Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Amsterdam is the world's biggest meat market of indulgence. Come here, bring your cash, and be satisfied.
With everything made legal, or at least available, the choices are too great. The first-timers meander through the city like it's an extended garage sale and some prize is hidden deep underneath. They pace about the city like a baby stumbling through a play area the first time. Determined to find the best weed, the best psychotropic mushroom, or the best hooker, people never settle on anything until they grow tired of walking. And grow tired of walking you do within the first half-hour of consciously watching how you plant every footstep on the uneven cobble stone.
The architecture: some people come for it but no-one believes them. Then, you actually go to Amsterdam and see why it's not an excuse to inhale deeply at strategic locations. The architecture screams with potential for a Spiderman movie. Every neo-gothic and post romantic detailing gives more for the already over-whelmed eyes to feast upon.
The man who may best remember Amsterdam and all of it's details is a man without sight. In the city, or in thought, it's easy to get lost amidst the worldwide mix-up of tourists, the drug shops, and hookers.
Where does this story begin and where does it end?
Stay tuned and I'll walk you through as best I can. Expect to hear about the autobahn, the strawberry field sprint, the torture, the confrontation with the locals, and the hostel above one of Amsterdam's most popular bars.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Another day in Germanic paradise. Almost.
I have to give props to the park. The upkeep and vegetation is nicer on my eyeballs than any other park I've run through. With so many tiny dirt trails and stone walkways, it feels like a scenic forest more than a city park. It's so nice to run through here because you feel like you've escaped to the country.
I wouldn't call what I've been doing running, it's more like an extended power walk with a skip added to it. Pretty embarrassing to see the shape I've digressed to.
Miami Ad School is one of the worst things you can do to your body. With a hodge podge schedule, you can have classes in te morning or at night. It's always stressful and you're always coming up with your ideas way later in the process than you had hoped. Working out meeting times with your group is never easy. All of these things combine to screw over your personal life. When this happens, you get stress and lack of sleep. Couple the stress and lack of sleep with eating cheap food and living at happy hours and you get fat.
When I came here, I was warned by the graduating students about the cycle and it's repercussions. Yeah right, there was no way it could happen to me. Then it did. Now it's time to turn it around.
For all you ad schoolers reading this, you know what I'm talking about. I encourage you to take a good hard look at your day to day life. Sure, every assignment is important, but so is your health. What's the point of getting a great job if we're gonna drop at 33?
Justin, the new roommate and I, talked about this over dinner last night at Michaelangelo's. Michaelangelo's is an Italian spot located about fifteen feet from our apartment. It has a green, handwritten cursive sign and multiple umbrellas lined up to provide a mini circus tent-sized awning. THese beige colored square umbrellas must be at least 20 feet wide, easily the biggest I've ever seen. THey're all anchored to cast iron anchors to keep from blowing away.
As Justin and I worked our way through bruschetta with mounds of freshly sliced tomatoes and several different cheese topped on a local German bread; we figured out how to this cycle of letting your body fall apart around. There's a rent a bike program here in Hamburg and throughout Europe where you can rent a these decent red framed bikes with lights, gears, and a bell. Here's the best part: it's free if you rent it for less than thirty minutes, it's 5 Euros if you rent it for more. The bike ride from home to school is 21 minutes. It's perfect!
Also, I'm done with enjoying the daily .5 L bottle of beer. The problem here is beer is cheaper than juice. Beer is cheaper than water too. And beer is delicious, everything is from Germany, or even Hamburg so without the import and advertising costs; it's one Euro per bottle (remember these bottles are basically twice the size of American beer bottles).
Anyways, it's time to get healthy. With such scenic parks and a decent mix of outdoor events. I'm ready to get my butt into shape and be a bit more disciplined. We'll so how it plays out.
Thanks for listening. If you have any suggestions on how to handle a crazy schedule, I'm all ears.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Back track a little bit, I left out my experience at the hostel.
So here we go:
On the 9th, We stayed the night at the Langdunsbrucken Youth Hostel. Joe was blown away at the location and quality of this place. It pays to listen to the local recommendations. At 20 Euros a night, this place beat out a lot of American hotels. If it had a bigger locker space, I would have stayed for the entire trip at this place. Amazing.
The breakfast was delicious. It was a college cafeteria layout of foods and beverage options ranging from German pastries with different fillings of delicious fruits and sweetened pastes to espresso machines.
If I loved coffee, this place would be a dream come true. There were several different freshly ground pots brewing at the same time. Seriously, I wanted to stay here for the full three months. All it needed was eggs and I would have locked it down.
