Monday, February 16, 2015

German Observations and such

Naturally, when you visit a country halfway across the planet you will notice many similarities and differences.  I have seen some fantastic things here in Mannheim, but have also experienced some culture shocks that took some getting used to. Let me begin:

o   Drink (mainly Beer) -  Germany's food and drink has surpassed all expectations. Let me first discuss the German staple- Beer (bier). In Germany there is a "Purity Law." Over 500 hundred years ago, Albert IV from Bavaria proclaimed that beer could only consist of "Water, malt, and hops." The integrity of the law has pretty much stood unaffected since then. (Yeast is the now the 4th and final ingredient). This makes the difference between beer in the US and beer in Germany HIGHLY noticeable. My first beer was so pure it almost had a fruity taste to it. That may sound weird but it was delicious. Every beer since then has reconfirmed to me that this is a spectacular law. Absolutely have to respect the foresight Albert the IV had on that decision.

The carbonation of the beer is also much different. German beer is much smoother and you do not feel as though your nose is going to pop when you drink it a little too fast. This might help when partaking in Das Boot.

Another very interesting aspect to the beverages here in Mannheim is that they are very inexpensive.  The average beer at a bar in the city is about 2 euro and maybe some change. But very cheap. To the point where it is equivalent (if not cheaper) to the cost of bottled water. I spoke with a German professor about this and he told me it is almost a problem how inexpensive it is because it could lead to higher consumption. But as a visitor with a budget, I have no complaints (yes, I ball on a fiscally responsible and feasible budget).  I have also purchased a 1.5L of a particular brand of Iced Tea three times now. The drink is .45 euro (with a .25 container fee). I could get used to prices like this.

(Below are some common German beers)

o   Food- The food also follows a similar pattern. Here in Germany, the people eat a lot of red meat. The carnivore section of the menu consists of about 90% red meat at the typical German restaurant. I really have no problem with this although you always hear how “White meat is so much healthier” or  “I’m a pescatarian! Red meat is yucky!” The second quote is directed toward my sisters.  But when I finally did have chicken out here, it was quite delightful to say the least.

o   Public Transit- The public transportation here in Mannheim (and in the region of Baden-Württemberg) is quite interesting. For one, it is very efficient. The trains show up on the dot and the buses arrive pretty much right on time, give or take a minute. The routes also cover a lot of ground. This is extremely convenient for me considering I live about an hour walk from the University.

      Another interesting thing about the bus and tram system is that they use the “honor system.” Bus drivers and tram operators will not ask you about a ticket when you enter. They just assume you are telling the truth and you aren’t a jerk. Every once in a while, Police (or some authoritative figure) will get on and ask a few people to show their tickets but this is rather uncommon. I have been riding for five weeks (yes, I have a ticket) and have not seen this happen. If you get caught riding ‘black’ then you will be subject to a 40 Euro fine. Never mind the embarrassment of being that typical American punk that some Europeans picture. Just don’t be that guy.

o   Cleanliness-   This has been one of the more shocking aspects of Mannheim so far. I had always heard that Europeans recycle, that they’re very eco-friendly, this and that. Maybe I was just thinking the habits of Sweden were consistent throughout the continent. To my surprise, this city has a decent amount of litter. I don’t know if Boston is very clean, or Mannheim is a little messy. I have personally seen people throwing cups and bottles in the streets during broad daylight, which I was pretty surprised to witness.

   I have also been quite surprised with the bathrooms. If you’re one of those “TMI” people, skip this paragraph. As I was saying, the bathrooms… The toilets are very weak. I have talked to multiple people who have agreed to this. Maybe the logic is “we save water!” but that is useless if flushing has to be done more than once. Also, I have only encountered ONE bathroom that had a window during my stay here. I find this quite unusual and this is probably adding to the gross vibe I get whenever I enter a restroom.

o   Smoking- I knew that smoking cigarettes was more common in Europe, but I did not realize how prevalent it really is. There is a part of the city known as Jungbusch and it is popular for its bars. In these bars, smoking is allowed. And people don’t hold back. I have set a pair of pants and a shirt aside for Jungbusch that I will most likely have to throw out after this trip because I will smell like the lungs of a 50 year cigarette addict if I continue to wear them.

   I recently went to a Mannheim Adlers hockey game. It was a lot of fun and the fans were DIE HARD. I’m from Boston and our city is known to have some serious fans, but these guys don’t even need music between whistles. Non-stop chants, songs for individual players, and of course the Adler anthem. Anyway, back to my story. I left the game at the end of the second period and noticed that when I was heading for the exit, a lot of other people were too. A LOT. When I got to the exit door I was given a little “Re-entry” ticket if you will. This was for the smokers. All 4 thousand of them. Maybe more. Each exit had a massive group of people omitting clouds of smoke in the air. It almost looked like a harbinger of some sort. Like, “Where do the Adlers play? Oh, just follow the four dark clouds oddly low to the Earth and you will be led to the SAP Arena.”

