What You Own

On the rainy Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I spent a long chunk of time  in the parking lot of a storage facility.  I was waiting for the delivery of my stuff from Germany.

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I shipped eleven boxes of stuff to Regensburg in November of 2011, and brought back eleven boxes and a carpet.  I have no earthly idea how I managed to keep the number of boxes the same, because quite a few things were bought and sold in those three years.

Yesterday, I moved all the stuff I had stashed in my brother’s storage unit into a second storage unit which contained my shipment of stuff from Germany.  Once I was done combining all the stuff into one storage unit, I had a good look at what was there.  This photograph shows everything I own, save for a small closet’s worth of clothing, my laptop, a coffee table and mirror still at my brother’s house, and my car.

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Everything I own, aside from the car, can be placed into a five by ten foot storage unit, with room to spare.   It seems a little light, doesn’t it?

The old me, the version of Steven who existed before living in Germany for a few years, would have lamented that it seems like I haven’t accomplished anything.   I even wrote about packing and storing my belongings in an introspective post just two years ago.  Now that I’m back to staying in my brother’s spare bedroom, it’s going to be at least another two months before I’m ready to snag an apartment of my own.  For now, the majority of my stuff will remain in that storage unit.  Old Steven would actually be kind of depressed at the situation.

That was then, and this is now.  In the last three years, I visited 23 countries I had never visited.   I made friends all over Germany.  I may not have collected much in the way of personal belongings, but the experiences I’ve collected are irreplaceable, even if my terrible memory means that I will have to re-read my blog to see just what I’ve accomplished.   Today is my 42nd birthday,  and starting right now my repatriated life is basically a do-over.  I bought a new car nine days ago.   I finally have all of my belongings in (more or less) one place, even if I can’t pull them out of storage just yet.  I’ve got a stunning new (but not really new) girlfriend.  In another two or three months, I’ll be ready to get a new apartment and start filling it with stuff.  (I’ll need a bed, a desk, and an internet connection.  Everything else is negotiable.)  Forty-two is gonna rock.

Since it’s my birthday, I reserve the right to fill the rest of this post with random stuff from my recent comings and goings.  First up, my Thanksgiving dinner plate.  I’m not sure why everyone takes pictures of their Turkey-day plates, but I’m no outlier here.  Clockwise from the upper left, it’s turkey, yams and marshmallows, cranberry jelly, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and some stuffing in the center.  Yes, that’s the cranberry from the can.  Shut up, I love it that way.  I even love the little can-shaped ridges that show up in the sides of the cylinder of cranberry.

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I’ll go for the bonus points here, and also show you my dessert plate.  On the top row, there’s a chocolate and cream cheese brownie which is more cream-cheese than chocolate, “twisted and evil.”   Next up is a tiny pecan pie.  A pie-lette, even.   And on the bottom is a slice (and I use that term loosely) of chocolate pudding pie, a family tradition.  There was also pumpkin pie, but I can have that almost any time.

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I mentioned the new car in the last post, but I didn’t have a proper picture of it yet.  Here’s one, taken in my dad’s driveway.  His driveway gives good photo-angle.  You still can’t see the pretty blue color of the car though; that only seems to show up in photographs when it’s raining or overcast.

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While we’re on the subject of the car, I took a photograph at a specific mileage because a) I’m twelve years old, and b) I knew many of my friends would also be amused.  (Cara, I’m lookin’ at you here.)

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That car was a birthday gift from me to me.  My niece is turning four this weekend, and I bought her some Bavarian bears before I left Germany.  I’m glad my shipment arrived in time.

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Moving on with more randomness,  I’m utterly fascinated by the things people decorate their houses with in South Florida.  Amelie were walking through the neighborhood the other day, and we stumbled across a house where the owner was proudly flying an FSU 2013 Champs flag, and had decorated their tiny front lawn beneath the flagpole with… well, it’s better if I just show you.

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On that same walk, we attempted to photograph a very friendly cat.  As you might expect, this was the outcome:

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I’ll leave you with this video of the Turkey-day fire on my sister and brother-in-law’s patio, as observed by someone who just figured out that his phone has a cool slow-motion mode.  Check it out!