The pastries were incredible. They were laid out in a vasty array.
I fashioned myself a promiscuous chai. Not many people are fan of this drink. But, it's a cup of coffee mixed with hot chocolate and a chai bag is brewed in it. Justin, my new roommate here at the apartment, describes it as Christams gone bad. I think it's amazing. It tastes like a spicy hot chocolate. Fantastache.
Joe and I ventured throughout the port of Langdunsbrucken. It started off strong as we came across a silver woman. Remeber the silver men in the big cities like Chicago and San Fran who stand motionless on a box until you drop in a quarter or a dollar? Same thing, except she wasn't wearing glasses. It's creepy and gives the person less of a statuesque appearance as they eye ball you from afar.
Moving along we discovered the Rickmer RIckmer. I thought it was a tall ship docked for the night, but once we saw the pamphlets and attractions, i realized it was a tourist attraction. Crap. I'm such a tourist. Attracted to the big ship like a moth to a night light.
It was time for Joe to go to his home and set up camp. We ventured over to the sirichstrasse and Joe got to meet Nicholai. Nicholai is a 27 year old starting up his own company.
Once Joe realized he couldn't move in until tomorrow, we moved his stuff to Brian's place nearby and headed over to my apartment to meet up with Mr Justin Stielow.
Justin was the last to arrive and the last to find out the dream apartment for all of us didn't work out and we were scrounging about the city. Coming off a week and a half long bender in the States, Justin was exhausted but had to kill 7 hours in the bar until we met up with him at 7pm. Then we went out for a belated celebration of my birthday. This is another story for the next post. Stay tuned comrades.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Hamburgers packed the streets and filled it with energy and noise. We muscled our way throughout to find the 1 Euro beer stands and join the celebration. People adorned their perfectly cristened mohawks of vivid shades of pink and blue. Leather jackets with metallic spikes were the popular outfit. On both sides of the streets, graffiti decorated the archaic buildings of local shops and apartments.
As we passed each intersection of city streets, cops were garbed in riot gear from head to toe. They stood at attention, ready for action, in groups 40 to 50 strong. A bullet proof shield in one hand and baton in the other, they resembled ancient Spartans whose Herculean strength resulted from working as a unit.
Why so many cops? All these people want to do is show off what wood glue can do to hair and have a few cheap Astras. Astras are the Hamburg local beer. At 1 - 2 Euros a bottle, Astra is the preferred drink of party goers because it's cheap, effective, and local. They taste a hundred times better than a budlight, yet are priced the same. Germany 1, USA 0.
Ze americanas. Joe, Brian, and I, strutted about the streets in graphic shirts, cargo shorts, and flip flops. The crinkling of glass underneath our leather soles was heard with every step above the excited talk and song of the Hamburgers. Then, everything changed.
Smoke rose from afar. Amidst the smoke and the growing wisps of yellow and orange, a man in a sleeveless leather jacket was suddenly several feet above the heads of mohawks and spikes. As he struggled to keep his balance, he continued to stack foreign objects like fork lift palletes and outdoor speakers and climb atop them.
Little did we know, he was building a burn pile as a demonstration against capitalism. Curious and ignorant to the situation, we ventured closer. Explosions were heard. They sounded like M-60 fire crackers in a mailbox. People ahead of us started covering their eyes. It was tear gas. We were getting gassed. Brian caught a waft in his right eye and immediately had trouble seeing. This was no longer a demonstration. This was a riot.
As the flames grew, so did the energy of the crowd. The sleeveless leader spastically led the crowd in German chants. He resembled a musical conductor as he waved his arms around wildly and the people followed his every move with arms held high. A sea of hands wrapped in spiked bracelets clutching beers could be seen for blocks and blocks. Then came the water cannons.
THe crowd turned into a mosh pit as almost everyone fled the range of the cannon. Those who stayed scurried about the streets to grab empty bottles. Here's the interesting part: when the crowd fled, they only ran far enough to avoid getting sprayed. Once they were out of range, they continued chanting and cursing.
For the few hooligans who remained in range of the water cannon, they were doused heavily. They threw beer bottles at the water guns as an act of defiance. This explained all the crinkling of glass I was nervous about with every step in my flip flops.
When sprayed, they would stand still with arms held high in rebellion. This continued until the water pressure became too intense, or the cops would kick and punch them into submission.
I was freaked out. I had no desire to experience jail time in a foreign country and was ready to leave. Joe and Brian were intrigued to keep watching, so we stayed and watched from a safe distance.
