Saturday, January 29, 2011


I just got back from Germany, was there two weeks for work. For some reason I didn't blog while there; I would like to say I was too busy drinking beer, but I actually didn't drink that much beer. I did spend a ton of time just walking around Erlangen, and running in the German countryside.

The German countryside is a great place to go running. You know how when you fly into Midway it sort of feels like you're going to land in the middle of a great big rail yard (not just any rail yard, but the Clearing Yard of the Chicago Belt Railway, one of the biggest in the world)? When you fly into Nürnberg it looks like you're landing in a big evergreen forest. On Monday the 24th I took a run looping around a big chunk of this forest, took a wrong turn near the end, and ended up running 18-and-a-half miles through the snow before work. The forests, small towns, farms, all of it just had this magical feeling to it. And even in the freezing January weather I always saw lots of people out enjoying it on bikes, running, and walking. Trails for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing are very well marked, which helps.

But what probably helps even more is that everything is just so much closer. German cities certainly have some sprawl to them, but nothing close to what American cities have. Tennenlohe (where I worked in Germany) is a lot like Canyon Park (where I work in the States). You might consider it a "small edge city". It's about 7km from Erlangen and about 11km from Nürnberg, and isn't continuously linked by sprawl to either city.

I took the train up to Bamberg on my free Saturday. Its old city has lots of old buildings still standing, and as it was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, there are a lot of historically important buildings in town. Coming from America, the re-use of the old buildings, cobbled streets, and plazas in the main part of the old city for a modern shopping district looks really strange to me. It is, of course, a bit of a touristy thing even in the winter. Up at the top of a hill going west out of town there's a trailhead for a walking trail going quite some distance. I also did some walking around newer parts of Bamberg, and even there a lot of the architecture is really beautiful. Somehow I forgot my camera, but I'm not sure pictures could really capture the different feeling of being there anyway.

I found being in a country where I don't speak the language very tiring. Even though a lot of people speak English there and I didn't have any serious problems resulting from not being able to communicate, it meant that every conversation took a lot of effort, even more than it usually is for me. I practiced German phrases that I thought I would need, but almost never was able to spit them out in context. I hated asking people, “Sprechen sie Englisch?” I felt like I had come to their home and forced my language on them. I obviously missed out tremendously on the culture and life of the places I visited because I couldn't understand people speaking in their native language, couldn't hear announcements or read signs.

On my way home from the airport I was waiting for a bus transfer at 3rd and Pine, and there were some guys shooting craps on the sidewalk. One of them yelled, “This is Chi-town, baby!” I'm not sure how often in Chi-town people shoot craps on the sidewalk downtown on an overcast, 50-degree, rainy day in January. That sounds about as Seattle as it gets. But just hearing the words and understanding them, and easily laughing at the irony of them, that meant a lot to me. On the bus going past an abandoned lot I thought, “I'm home — this is my home, even the stupid and ugly parts.”

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