Monday, August 27, 2007

Love Parade 2007

The Love Parade, the world's largest street party took place Saturday in Essen, a city an hour away from Cologne. This year, around 1.2 million people came to Essen, dancing, partying and having a blast. Love was everywhere.

We got there right before the parade started and we able to get up close to one of the many floats. At 2pm the electronic music started pumping out of the float and everyone started dancing and jumping up and down. Everyone was dressed up in a festive manner. We danced, paraded and had a blast going along with the floats seeing thousands of people. Everyone was happy to be dancing and there were not any problems and not that many police around. Quite different from the US where there would be security all over and people checking the bags that were being brought in.

The parade ended at about 7pm and we left at about 8, before all of the night parties started. We were the last people to be allowed into the train station before it was closed off due to too many people. It was absolutley packed in there and it took us over two hours to get home, but it was well worth it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mussels in Brussles and the Manneken Pis Miracle

This past weekend, we headed to Brussels at 7am Saturday, getting an early start and not paying for a room Friday night. After getting lost for the first hour, we stumbled upon the Royal Palace, only open for one month a year, with some of the most gold filled rooms this side of Versailles, and a room covered with 1.4 million beetle shells, shining a bright greenish blue.

After lunch of Belgium waffles, we went to see the Manneken Pis, a fountain of a little boy pissing, a statue that has been around since the 1600s and is a landmark. What happened next, started with a parade led by the Brotherhood of the Pink Elephant (logo of Delirum Brewery), then the 10th annual ceremony about the statue, and inductions into the Pink Elephants, and then the miracle, the fountain was hooked up to a keg of beer, and soon it was pissing beer into cups whic were handed out to the public. Behold the Maneken Pis Miracle; the crowd rejoiced and drank some good beer from a statue older than the US.

The Grand Place, is quite grand as the name says. Amazing buildings completely surrounding a cobblestone square and hosting a concert later than night. I stopped by the impressive cathedral on the way to the Belgium Museum of Comic Arts to check out a large exhibition on Tintin, one of my favorite European comics from the 1940s-70s.

Later that night, after a very tasty dinner of mussels with pommes frites, a local specialty, there were free concerts all over town for the Brussels Summerfest 2007.

The next day, after going to the largest and randomest flea market I've ever seen, we took the train to Antwerp to go diamond shopping, see the Cathedral which was meant to have two towers and only got one, looked at some famous art by Rubens, dangled our feet over the river like the locals do, saw the park where graffiti is legal and quite colourful, and watched a street performer throw an apple 25 feet into the air and catch it in his mouth.

We took the train back to Brussels, to see some more sights, buy a Manneken Pis statue, watch a French gypsy band play their style of world music, grab some pommes frites and get on the train back to Cologne.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Romantic Rhein

This past weekend, a group of 6 of us, took the train two hours south along the Rhein to the small town of Bacharach (home of Burt) where we spent the night in a castle, turned youth hostel.

With the castle above us, we had a German lunch from vegetable soup to Sauerbraten. Then it was time for wine tasting, as this is one of the best areas to grow wine in Germany. Vineyards all over the hills. They brought out a large lazy susan tray with 15 glasses of wine for us. We tasted, spun, tried another and kept moving until we tried all 15, then ordered a glass of our favorite. We tried 13 different white wines and 2 reds.

The highlight of the hike up to the castle, other than the great views along the way, were of Brooke and her roll-on suitcase. She rolled up the hill in style.

At the castle, we checked in, explored, had dinner and then hung out with a large group traveling through Europe.

On Sunday, we went by boat from Bacharach, back to Cologne, just over 8 hours. A long time, but with lots to see and plenty of time to relax, enjoy the scenery and hang out with friends. We passed over 20 castles, including Mouse Castle and Cat Castle, one of the best preserved castles on the Rhein and a lot of churches in the small towns along the way. Quite an impressive view, whereever you looked. Tons of vineyards along the way. Got a nice tan sitting out in the front of the boat, where the best view was.

So we watched the sun rise over the Rhein through the mist, and later watched the sun go down as we came into Cologne. Capping off a darn good day. Got back to my apartment around 9pm after a quick dinner, just in time to do my homework and be off to bed.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Köln Dom (Cathedral)

Picture from a plaza outside the Museum Ludwig, the modern art museum with cool architecture.

Picture from the top of the south tower

One of the entrances to the Dom which is no longer in use.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Language class

So Montag (Monday) was the first day of class for our group at the Carl Duisberg Center. To prove my genius, I went to the wrong class. As we only talked in German about ourselves and never received a syllabus or mentioned the class number, I had no clue. I was surrounded by smart people all over the world, South Africa, Armenia, Spain, Chile and more. A post-doctorate student, architect, stem cell researcher and more. They all spoke German well and I could understand most of it, but it turned out that the class was too advanced for me.

After our first break, I found my correct class, received a reading and grammar booklet as well as a workbook and started reviewing grammer, not quite as glamorous and speaking about life in German, but very helpful. Since then I've seen my language improve and have had some better conversations with my host mother.

There's only two people from my group in my class. We've got a wide variety of countries represented in our class of 12. The best are a Kenyan and a Nigerian, who always talk out loud and laugh, from across the room. Good guys, who speak in either German or English, so I can follow along.
Here is a picture of the language center with myself and Lara, also from the University of Portland.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


So I'm in Köln now, my home for the next two months. Amazing city so far. Only been here a few days, but feel that I know my way around pretty well. Very friendly people. My host mom is awesome, a grandmother who keeps looking out for me with sunscreen, breakfast and umbrellas when it rains. I get a big German breakfast of a cold cuts, bread, jam, a soft boiled egg, museli, juice and coffee. It's a good start to the day.

The cathedral in Köln is the main attraction. You can see it from everywhere. It's awesome from the ground, due to it's grandness and size (157m tall) and has a great view from the top. Next door is the main train station and the Rhine River.

Language school starts on Monday, so we've just had lots of information sessions, registered our names at the local state office, and had a tour of the city and river.

Highlights of the few days include watching a Genesis cover band from the front row along with the dancing drunks. Nothing like Phil Collins to make people dance. The bright blue lights in the state office bathroom were more along the lines of a nightclub, rather than a place to tell the state your current address. We got free tickets to an American football game which felt like a high school game due to how badly they played, and the cheerleaders falling most of the time. Halftime had both teams walking into the tunnel at the same time, followed by the cheerleaders, so nothing happened except for the gatorade bucket being filled up from a garden hose.

Bryan Potts and Diana Arntz made it out to Köln for the Genesis cover band, bierhalls and a sweet thermal bath/spa. Spent 3 hours in the spa, which had various types of water, from scented, to super hot, to a fast whirlpool to the sauna which like several of the pools, were for naked people only.

So that's just a little of what I've been up to the past five days in Köln, my first stop in Deutschland. I hope all is well with everyone.