of Thanksgiving, Sean and I took the train to Cologne -- only getting slightly lost in the process -- and went to the Chocolate Museum. I don't think it entirely replaced turkey, mashed potatoes, and football (ah, football, I may need to binge when I get back to Chicago), but they give you a piece on chocolate when you enter and there's a working factory in the back and someone hands you wafers dipped in their chocolate fountain there too. I'm sure that Sean will blog all about Cologne and the dehydration that seems to accompany Germany (he took a bunch of really nice pictures and we were both very thirsty).

Anyway, as long as we're talking things that they don't have in Germany which I crave, here's my short but sure to grow list: Hershey bars (why are they so addictive? why don't they have them here?) and popcorn (I've seen no sign of microwaveable popcorn and only occasionally bagged, already popped popcorn).


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Busy Week

Now that Sean's winging his back back across the Atlantic (to get back to Hawaii, he has a 2.5 hour flight to Madrid, followed by a 9 hour flight to Chicago, followed by a 9 hour flight to Honolulu), I've suddenly realized that I'm a very busy person who's leaving the country in a week. But rest assured, I haven't forgotten about the blog; in fact, I have a whole list of ideas for posts which I hope to get through before I hop a plane myself. I've added Sean's blog as a link -- maybe he'll update sooner than I will.

Just to start off, I realized a few weeks ago that one of the buildings on my block houses a violin maker and I'm constantly trying to peek in the windows. The power of Google got me his website, though.


Friday, November 17, 2006

A Quick Vocabulary Quiz

Quick, someone asks you a question -- in English. But what is he/she really saying? (For your convenience I've put the vocabulary word in quotes. Unfortunately, I don't know how to spell anything and maybe they have some special German spelling. But I don't think so.)

Q: What's your 'handy' number?

A: In Germany, no one uses the term 'cell phone,' its always a 'mobile' or a 'handy' (hmm, that one seems a little dirty to me).

Q: Where is the 'tacker'?

A: A stapler is a 'tacker.'

Q: 'Do you need a 'beamer' for your talk?'
'Hmmm ... (looks around nervously) ... yes?'

A: 'Beamer' = projector

Q: And my favorite: I have to go to 'exercise class' this afternoon.

A: 'Exercise class' = section


Thursday, November 16, 2006

My First Visitor

Sean will be in town to visit me starting this weekend, so be prepared for future posts on things to do in Bonn and how two Americans in Germany spend Thanksgiving. To tide all of you over (since I know you're all breathlessly awaiting updates), here are a couple pictures from a while back that I never got around to posting. This is the interior of the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), the largest cathedral in Germany:

Also, since I warned of future posts on Lush shampoo products, this is me in front of a store in Cologne (it's very busy),

and in front of a store in Bonn:


Saturday, November 11, 2006

So ... you must be getting a lot of work done ...

So this has nothing to do with living/working in Germany or anything relevant, but if somehow you didn't know this already, YouTube is like crack. Except more awesome and with less Nancy Reagan.

If you didn't quite catch the '80s reference, maybe this will jog your memory:

Of course, the best anti-drug PSA is this classic:

I can personally attest that "I learned it by watching you!" has endless uses.

The point is that YouTube is for video what Google is for websites, what Wikipedia is for ... just about anything, and what the iTunes Music Stores could be for music. You need to find it or something like it, you search for it, you find it, you watch it.

Didn't quite catch that reference on the season premiere of "Veronica Mars"?

No problem.

While illicit "Daily Show" clips is probably my most frequent use of YouTube, the most awesome use is finding the old and obscure. From this "" article, I watched a clip from R.E.M.'s first national television appearance on David Letterman's show. Dave talks to Peter Buck and Mike Mills while Michael Stipe hides behind Peter like he's one of their roadies, then they exhibit the kind of stage mannerisms that seem so '80s.

Tonight, I'm thinking about looking for clips of Nirvana performances.

Next on the blog: how much I love iChat file transfer and solid shampoo and conditioner from Lush.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Travel Plans

It looks like I'll mostly be in Chicago from Dec. 6 to Dec. 28. I'm going to get some sushi; who's coming with me?


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Nothing is Open on Sunday

I haven't posted this week because I found a new place to live (blogging material) but was paranoid that it would fall through -- among other paranoid thoughts (not blogging material). Since it's Sunday and nothing in Germany is open on Sundays (seriously, you can't go to the grocery store on Sunday, it's closed and people are impressed that some grocery store is open until 8pm on Saturday), I thought I'd bite the bullet and post some pictures of my new street:

Cute, huh? Here's the front of my building. Sadly it's kind of plain:

The apartment itself is hilariously small. Work is a 15-20 minute walk (about the same distance as the place across the field I had been staying). This the street I walk along:

It crosses a highway:

And here's the street that work is located at:


Friday, October 27, 2006


I saw these guys on my way home yesterday and took some pictures on my way in this morning. One of my original goals for the blog was to take a lot of pictures of animals. I didn't know how easy that would be.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

My iPod, your iPod, we all ...

On the flight to Germany, my sister and I sat next to a guy heading back to Poland after a month in San Francisco. He said that he'd been busy working in the States and didn't get much of a chance to have the quintessential American experience, but he bought an iPod and now he "feels just like an American." I thought that was pretty cute -- are iPods the new Coke? -- but I didn't think too much about it.

Turns out, maybe iPods are an American thing. On a public bus, near a university, the rate of iPod/headphone use that I've observed is much, much lower than in the States. As a naive American, I'm honestly puzzled how it is possible that not everyone in the world has an iPod.