How was your Thanksgiving?  Did you film anything in slow motion?

`Twas The Weekend Before Thanksgiving…

The weekend before Thanksgiving was a most eventful one for me.  I spent most of the day on Saturday at the car dealership with my brother, going through the motions of the dance that is car salesmanship.   After nearly four hours, a deal was struck for a car which had to be retrieved from another dealership.  We confirmed the theoretical arrival date was sometime Monday or Tuesday, and I went on my way.

That night, Amelie and I went to the Mardi Gras Casino to see Air Supply play a live show.  They basically played their greatest hits album, but they sounded fantastic.

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After the concert, there were delicious pancakes and eggs at the local IHOP restaurant.  I really missed IHOP in Germany. Check out Amelie’s pancakes- they look pretty happy they’re about to get eaten, don’t they?

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Cut to Sunday, and I got a call from the sales manager that my car was already here, minus the tint (which will be installed in a week or so) and the backup sensor, which will probably be installed after thanksgiving. The car has a backup camera, but I wanted the doo-dad that beeps when you’re approaching an object too.

For the first time since 2011, I own a car.  It feels damn good to get that purchase ticked off of my repatriation to-do list.  This is what I looked like right after I drove the car off the lot.  The car is a Mazda 3 hatchback in a nice light blue color, and I’m very very pleased.

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To cap off the weekend, we quite literally rode off into the sunset.  Ok, so we actually drove away from this, but it’s a really pretty sky, don’t you think?

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The readjustment continues.

As I readjust to life here, some things are going very easily and some are taking a little bit more time.  Today’s post will be short and a little random.

I’ve been slowly working my way through a list of restaurants that I wanted to visit again after my return.  I spent an entire week during my last month in Germany dreaming and drooling about a hot corned beef sandwich on seedless rye bread from Toojays Deli, and I still haven’t made it there.  I did find that the gyros at Gyroville are not that dissimilar from Döner in Germany.

I said in my Last Looks post that I was looking forward to video without geo-blocking.  This goes double for audio.  It’s fantastic to be able to stream Pandora to my phone again!

While it’s nice to have that, I’m finding myself falling further and further behind in the new fall television shows.  I watch a lot of shows, and it was easy to stay up to date on them when I was in Germany, because I had no life.  Now that I’m back in Florida, I’m easily 20-25 hours behind on my television watching because I’m simply too busy to watch most of it.This isn’t a bad thing, because being busy can be wonderful.  Outside of travel,  I really didn’t have that much going on for the last few years, aside from going out to eat with friends on weekends.

For the last three years, I spent the majority of my time alone.   Since I got back to Florida, I’ve been the exact opposite of that.  The only time I’m usually alone now is when I’m sleeping.    I’m staying at my brother’s house for a while – I need a car before I can get an apartment.  One thing at a time.

Dinner most evenings is a group event, with my brother and his boyfriend.  On the weekends, and at least once or twice during each  work-week, I spend oodles of time with my girlfriend, Amelie.

I used to write my blog posts with a nice cup of mint tea while sitting at the San Francisco Coffee Company in Regensburg.  Mint tea and bloggery go together, in my brain.  It’s really nice to add Amelie to the mix, though. Even now, I’m writing this post on Starbucks Wi-Fi with a cup of mint tea while she’s sitting across from me, reading a Queen & Country trade paperback.  (I totally won the girlfriend lottery- she’s smart, sexy, funny, and she reads comics. And for some reason, she’s really into me.   Score!)

I’m still not in anything like a regular routine.  I get to work a half hour early most days because I still haven’t gotten the hang of I-95 traffic levels all this time.  Even when I think I’ve got it, any traffic issues or small rainstorms change the transit times immensely.  There was one day last week where part of I-95 was closed because of both an accident AND a brush fire-  the resulting traffic snarls affected the entire city and much of the surrounding area, so it took me an hour and twenty minutes to travel what would normally only take twenty or twenty-five minutes.  Oh South Florida, I didn’t miss this part of you.

