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Kahla, Muelhausen, and Castles August 15, 2011

Posted by Andrey Kossev in Travel Log.
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So, a few days ago, we went to Kahla, which is the site of the best porcelain produced in Germany.  We took a factory tour, and got to see all of the pots and dishes being cast and spun.  It was actually pretty cool, although I was a bit disappointed at how low the yield was.  Later we discovered that one of the machines had a defective or missing part, which was breaking all of the dishes, but it was fairly common to see defects being produced.  Even the finished products had variations in the glaze and other things.  In this type of industry, it makes sense that each item has slight variations, but it was still surprising.

The individual pieces were beautiful though, and it was really cool to see them go from clay to the finished product.  The kilns were, in particular, really cool.  We got to look inside one, which glowed in a bright yellow-orange.  It was just interesting to see how personal and artistic the process was.

Later we visited the Leuchtenburg, which was a seriously pretty castle, and had a tour up there, during which we saw some great old swords, muskets, and other artifacts dealing with the history of the castle.  We got to climb up on the highest tower (excellent view of country), and were later treated to a wonderful afternoon snack of tea, coffee, and cake.

The next day I went to Muelhausen, which I had mistaken for Muenhausen (as in Baron Muenhausen…), but it was fun anyway.  Our guide was actually really entertaining, and well educated.  According to Dr. Cothran, he had been offered many other positions as a historian in Germany, but chose the small town of Muelhausen because of its incredibly well-preserved archives, which date back to the 1100s.  We actually got to see some documents from the 1300s up close, and it was fascinating to consider that these documents were written so long ago, at a time when parchment and wax were extremely expensive, and literacy, in general, was very rare.

Next on Thursday, we had a tour through the Opel factory just outside of Eisenach, and later went into the town.  Opel was really cool, because we got to follow the production of an Opel Corsa all the way through.  We started out with the robots which welded the chassis and attached the rear bumper, side doors, and roof.  The only part which we didn’t follow was the paint, though we got to see the assembly of all of the latter components.  These included the underlayment for the trunk, rear seats, dashboard, front seats, fuel tank, and finally the rather complicated simultaneous attachment of the drivetrain, suspension systems, brakes, steering system, and engine.

It was seriously surprising to see how few components a car actually has.  I just always assumed that there was a lot of excess weight involved, and i was sadly mistaken.  An Opel Corsa, at least, is pretty bare-bones on the inside.

Later we took a tour of the Wartburg (-after waiting for around an hour and a half for it to start.  We later joked about the name Wartenburg – warten means to wait in german).  It was a pretty cool castle, and given the construction going around on the outside, we were very pleased to find that the interior of the castle was beautiful, and had tons of ancient artifacts and pieces of art.

Berlin August 15, 2011

Posted by Andrey Kossev in Travel Log.
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So this past weekend (Thursday, actually) we traveled to Berlin, and stayed at a hostel a few minutes away from the Ostbahnhof station.  The hostel was in former East Berlin, which is seriously noticeable.  I was surprised, because cities in East Germany look pretty much like cities in the West.  Not so with Berlin – it appears that the DDR years hit Berlin the hardest, which would make sense.  Everywhere you looked it was boring rectangular apartment buildings and flats.  Of course they’ve been renovated since, and some have been painted in bright colors to give the place more life, but it is very clear that the place was gray and hopeless just twenty-odd years ago.  If you were to visit the east side, be blindfolded, and transported to the west, you wouldn’t even think you were in the same city.  And technically you aren’t.

It’s kind of funny though, because the East is, like I said, disturbingly devoid of modern architecture and color, except for the pink and blue water lines, which run along the sidewalks (and up and over roads).  It’s a seriously bizarre practice to have the water lines above ground and the disadvantages are many and obvious.  Communism, even you should know better.  But it does, at least, cheer up the place. We also had a tour that day, which was basically cut off by rain (as always), but we did go into the former DDR’s best movie theater, which took us by surprise.  It was like a perfectly preserved exhibit of 50’s interior design.  Overstuffed couches, carpets, and chandeliers everywhere.  Later we went to a Biergarten for dinner and hung out for the rest of the night.

Friday, we ate breakfast at the hostel, which was killer. The Deutschen love their Broetchen and Nutella, and so do I.  We sported our business attire that day (ALL day) and went to German Trade and Invest, a government-owned company which gathers economical statistics about companies in Germany and encourages investing in German markets.  The presentation we were given was seriously good and engaging. We then got to walk around Friedrichstrasse, visit Checkpoint Charlie, and get some food! After that brief excursion, we went on a very rushed tour of the German History Museum, and were given some time to explore a really great corner of Berlin, which had excellent little stores.  A little later, we went to a cabaret – specifically, a show called “Soap” which had mind-blowing gymnastics and stunts.  The soundtrack for the show was also notable for its surprising variety and use of hard rock.

