October 23, 2009

German Customer Service (or Lack Thereof)

I've heard from a few people that they loved the post about my mess-ups around town. Along those same lines, I wanted to write about how we've gotten scoffed at a few times (quite hilariously may I add) by German waiters, waitresses, and receptionists.

  • A few weeks ago, I went into the doctor's office (I'll post about the German healthcare system another time) and said that I had an appointment with such and such doctor. The receptionist quickly replied "Nein," which I'm sure you either know or can guess the meaning. I repeated that 'yes, I was quite sure I had an appointment at this practice.' After a bit of back and forth (during which she never even looked in the direction of her appointment book), I finally persuaded her to look for an appointment for Golz. And, somehow *shock of shocks* there magically appeared to be an APPOINTMENT for me. All I could do was stare at her and reminisce about the wonderful receptionists I had known in the States.

  • Greg's friends from high school, Robin and Ryan, were visiting last Saturday. After dinner, we decided to go to the Hofbrauhaus so they could experience a local (although touristy) beer hall. We did come a bit late (about 9:30 or 10 pm) and asked a waiter if we could sit down. He proceeded to quite dramatically look at his watch and roll his eyes at the audacity that we would want to sit down at his table and pay him for beer. I'll leave it up to you to imagine his face when we only ordered two beers for the four of us (I hate beer and a liter of beer was more than enough for our guests). I'm tempted to go back and torment him each time we have guests. So tempted.

  • This week we went to the Auer Dult, which is a market that they have here three times a year. It was chilly so we decided to get something warm to drink. The lady behind the counter was reading back our order (which included only 4 drinks) and my grandma was trying to ask her in broken English what was in the desserts. The lady barked at and shot daggers with her eyes at my little 80-something-year-old, white-haired grandma. The lady was not going to have anyone interrupt her for anything. Well, my aunt and I had a couple of words for her, but she was already on to the next customer.

But I don't want to give you all a bad impression. I've had some amazing people help me here in shops, stores, restaurants, etc. Often people start chatting with me in German and although I don't have anything intelligent to say in their language yet, I usually smile and nod. And then I run away so they don't know I don't speak much German and didn't understand a word they said. I just don't write about good customer service because it's usually not as funny.

Daytrip to Murnau am Staffelsee

My grandma, Safta Tzipi, came into town on Tuesday so I stayed with her and the fam at Na'ama's house for a couple days. On Wednesday, we had some great weather and took a daytrip to Murnau and Staffelsee, a lake nearby the town. Murnau is known for being the artists community for Der Blaue Reiter group, including Kandinsky, Gabriela Muenter, Franz Marc, and others.

We actually did see some of their work in the Schlossmuseum, but I couldn't take any photos. Kandinsky didn't have any of his famous works in there with his geometric angles and wild colors, but I ended up finding new artists to love: Gabriela Muenter and Franz Marc. Muenter was Kandinsky's partner for a while until he went back to Russia and married someone else (she ended up with an art historian herself). She painted a lot of Murnau--which as you'll see from the pictures below--is a beautiful city with a great view of the Alps. Franz Marc also painted with bright, vibrant colors and tended to focus on horses and wildlife in his work. It was nice to get out of the city for a while.

View of the town and the mountains from the Schlossmuseum
The snow-covered peaks of the Alps!
Colorful little houses going down to the lake, which is below the Alps.

This is where we took a break--on the banks of the Staffelsee

with the sun shining down on us.

October 19, 2009

Starting the Week

Greg left this morning to take his 7th grade mentor group on an Outward Bound trip for the week so I'm fending for myself until Friday. I don't envy him though because he'll be out in the Alps and it's gotten a bit chilly.

As a start to my week, I went in with my work permit application. The company who is hiring me for the part-time mini-job of manager for a U.S. online community had to fill out the application. The hardest part for them is to persuade the German government to give an American a work permit rather than a German. Due to high unemployment, this can be difficult, and often work permits are denied because of it. I think because the job requires a native English speaker I have a stronger application though. But we'll see in a couple of weeks.