The riot started in the center of Schantzee (not sure if I'm spelling it correctly). The Schantzee spans about twenty blocks or so. By blocks I'm talking about the equivalent of a Chicago city block for the sake of comparison. Since all the cobblestone streets of Hamburg are winding and convoluted, it's more of a labyrinth than a city grid.
The riot went on all night. It was a slow effort by the cops to spray the crowd and progressively push them back. It took about a half hour to move the crowd twenty feet. For the first hour, this was their tactic.
Cops formed lines 80 - 100 strong to block off the side streets to prevent people from looping around the streets to come up from behind the water cannon and try to sabotage it. I felt like a herded cattle as the cops and mobile water turrets forced us into a confined area.
The rest of this story is continued in the previous blog entry. This was as far I got last time before Blogger destroyed my work. To hear the rest, check the blog below.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Breakfast was amazing. Talking about it dominated my last entry. I'm not going to get started.
It was time to get to business. I needed a place to live. This 45 Euro a night business had to stop. With my atlas stone in hand, I once again baby stepped about the town until I found an internet cafe close to Hotel Blanco.
1 Euro for an hour. Amazing. This might be the best deal in all of Europe. I take it back, I heard Prague was incredibly affordable. Prague, the city we're heading to in a couple weeks! Prague, the city I'll write all about and take hundreds of pictures of. Yes, you should stay tuned.
"Sprecken ze English?" I said in my best German accent.
"Ya! Zen zi Americana?" the clerk replied with enthusiasm.
"Ja! Americana! Ja vol!" I said with too much excitement. The clerk told me to use the computer first, then pay later. Just like breakfast. Do it now, pay it later.
I de-robed myself of the belongings strapped to my body and flopped into an open chair.
"Hey man, are you from America?" asked a polo wearing brown haired guy in cargo shorts. His eyes were big and full of hope with a slight hint of desperation. Much like my own.
"YES! DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH? WHERE ARE YOU FROM? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? DO YOU REALLY SPEAK ENGLISH?" I had to slow down.
"I thought I just did." What a smart ass, what a find. I then found out he's from Tampa Bay, Florida. He's here to go to school for three months.
"What are you studying?" I asked while biting my lip to conceal my excitement.
"Advertising, I'm going to a school called Miami Ad School." Bingo. I found my american comrade.
Then I found out the apartment I had lined up was no longer available. It turns out when I said we wanted the apartment, go ahead and lock it down; it didn't mean the same to Hans. Hans, the guy you shouldn't trust to find you an apartment. Fiching weasel.
I had some work to do. Friday wasn't going to be such a carefree day of moving in then exploring the city.
I remembered at Hotel Blanco, the owner was talking to me about an apartment he had. I headed over there with hope. Brian and I were seated in a room full of persian rugs and grand old wooden clocks. What is it about getting old and gathering clocks? Do you want to count down your life with company incapable of dying on you unlike all of your friends who are waiting for you in the next realm? I don't get it.
He barely spoke English, I don't speak German. It was a long affair coupled with extravagant hand motions, a lot of writing, and a copious amount of awkward pauses. It felt like more of a staring contest than a conversation.
After twenty minutes of this, I figured out they wanted 850 Euro a month for their cramped quarters without wireless internet. "Too much. Too much." I said slowly as I shook my head.
Big surpirse: they understood this phrase. "750 Euros." He said as a counter offer.
"Too Much. Too much." I said. The awkward silence ensued. We stood in the dank basement where the office desk was situated for what felt like eternity.
"Ok. Bye now." It was over.
We walked over to school. School was a half mile away, I had no idea it was so close. I also had no idea a half mile could feel so much longer with my atlas stone. I need to get back into shape.
I spent the better half of the afternoon making Brian restlessly hang out while I scoured the internet for apartments. Finally, I lined up a few. It was time to go check out the places and meet with the people.
Joe was flying in later on today so we had to find a hostel to stay at since we didn't have an apartment. Hopefully, I thought, Joe will check his e-mail before he leaves the airport and heads to our non-existent apartment.
Monday, July 6, 2009
The yellow loops jut forth from a over saturated red background of a McDonalds store entice me. I stumbled towards the congruent loops with my atlas stone slung over my shoulders. Hunched and drooling, I could already taste the Bacon Egg & Cheese Bagel, Hash browns, and orange juice in my mouth.
I walked up to the entrance. The manager came out to open the store. Everything in my mouth wanted me to take the next step and walk through golden arches.
I'm proud to say I refused my buds of taste as I ventured past the familiar and onwards to the unknown. It was time to see what Mundsburg had to offer my mouth.
After a series of destroyed sidewalks and uneven cobblestones, I found a local spot. Cafe Trishina.