I need to redo the catch-phrase for this blog.  “Doin’ Time on the Donau” is no longer relevant, because I’m not there any more.    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to come up with anything catchier than “Farting Around in Florida,” and that’s just… no.

I’ve been looking at new cars, because after three years without owning a car, I’m back in a place where cars are a requirement to an uncomplicated life.  My dad loaned me his car for a little while, so I haven’t had to rush into getting a car.  It’s not an open-ended loan, though, so I do need to buy a car in the next month or so.

I’ve spent hours looking at details about different cars that are available here-  that was necessary, because after three years in Germany, I didn’t actually know what they sell here.   I liked some of the Opel and Seat cars in Germany, but neither of those is available here, at least not under those names.I’ve test driven a number of vehicles already.  I wanted to love the Toyota Prius C, but it’s really not a good fit- literally.  I couldn’t roll the seat back and I just barely fit.  Speaking of fit, the Honda Fit (called the Honda Jazz in Germany)  was actually quite nice, but I like my cars with a little bit more zip.

After all of that, I’ve whittled my decision down to two cars:  The Mazda 3 hatchback and the Honda Civic sedan.  Now I need to decide whether I want manual or automatic transmission…

Which do you prefer, stick or automatic?

Freude am Fahren

Every week-day, I ride a bus from my home near the Altstadt of Regensburg to a bus stop a short walk from my office in nearby Neutraubling.  That bus rides past BMW’s Regensburg factory.

I have always known that BMW is a Bavarian company, but I forgot about it until I got here. BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke, which roughly translates in English to Bavarian Motor Works.  The blue and white in the logo roundel match the blue and white of the Bavarian flag.  The logo is also stylized to evoke a spinning propeller.   The company goes back about a hundred years, but they started out as two different companies.  Bayerische Flugzeugwerke made airplane engines, and Rapp Motorenwerke was a motor company.  When they merged, the BMW name was born.  The first BMW branded vehicle is a motorcycle; the cars actually came a little bit later.

As you can see from the overhead view, it’s an enormous sprawling facility with a test track.

Up until the week before last, I’d only ever seen the gates and the high fences that surround the compound.   There’s a tour available to the public, however.  You just have to schedule it.   Here’s some of the interesting things I learned on the tour:

  • This facility produces several models of BMW, but ALL of the BMW Z4 line cars are made here.
  • The facility is a complete production line including enormous (and very loud) metal presses that convert huge rolls of steel into car doors, hoods, trunks, and bodies.
  • The seats are manufactured in a nearby town, and are driven to this facility less than an hour before they’re installed into new cars- this means that a traffic snarl on the Autobahn can back up production quite easily.
  • The factory produces one car every minute.  They make 1100 cars a day.
  • Much of the transport of cars from one end of the factory to the other is completely automated-  lots of robots and sparks and giant tracks.   There are forklifts, but there are also automatic robot cargo things that would look right at home in any Weyland-Yutani cargo deck.
  • Robots handle welding and bolting and all kinds of other precision work.
  • There are four layers in the painting process: a base primer, a protective layer, the color paint, and clear coat.  The paint work is all done by robots, and the paint is electrostatically charged during the painting process so that the paint will adhere more easily.
  • While the seats and engines are installed by robots,  a lot of fine installation work is done by humans- the Regensburg facility employs nine thousand people.
  • Ten percent of the finished cars are sent out to the test track for quality control.  I suspect that would probably be a fun job.

The video is a little bit older, but you can get a sense of the Regensburg facility in this Youtube clip.

This next video was taken in the Munich factory, but it clearly shows the metal press machinery, the paint robots, and more.  I’m quite fond of how the robot arms open and close the car doors during the painting process.

Cars Go Zoom!

When I got to Germany back in November, I had a ride from the Munich airport to my hotel here in Regensburg. Along the way, though, I got to see the Autobahn for the first time, and I got to see the German countryside for the first time.

Neither was even remotely what I expected.