I thought it would take me all day in the Auslaenderbehoerde office, but it only took an hour and half. Most of that time I was getting lost in the corridors (the signs were not helpful) or waiting for my turn. I feel bad for the people that work there because it was such a drab office and there were so many foreigners like me, messing everything up or getting confused a lot. Maybe I should lead expat volunteers in painting that office or something.

On a good note, my grandma, Safta Tzipi, is coming for a visit tomorrow. I'm going to stay with her and my aunt Na'ama for a few days. I'm not sure what we'll do yet, but a daytrip might be in the works. She'll be here for a couple weeks so Greg'll have time to see her when he gets back, too.

And then next week we're in Istanbul for 4.5 days!!

October 15, 2009

Ayelet's Side of the Story

Sequel to Greg's version below. Sorry there are no photos to go along with it. Someone else had the camera that day!

First off, let me say that I obviously did not die, get seriously hurt on my bike, or get attacked by men in lederhosen and women in dirndls. You would have heard about it much sooner.

I took off on my bike, leaving Greg walking in my dust, and headed in the direction of Oktoberfest or Wiesn as it's known to the locals. I made excellent time... helps to have a ton of people to follow, all wearing the conspicuous Bavarian classic outfits. I saw what I thought was the U-bahn sign and followed it away from the festival grounds. And I waited patiently at what I thought was the only exit of the Theresienwiese U-bahn stop for like 45 minutes. Greg and his bright yellow t-shirt never showed up. Finally, I decided that either Greg couldn't figure out the underground and was hopelessly lost OR there was another exit.

I walked along until I saw the other exit! Well, that made more sense. Sadly, by this time, Greg was heading to find the exit I had waited at previously. Long story short, I didn't see him come out of the other exit either and gave up because I figured by that time, he either had returned home or headed over to his work party.

I still enjoyed some time at Oktoberfest because I rode all the way there and it was a beautiful sunny day. Let me just tell you something about Oktoberfest... it is like any other festival, but with SO MANY PEOPLE! And everyone gets into it from the elderly locals to the young hip things to foreigners to expats. EVERYONE.

Most were in the lederhosen or dirndls (or some were in what could only ironically be called dirndls because they hardly covered anything at all and if people in medieval times wore those, they probably would have frozen some very important limbs off). It was fun to see, but there also were down-sides to the festivals. The transit system was packed for 2 weeks straight; the amazing bike lanes here were littered with broken glass; many people drank too much and became disgusting; and the city became generally dirtier because of all the reveling. It's not always been this way as I've heard from some people, but that was my perspective on it at least.

October 12, 2009

Oktoberfest 2009

Greg wrote the following post about his experience at Oktoberfest this year and I just might have to write my side of the story next. ;-)

“I’ll see you at the U-bahn station exit.” Those were the famous last words exchanged by Ayelet and I before we parted ways on the sidewalk and took separate modes of transportation to Oktoberfest. My train went through 5 neighborhood stations on our way to Theresienweise. You always know you are going the right direction to a festival when the people wearing dirndls and lederhosen increases rapidly at each stop, then suddenly pours out onto the platform. After climbing the steep stairs to the subway exit and observing the blank stares of the festival goers who spent the day drinking, I knew I was in the right place. So where was Ayelet?

I stood by the exit, pacing back and forth. I scouted the best place to see her riding up on her bike. People were passing by the hundreds looking to find a beer. Every glimpse I caught of a red shirt drew my eye as I knew that was the color Ayelet was wearing. At this point you are thinking to yourself, ‘Greg, it is 2009, why don’t you just call her?’ Well readers, as I see 95% of my friends at school, I have given up having a cell phone in Germany. ‘Oh.’ Back on the lookout, I waited over an hour before heading to the other U-bahn station in hopes of finding my wife among the thousands in the crowd. Along the way, I often found myself distracted by the games, rides, and giant figures by haunted houses that mesmerized crowds.