Friday, October 20, 2006

On the Way to Work

So I had a little time this weekend to take pictures of my route to work. The start is this tiny trail -- which I never actually ride the bike down -- less than block from the house.

At the bottom of the path there's a farm. Hey, here's some geese:

And some fuzzy pigs:

Past the farm is the path that leads to work.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Not Like Riding a Bike ...

I've moved out of the temporary apartment and am now crashing with some friends. They rent a house across the field that is outside of my office. Getting to work, then, means borrowing their extra bike and biking the path across the field. I haven't had a bike since I was ten years old, and the last time I was on a bike was nearly a decade ago and involved an incident with a tree. If you are one of the 3 Yale students and one homeless man who witnessed this incident, do not -- I repeat, do not -- email me to reminisce about it. Just let it go. Out of shame, I will not disclose my current incident rate.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Germany is on the Honor System

One week in Germany. Still homeless. On the plus side, I have an office. I share it with a PhD student here, but it's rather nice and large with lots of shelves. And here's a picture of the view out the window.

This is the view through the window (actually from where I sit there's a lot more dirt on the window).

The "city" is small and cute. People here, however, have a distorted sense of scale. I'm constantly being told that some destinations are very far, and I'd better take the bus there. Those destinations are at most 1.5 miles away. Here's a picture of me in front of a pear tree. I'm very tired.

When you get on the bus, you can pay the busdriver. You can also buy a ticket in advance and validate it on the bus, inserting into a box at the back of the bus for a timestamp. You can also have a pass and do nothing when you get on the bus (no showing or waving around of your bus pass). I've been told that occaisonally someone will come by to check that you have a valid ticket/pass and if you do not it's a 40 euro fine. I have never witnessed this. So as far as I can tell, it's basically the honor system. My sister is fairly convinced that no one actually pays and we're busily paying the stupid tax. I asked one of the students here, "why do people pay if there's no need to prove you paid?" From the look on her face, I'm pretty sure that she could see horns growing from my forehead as I asked the question.


Friday, October 06, 2006

No Sleep Till Deutschland

From Tuesday morning through this afternoon, I've been at a conference in Santa Barbara. I don't have much to say about the conference right now without being too gossipy or too sciencey (although maybe I'll think of something later) but, for obvious reasons, it's my last day here and I had only 4 hours of sleep last night. I have 4 hours to sleep tonight on the red-eye back to Chicago. Then, from when I touch down in Chicago at 6 am Saturday, I have 34 hours to do a kazillion things before taking off for Germany Sunday afternoon. I may make it. From lack of sleep and lots of flying time, I may be sick by the time I land in Cologne.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006


So far, the verdict on homelessness: not entirely terrible. On Saturday, my first full day of homelessness, I flew to LA to hang out with some college friends. It turned out to be a reunion of the last 4 participants in the class of 1998 CfA REU program to remain in the field. (Just in case, if you're number 5, email me!) We went ice-skating.

On Sunday, I went to see the Watts Towers. For 30 years, Simon Rodia built a series of concrete-clad steel towers decorated with found and salvaged objects like glass from bottles and cups and plate, using almost no tools and a hand-made window-washers belt. The tallest tower rises to 100 feet in the air. It's pretty amazing. Here's a picture I took with my cell phone.

As their name suggests, the Towers are in Watts. The best part is my overprotective mother calling me as we're leaving. Her question: Are you in San Marino? (Me: Uh, not exactly ...)

Some months ago, back in Chicago, a frequent topic of discussion was the need for a resource for great places to eat. So, Risa and Sarah, this is for you. I went to dim-sum at the Oceanstar Seafood Restaurant in Monterrey Park and it was fantastic. Significantly more options than any dim-sum in Chicago. Lots of great seafood. And -- I've never seen this before -- they serve Tong Fun (wide noodles usually with shrimp inside and a mild soy sauce on top) with Yu-Tao (fried dough) inside!

Just as an extra note, I know that the only American location of the famous Taipei dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung, is very near Pasadena (mmm, xiao lem bao). I hear it's not as good as the original, but I can't imagine you can find any better in the U.S.

I spent Monday at Caltech. As my goal is to have as many awesome animal pictures as possible, I'm sorry to say that my pictures of the turtles that live on the campus didn't turn out. You all will just have to go and see for yourself. I also gave a talk; it was essentially my thesis talk redux, except this time I wasn't as prepared and one of my contacts slipped out of place midway. It didn't stop the talk, but I spent the rest of it unable to see out of my left eye and feeling the contact poking me in the side of my eye.

What does the title of this post have to do with anything? Hmm, that's a good question. Well, I'm sure it's trivial. I leave it as an exercise for the reader.



It's almost a cliche now to start a blog upon finishing grad school, but ... well, I guess I don't really have an excuse. However, I do think that I have a fighting chance of keeping up with this blog. I'm moving from the U.S. to Germany and I've never been to Germany, don't know German, and am deeply suspicious of the metric system. So, plenty of blogging material.

By the way, if you don't know me and have stumbled upon this blog (I'll probably keep it public), I'm a young astrophysicist, set adrift in the world, just me and my MacBook (my precious, precious MacBook. iTunes 7 froze my computer (repeatedly) and I nearly cried). Ten points if you figure out the Simpson's reference in the title of the blog. Also, despite the vaguely astro-y texture of the title, I don't intend to blog much about science.

When I posted the first, test blog, I was desperately packing up, and I didn't want to post sad pictures of my emptying apartment. Now that I don't have an apartment anymore, that's no longer a problem. So, what's the first thing that a newly homeless person should do? Why, go to California for a week before moving to a different continent ...


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

My first post. Stay tuned for real posts.