Scents of fresh pastries and espresso drinks wafted from the door. The shop was small and full of pastries with icing, sweetened fruit fillings, and glazed sandwiches.
I asked what was good. I wish I could have asked in German, but instead I slowly said "What is good here?" with my hands pointing at the array of shiny breakfast delicacies.
A friendly German teenage girl behind the counter chose a football sized sandwich for me. A smile grew from a smirk to a full bodied grin which dominated my face.
As she grilled the sandwich and decorated the bun with a specialized glaze, she asked me "Is America as crazy as the movies? Can you survive six minutes without stabbing happen?"
If we aren't bombing them in real life, we're doing it on screen.
America, the land of crazies and killer. I've often wondered what the perception of Americans was to the non political zealots and people unaffected by the era of world wars. America is a scary land for foreigners.
I'll write more about this later, but for now, I don't want to preach about societal norms and lose your attention span. Or mine.
Back to the good stuff: ze food. I stood and waited to pay at the counter, when suddenly the teenage brunette shot me a dirty glance. Dirty as in why-the-fich-are you-still-standing-there dirty. "Go on. Go on." Said the girl with grandiose hand motions pointing towards the seating outside. And, I left.
She kicked me out. Great.
Confused, I sauntered to the outdoor seating and found a table constructed in an industrial manner with stainless steel and wooden planks. It was surprisingly comfortable. Somehow the wood gave enough to keep your tailbone from feeling all the pressure. As I marveled over the comfort of stiff wood, two women who were having a smoke and a pastry stood up and walked into the store to pay and leave.
This is the Hamburg way, you pay after the food.
Eight minutes later (it felt like thirty for my stomach) my deutch friend brought forth the glazed breakfast pastry. From the grill and the heat, the sandwich had reduced to half its size. I was distraught. How could this feed me? It was barely the size of my two fists put together. Oh well, at least I know where McDonalds is.
No. No. No. I am going to embrace the German culture and adapt to the eating and drinking habits. At least the eating habits (stop worrying mom). I was determined to take my time with this sandwich and hope it filled me up. The first bite wasn't anything special, but the second bite almost made me shit my pants. It was delicious.
The glazened texture over the outer surface of this Kaiser type roll gave a sweetened first taste, the cheese was as soft as butter and tasted like a slice of Munster, the ham was cured in sweetened red chili sauce. All of these forces combined to create a morning glory. In my mouth.
I moaned with adoration. Two elderly German women smiled as they stared into my eyes from across the veranda. I stopped moaning.
My first German breakfast was a success. The cliff bars I had for breakfast the day before didn't count. Anything which passes through your system in under six hours doesn't count as a meal. My digestive system is a system, not an amusement park ride. I don't want record speeds and hairpin turns. I want it slow and steady. No lines, no thrill seekers.
Wow. This entry is going downhill fast. No pun intended. I'll write more later.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Today wasn't the worst birthday I've ever had. How bad was the worst? Great question.
On a hot Sunday, I celebrated my fifteenth birthday. Since it was Sunday, unbeknownst to me, my mom set up a surprise party at church for me. The party would happen after the church service. I would sit with my family and they would proudly escort their beloved son to the surprise reception where all my friends and the families of my friends would don me with a joyous "SURPRISE!"
Little did I know, skipping church to go skateboard was the worst move possible. Throughout the entire service, everyone was looking for me. My mother was beside herself thinking something terrible happened to me.
How did it feel to walk into the sanctuary after the service when everyone who had waited for me to show was filing out? It was like farting in a room where everyone knows you did it but won't say anything. Instead, you get a uniform solemn stare of condemnation as heavy brows and reddening eyes burn holes through you. This is what it felt like to walk in on the service as people were leaving the sanctuary.
It would have been easier to have God rain sulfur upon me, Sodom and Gomorrah style. Nevertheless, after my mom took me aside for a twenty minute scolding to notify me I was indefinitely grounded and she couldn't believe what I had done, we celebrated my birthday!
When I walked in, it was like everyone had found out I had cancer and my dying wish was to have a birthday party in the reception room at my church. The painfully drawn out surprise and happy birthday song was excruciating.
Such a happy song coupled with evil eyes and judgmental stares, I'll never forget it. It may as well have been an intervention. At the end of an intervention, people say they love you and care about you. There's hugs and tears. Only the beginning is cold, hard, and brutal. Unfortunately, I wasn't taking drugs so this option was ruled out. The cold, hard, and brutal beginning begot a cold, hard, and brutal entirety.