The countryside was decidedly more rural than I thought it would be. I didn’t realize before coming here just how much agricultural business goes on in Germany. Outside of the main city areas, it’s pretty much all farmland or forest, with the occasional village in between. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense: How else could a country brew this much beer if they weren’t also farming a metric buttload of hops for the brewing process?

This post isn’t about agriculture though, it’s about cars. While I was on the road between Munich and Regensburg, my eyes were practically glued to the window looking at cars and road signs.

Editor’s Note: One of my favorite jokes about German roadways is one that is only really funny to people who don’t speak German natively: “Where the heck is this town called Ausfahrt?” The reason this is funny is because Ausfahrt means “Exit.” I figured that out by the fourth time I saw it, but I’ve since learned that you can get this gag on a t-shirt over at the Army base. Even the Urban Dictionary riffs on this one:

Biggest city in Germany. Almost every Autobahn exit directs to it.
– Damn, I missed the exit.
– Don’t worry. The next one will be to “Ausfahrt” as well.

It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who thinks like that. Then again, I spent more than two months trying to figure out what the “Einbahnstrasse” signs were all pointing to before my friend Jenny explained, without laughing at me too much, that it means “one way street.”

I think I may have seen too many James Bond chase sequences to have a realistic idea of what the Autobahn would look like, though. I expected it to be wide and flat and fast. I didn’t see stretches of the Autobahn that really matched that description until much later, as it turns out. As I hurtled down the Autobahn in the airport liner van on that first day, I watched the cars that were going past us, and the cars we passed. Some things were completely as expected: Lots of BMW and Volkswagen, Mercedes and Audi. Also present, in smaller numbers, were expected vehicles like Fords and Minis, Suzukis and Hondas, Mitsubishis and Toyotas. And one Lamborghini, just to be contrary. I’ve since seen a Tesla Roadster, but that’s not at all common.

There were also some breeds of car that I’d seen in the past in the US, but not recently, like Renault, Fiat, and Peugeot. But there were also a lot of cars that I’ve never seen in the United States. I’ve learned their names now, of course. Citroen. Skoda. Opel. These three are very, very common here. (And some of the new Citroens are just adorable!)

After observing for a while, I noticed something interesting- nobody here has a huge car. Space is at a premium in all things. Parking lots are small. I haven’t seen anything like a Hummer or a Ford Explorer. I’m sure that larger vehicles might be in use on farms, but not in the cities. With gas prices currently running at the equivalent of eight and a half US Dollars per gallon even for the cheap stuff, this isn’t really a surprise. It’s priced per liter here, but after you convert liters to gallons, and Euros to dollars, it’s not cheap. I saw a Pontiac Trans Am purring down the street last week, and I thought I was hallucinating.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been building up a little collection of pictures of official vehicles, because they fascinate me. In the US, most of the official vehicles are common American brands, and that’s to be expected. Here, though, there is an entry level Mercedes that looks like it’s roughly the right class to compete with the Honda Fit. In the US, Mercedes is a luxury car. Here, all of the taxis are Mercedes.

The same thing applies to emergency vehicles. Ambulances and fire trucks are pretty much what you’d expect- a van is a van is a van- the smaller emergency vehicles, however, are pretty snazzy looking. the fire department’s smaller vehicle? BMW.

Emergency medical service? This one is an Audi. The 112 inscribed on the side door is because the emergency call number here is 112, not 911 as it is back in the US. This is also a good example of the German language trying to confuse me. Arzt is “doctor.” The vehicle says notarzt. Which means “emergency doctor,” even though my EnglishBrain keeps screaming “but it says it’s NOT a doctor!”

Last, but certaintly not least, are the Polizei. (And bonus, it’s next to a Skoda in traffic, so you can see one of those as well.) Our frendly neighborhood cops drive BMWs accented with green. I’ve been told by several people that the police are shifting gradually over to blue instead of green to match large portions of the rest of the world, but I haven’t seen any blue on the cars or uniforms yet around town. I happen to think these little hatchback polizei cars are pretty good looking, though.

I wanted an Audi before I moved to Germany. I wonder if I’ll still want one as badly when I get back to the US.