Saturday we went to another museum, a walking tour to Potsdamerplatz, a tour of the Jewish Museum, and had the afternoon evening off.  Potsdamerplatz was the most mainstream and modern part of the city, and had wonderful artwork and architecture.  The Jewish Museum was also seriously interesting, as the building was very modern and the walls and floors were intentionally angled in odd directions to give the feeling of disorientation.  It had one room, in particular, which was like a post-modernist take on a colossal cell.  We were closed into the room, which had one, single window way up high – about 20 meters in the air.  Otherwise, it was pitch black, shaped like a narrow diamond (asymmetric, of course), and made you feel completely small and helpless.  Another room had its floor filled with thousands of distorted faces made of metal, all looking hopelessly to the ceiling.  After the museum, we came back to the hostel.  At this point, however, we were so tired that we didn’t want to do anything until late that evening, when we explored some more of the city.

On Sunday, we visited the Reichstag, and were shown where the Bundestag (German version of the House of Representatives) meets to discuss legislation, etc.  It was a really cool building, featuring a lot of art projects throughout. Apparently the Bundestag also uses very traditional methods of voting (rough hand count), which we all thought was pretty interesting.  Done with that, we got our luggage, and went to the train station to go back to Weimar.  Tomorrow, we go to Kahla, and we have Eisenach and Leipzig coming soon.  Tschuess!

Oh Yeah?? June 20, 2011

Posted by Andrey Kossev in Travel Log.
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So this weekend I found myself going on an intense adventure with the infamous Adi Suresh and Arjun Meka after a surprise freies Wochenende.  Using the intensely awesome Mitfahrgelegenheit website (thanks Meatro!!), I was able to find a ride from Erfurt to Stuttgart with a married couple and one rather attractive German girl for 20 Euro, and a ride back from Heidelberg (on really slow trains) with a really friendly Russian emigrant German girl named Polina for only 8 euro.  The experience was really cool, and even though I was completely out of my element, it was oddly fun trying something absolutely new.  It was also extremely meaningful to speak German with actual Germans, as listening comprehension is probably the most difficult thing to improve upon until you actually have conversations with different people.  Polina, you have my eternal love.

Ah, Heidelberg..

Anyway, why did I go on this random journey?  Well, the opportunity of a visit to the Mercedes and Porsche museums can’t be easily overlooked.  Arriving in Stuttgart Hbf, I met up with the two previously mentioned gentlemen, and stayed in a hostel in the city.  Next morning, we went to the Porsche museum thinking that it would take up our entire day.  Sure enough, the vehicles were seriously cool, and right there in arms reach, as we walked through the exhibit.

911 GT1

When I saw the 911 GT1 I thought things couldn’t get any cooler, and out came a random Mclaren MP4-1 Formula 1 car (from 1983) – seriously cool!  I couldn’t belive how massive the thing was.  Nowadays, Formula 1 cars are like scalpels cutting the track with surgical precision, but this thing was just a powerhouse.  Bare-bones aero package,  1200 hp engine, massive tires, zero safety features.

Mclaren MP4-1

But soon enough, the exhibit was over.. and we decided to check out Mercedes just in case.  We were stunned – Mercedes was way cooler.  The building itself was a marvel of modern technology.  Shaped like a peanut, the building takes you up in a capsule-styled elevator to its eighth floor, and has you spiral your way down through the history of the automobile.  It was way classier and more educational than the Porsche museum, and had really diverse information on the development of social movements, historical events, and technology in the world at large.

Cars - Andy Warhol

Just when we were getting exhausted of consuming all this information, we hit the last floor, titled “Heroes”, where we ran across numerous notable racecars, including the Mclaren-Mercedes MP4-23, which was driven to the 2008 World Driver’s Champtionship under the enormous talent of Lewis Hamilton.  It was a meaningful moment for me, realizing that just three years ago that car was the pinnacle of automotive engineering talent.

Mclaren-Mercedes MP4-23

Later that day, we met up with a friend in Heidelberg, and walked to Bismarckplatz, witnessing some really beautiful scenery and visiting Heidelberger Schloss (not all that impressive) the next day, before beginning an arduous trip back.  It’s an odd thought, but I feel like the most significant part of the experience was honestly just travelling with strangers.  If I can be comfortable with a stranger whose language I understand only when actively using all of my listening powers, I feel like there is little that I can’t do.  To those of you who haven’t studied abroad, that feeling is priceless.