(Here is a picture of the re-entry ticket that was handed to me at the end of the 2nd period.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Roller Coaster

Hey Gang,

This is my second post. I want to primarily focus on mental preparation/first couple of days abroad. I just left this stage and think I have some good ideas to what may be helpful. I can hopefully share some stories and shed some light on how things will be for someone taking the leap of studying abroad.

The Days Leading Up to Departure

Months before my flight to Germany, I was rather uneasy about coming. I was unsure whether I really wanted to go. I didn't have any idea of what Germany was like, and I did not want to leave my current routine at UMass Amherst, which I was comfortable and happy with. Quite frankly, my mindset of going abroad was "WHY?!?!" and not "Helllzzzz yeaaa." People told me it was the best decision they had ever made, yet I continued to feel uneasy. BUT, the closer the time came toward leaving, the better I felt. This is mainly because I started talking to others who were currently in my "shoes" and not those who had been in them. Friends from school started to tell me "ahhh I don't want to leave so soon" and "I JUST WANT CHRISTMAS AT HOME!" (Thank you Sienna). These remarks that came from close friends of mine were beyond comforting. I was able to see that it really wasn't uncommon to feel nervous... I mean you ARE going away for five months, who wouldn't feel this way? From that point on I was able to enjoy my last couple weeks at home for the holidays and not worry so much about my departure.

Murphy's Law

 Had I known the chaos that would ensue upon stepping into Logan Airport, I probably would of bolted for the "EXIT" sign. I would of tossed some redheaded dude my passport and plan ticket, and said, "GUTEN TAG BRAHHHH!!!" ("Good Day Bro", in layman's terms).

First, I wasted upwards of fifteen minutes trying to 'check-in' for my flight at some robot-frustration machine. My sister and I tried figuring it out for some solid time and I eventually called it quits when it offered me a dish of holographic meatloaf.

From there, I waited in line for the homosapien check-in and this took about twenty minutes. When it was finally my turn to greet the JetBlue employee, I smiled and put my 60 pound suitcase on the scale. She smiled back and said, "Lose ten pounds."  I'm thinking, "dayummm I thought I looked good," and then realized my bag was 10 lbs over the limit. So, I stepped out of the line, consolidated my suitcases, and was able to send my two bags of luggage onto the conveyor belt where I would next see them in Germany.

I then said goodbye to my parents, sister, and girlfriend, and headed for my flight...

Which was delayed an hour.

Roughly nine hours later,  I landed at the Frankfurt Airport. I still remember how bizarre it felt looking out of the plane window and thinking, "This is really happening... Wow." I made it through the terminal, past Customs, and to the luggage claim where I waited.

Five minutes went by.
Ten minutes went by.
Twenty minutes went by.
Thirty-five minutes went by.

Finally, a man named Phillip informed me my luggage got lost in the mix and I had to go to a service desk to file for a Baggage Claim.

So now I am in Germany with only my backpack and headed for a train in a city I had never been to. Did I mention I don't speak German?

When I finally made it to Mannheim, I somehow found my housing unit and emptied my things. My "things" being three books, a pack of gum, Airborne, and a T-shirt.

I then found a group of internationals and tagged along with them into the city to go to the University. We missed the only day for enrollment by a matter of ten minutes. The lady behind the desk at the International Office told me there would be an hour the following day where I could enroll. So I set an alarm, went home, and went to bed.

This wasn't a normal slumber... it was borderline hibernation. I had went to bed at 10:17 pm (don't ask me how I remember), and woke up the following day at 6 pm. I slept nearly twenty hours, I kid you not. Waking up the next day and seeing darkness/streetlights, was the most puzzling three minutes of my life. I was shocked.

Moments after waking up I met my Finnish flatmate, Kari, and he informed me about a Pub Crawl. We took the bus into the city and met up with a large group of students in the program. Everyone was excited to meet one another and have some fun in this foreign place. We frolicked around the city to multiple different bars and pubs. It wasn't until we entered a pub called "Murphy's Law," did I realize how horribly wrong everything had went.

Murphy's Law is a theory that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. There is no better term to better encapsulate the first 48 hours of my voyage in Germany, yet, I have viewed this entire trip as a blast so far.

At the end of the day, I am still in a foreign country seeing and experiencing things I will never encounter again, so every single little thing that goes wrong seems miniscule. I know there will be times where I want to go home and return to my daily routines across the Pond (Atlantic Ocean), but that time hasn't come yet. So for now, I will continue to enjoy this beautiful city known as Mannheim.

P.S... I still don't have my luggage (1/16/2015)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Willkommen (Welcome)

Hello All,

Welcome to my blog. My name is Dan McMahon and I am the ginger being referred to in the URL above. This blog is about my experience in my semester abroad where I will study in the lovely city of Mannheim. I will be posting fairly regularly so feel free to stop by and creep/read/stalk/maybe laugh. No farting though. But for real, I think the blog should be rather interesting and hopefully helpful to those who are planning a trip to Europe (specifically to Germany). The blog will contain stories, comparisons, guides, and grammatical errors. I will write with honesty and truly intend writing meaningful, yet entertaining posts. But for now, this is all I got. Gute Nacht!


Here is a photo of the University of Mannheim. Pretty cool place to study if you ask me.