"Way to skip church Matt," a stranger sneered at me. A literal stranger was scolding me. People have big balls when your in the house of God. I was too ashamed to respond with a counter argument such as "I don't even know you." So, I took it. All of it. Every furrowed brow in my direction and scowl went down as smoothly as the dry birthday cake with copious frosting mounted like an avalanche about the gristly cake texture.
The night turned around when my youth pastor had mercy on me. As I was choking down the final bites of my birthday cake slice, a super-sized palm slapped my back vigorously. "Hang in there buddy" was all I heard as I saw my youth pastor give me a wink and walk off into the menacing crowd.
This was the worst birthday of my life.
Today wasn't the worst, and it wasn't the best. It falls in the middle. It started with scrambling about the internet in my KOCKS HOTEL room to find a new place to stay. Luckily my director of the new school (who actually lives up to his title unlike the last director I had in Minneapolis) hooked me up with some info on Hotel Blanco.
I hopped into a cab, "Sprecken zi Ingles?" I asked with my best possible German accent, trying so hard not to sound like Arnold as I said it. Bad habits, like doing Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonations for fifteen years, get in the way of learning German dialect. "Muah Bissel" replied the cab driver. As we climbed into his Mercedes Benz, which is apparently the official car of all cab drivers, he sped off through out the narrow streets and round abouts of Hamburg.
I tried to follow his turns in accordance with atlas in my hand, but it was a lost cause. All I figured out is I'm on a road called Obertenallee by the Mundsburg Center where Slumdog Millionaire and Ice Age 3 are still playing in the theater. In German.
Twenty Euros and twenty minutes later I thanked the Cab Driver with a high five and a "Danka comrade." Yes, I fused Russian and German. It's all part of the German hybrid language I've decided to create: Aryan 2.0.
Hotel Blanco is a converted apartment structure. It lies within a series of apartments lined up with the Obertenallee sidewalk. Sunken in by a good twenty feet from the line up of the other apartment entrances, it's like staring at Mars on a semi-cloudy night. If you don't concentrate and don't believe it exists, you won't see it.
i tried to walk through but couldn't because the door is locked. Great start for a hotel. I pushed the ringer which displayed HOTEL in helvetica font across the horizontally mounted rectangular buzzer.
Suddenly I heard the sound of a garbage disposal. I then realized it was the electronic unlocking of the Hotel Blanco front door. I walked through.
The entrance is a midway segment between the ground and first floor. You walk into a stair case which works as a spiral staircase, only it's a square staircase indoors. A narrow corridor leads you up and a narrow corridor leads you down. I heard a voice muttering foreign German phrases. "Guten tag comrade" I bellowed in wait of a response. The foreign German phrases from below became louder in response. I dropped my bags (they don't fit along with me through the corridors) and headed downstairs.
I saw a man who looked like a flea circus manager. He resembled the alien in Star Wars who owned Anakin and his mother in the Phantom Menace. Much like in the movie, he was unaffected by jedi mind tricks. My bartering, which consisted of saying "It's my birthday, do you have any birthday specials" was met with "Room? 45 Euros."
Four flights of narrow stairs later and I'm situated in my room. It's quaint, homey, and tight like a prison cell. There's two anorexic sized single mattresses on the opposite side of the entrance. Next to the entrance is a wall mounted 2'x3' rectangular mirror. Below the mirror is a sink with a "Wasch Lotion" dispenser. High above, at the 7' top of the room, a wall mounted security monitor television is mounted. Don't worry, this 12 inch screen bad boy gets German cable. Dozens of channels I can't understand. Glorious.
Down the hall is the communal bathroom. You open it using your middle-ages castle key. The same key unlocks my bedroom door. I have a hunch this is a skeleton key which unlocks all of ze doors but I'd rather not test this theory.
I dropped my Atlas sized bag and headed out to see some of Hamburg. It's a beautiful town. Picturesque and full of archaic style.
There's one McDonald's across the street from me and I have to admit, I went there tonight to experience the German version of an American staple food.
First lesson. Don't order water. It costs more than soda and you get sparkling water. Second lesson, there is no ketchup. The fries are as salty as the American version, but without the ketchup. The burger is greased down with more delicious add-ins like bacon and saur krat. Ok I'm kidding about the saur krat, but it's a greasier meat patty. By far.
German McDonalds. Not a bad way to treat yourself to a happy birthday. I mean to go out to a nearby pub and celebrate my birthday properly, or at least get recognized for today being my birthday. This was my plan when I laid down at 4pm to take a power nap. When I woke up 10 hours later, I realized the beers would have to be postponed. Jet lag is a bitch.
Not the liveliest birthday of my life, but far from the worst.