Class..

Later this week, I go to some chemical company, and Thursday-Sunday will be spent in Berlin.  That should be a fun experience, so I’ll hopefully get back to you guys soon!

Excursions June 13, 2011

Posted by Andrey Kossev in Travel Log.
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My first weekend in Germany was fantastic.  Prior to coming here I thought that the structure of the program would be a little too much, but having us all together has made for some awesome memories.  Saturday we went to Naumburg, and were given a rare dose of Freizeit, which we spent crashing a city tour, and eating in a waffle shop (Frau Held is widely considered an expert in the field of waffles and she had seconds).

The Dom

The main focus of the trip, however, was the Naumburger Dom, in which we got a rather exlusive tour which allowed us to climb up to the top and go in the various towers.  We also got to ring the bells (lightly for fear of deafness), which were barely salvaged at the end of World War II.  Naumburg is a great little town, and the streets (as in most old towns) are clean and the architecture beautiful.  I was particularly impressed by how neatly the drainage in the city was made – some really beautiful engineering done with cobblestones in these parts!  The drains got some exercise while we were there too, because the weather has thus far been rather unpredictable here in Germany.  Thankfully it cleared up for the hour or two that we were up in the Naumberger Dom.

Up Top!!

Next came an excellent wine tasting in a nearby vineyard and winery – which was paid for by the program!  We took a tour of the fermenting vats and where the bottling was done and barrels were kept, and later went downstairs and enjoyed an incredible dinner of bread, wine, sausage (two thumbs up on the Leberwurst), and cheese.  With our stomachs fuller came the wine tasting, which showcased 5 different varieties.  The single red wine they offered, in particular, was a bit drier, and had a seriously awesome smoky flavor that I can’t even describe.  Absolutely incredible.

Das Essen

Yesterday, our adventures took us to Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia. The city was built around a ford (furt) on the Gera (formerly Erphes) river, and was a center of trade.  Our tour was quite an experience, as one of our tour guides didn’t show up, and the other spoke to us in hilarious, and very quiet, English. I’m not sure why our tutors didn’t ask him to switch to German, because the history he was trying to discuss was clearly above his English, but it made for serious entertainment.  What I got from the tour besides the origin of the name was that woad was traded a lot in Erfurt, and that Martin Luther studied and became a monk there.

Best Tour Ever

Well, cheers guys, and I’m sorry about dumping a week’s worth of experiences on you all at once.  Bis Bald!

Sofort! June 12, 2011

Posted by Andrey Kossev in Travel Log.
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Hallo Studenten!

I (finally) left for the German LBAT last Monday morning, and the past week has been ridiculous. I seriously love everything about Germany. Tech is taking a serious risk by allowing me to go on this program, because there is a good possibility of me never coming back. The food is excellent, and laughably cheap.  The market culture in general is one of the biggest differences between the U.S. and Germany, and I love it.  It’s difficult to describe, but the personal interaction between seller and consumer in shops and restaurants seems to make a noticeable difference in how much sellers care about what they’re selling. In pretty much every setting, Germans seem to radiate a sense of awareness you just don’t find in the U.S.. In their food, cars, clothing, architecture, entertainment, public transportation – whatever, Germans show a lust for life that makes everything American seem like nobody really put any thought into it.

Frankfurt Hbf

Moving on from the life lessons, I arrived in Frankfurt on Tuesday morning and chilled at the airport until my train to Weimar for three hours. I had some of my first German speaking experiences there ordering food, exploring the airport, getting my passport stamped, etc.  It was really fun and different, and then I ran into another LBAT student waiting for the train, which made for a pleasant train ride.  We met with one of our program coordinators, Frau Ulla, and the other LBAT students who hadn’t opted for the Duesseldorf extension (we later met the others too – and there are some cool ones), and went for a walk in the town to get some toothpaste, shampoo, etc., and have a look around. Weimar is overwhelmingly beautiful, and there are tons of shops on the streets and corners around town. Everything is around 15 minutes away on foot, and we got bus passes to make it even easier to get around.  The city is perfectly safe, too, and the population is mostly composed of students, tourists, and young people. Viel Spass!

Snail!

I’m sorry about the awful photography – I haven’t really taken any proper photos of Weimar due to weather and laziness. I’ve got some excellent stuff from excursions in Naumburg, Erfort, and a winery though, so be patient! Bis Bald!

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