My time was running short and the sun was going down. I had a party to attend to in the Hacker Brewery tent and had to give up my search for Ayelet. Upon arrival at my table, I joined my coworkers for a bird’s eye view of a few thousand Oktoberfestians standing on tables while singing and dancing the night away. I was treated to a feast of a bird (1/2 a chicken), a brezen (giant pretzel), and a liter of beer. Anyone up for 2010?

October 10, 2009

Things I find funny (or frustrating, depending on my mood)

We just got a package from Greg's parents that was meant to arrive closer to his birthday, but ended up arriving this week because it was missent to Thailand! Now, I would give money to have someone explain to me how the U.S. Post Office could mistake 'Germany' on a very clearly written address label for 'Thailand.' In any case, we're happy it came because our Flip camera that was broken was returned to us. Only they couldn't fix our actual Flip cam so they sent us a new one to replace the other one! Expect some great videos of Istanbul in a few weeks.

Other than that, I had a good interview yesterday with a online e-books community for a part-time position and am starting to research what I need to get a work permit here. A future employer would have to enclose a letter of intent in the application, and then there's all the usual stuff like copies of passport, visa, and photos. That's all fine, I'm more than happy to oblige.

But then there's a requirement that's thrown me for a loop: a record of good conduct by my local US police department. Huh?!? Because we've been here for a while, I understand the Germans are concerned about security, but it would make more sense to require that for a residence visa, not a work visa. Because once I'm in the country, it might be a tad late to ascertain if I'm a convicted criminal or not.

And according to the German ministry site, the whole process takes 1-3 MONTHS to be processed! 1-3 MONTHS!! I don't even know what else to say about that, it's so unbelievable.

October 8, 2009

Daytrip to Augsburg

Sophie, a French wife of a BIS teacher, and I decided it was time to take a day out. Oh my, what a beautiful daytrip it turned out to be! Weather worked in our favor with sunny skies and t-shirt wearing weather in the afternoon. And the town we visited--Augsburg--was fantastic.
We arrived at the train station in the morning without a firm plan of where to go. Sophie and I had decided to get the Bayern ticket (which is a great group pass to go anywhere in Bavaria) and take whichever train suited our fancy. For me it was between a medievil city or somewhere in the Alps. In fact, Augsburg actually has history going past medievil times as it was established in 15 BC by the Romans. Sometimes it's easy to forget how close we are to Italy and Rome.
In any case, Augsburg is only 45 minutes by train from Munich. At first, we were a little lost, but upon finding the tourist info, we got ourselves situated. The main street shoots off of the Rathausplatz (city hall plaza) with its black stoned plaza, tower reaching into the blue sky, and tempting cafes lining the square. Walking down the main street was eye-catching as the buildings fronts spread out in assorted pastels and with unique decorative touches (see first photo above).

I was excited about an exhibit of Impressionist artists (incl. Cezanne, Renoir, Signac, Rodin, Monet, and many more mostly French artists). Lovely artwork and great to get the culture, but a touch expensive for our tastes.
We decided to skip the equally cool-looking Fuggeri museum in an oldest poor house (not sure the proper term--basically, where poor people have cheap housing... I don't think "the projects" has the same ring to it in German though ;-). So, not only do the poor people get to live in the ivy-covered buildings, but the rent is about 1 euro plus 3 daily prayers for the founding family's health (but since they were mostly dead, it's probably not that strenuous).

While wandering the streets after the exhibit, we found an American store! No joke - it had the kitschy country stuff, but also some cool old signs of Americana. I think Sophie secretly coveted the one that said "Rodeo Tonight." Sadly, it was closed so I could only half-heartedly make fun of the shop. I wonder if maybe I really haven't gotten as far from America as I thought... or if the Augsburgians just have a bizarre affinity for American decor.

Speaking of Americana, this building reminded me of a quilt with its colors and blocked pattern. It made me think of the beautiful quilts Greg's mom, Priscilla, made us, which are now awaiting our return in their basement.

After all our wanderings, Sophie and I hopped a train in the early evening, heading back to our normal lives after a day of being tourists.