Tuesday, April 27, 2010

No More Cake

Warning: this is a really poor excuse for a blog entry. But I feel like I have to post something so that you know I'm still here. I was away in Hamburg last weekend (which I'll blog about soon) and have otherwise been busy with stuff at the institute (including preparations for my upcoming presentation on May 5th - eek!). I'll bring you up to speed on all of this (I know -- promises, promises) very soon.

Oh, and why the title No More Cake? Because I'm officially, publicly, with YOU as my witness, renouncing Central European pastries, especially cake-like delicacies. They are tasty, they are seductive, and they are EVERYWHERE. I could eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and as snacks in between. But I'm not going to, because from now on (well, at least while I'm in Europe) my new mantra is "no more cake."

Farewell my fond, fluffy, sweet, delicious friend.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

It’s Springtime for Julia in Germany

The sun is here – hoorah!

Yeah, sure, volcanic ash from Iceland has swept over Europe causing flights to be canceled for three days straight so far, but I’m not flying anywhere, so it’s not affecting me! And, no, I haven’t noticed any traces of the volcanic ash in the air here, as you can see from these pictures I just took from the window of my apartment:

By the way, I declare this the most unpronounceable natural disaster in history: the name of the volcano is Eyjafjallajoekull.

But back to my more mundane European existence -- the emergence of the sun has allowed me to explore Leipzig a bit more.

I found the farmers' market in the town center on Friday. Well, I don’t know if it can actually be called a farmers' market – last I checked mangos don’t grow in Germany – but a market nevertheless.



Pastry stand popular with the pensioner crowd:

Last week my new anglophone friends from German class introduced me to Südvorstadt or ‘South Suburb’, which is not really a suburb but rather just a separate quarter or neighborhood of Leipzig. It’s the area where the cool kids live and though it may hard to tell from these pictures, it makes my neighborhood look like the ghetto and my building like a Communist tenement. Well… I may be exaggerating a bit, but the two areas really are like night and day (I swear the sky grew more ominous as I approached my building on Oststraße…). If I were living here any longer than two months, I’d definitely move, but for this short visit it’s not worth the trouble (and it’s really not so bad on Ostraße).

Südvorstadt - street shot:

Südvorstadt - an über-hip store & cafe:

Now I'm off to get started on my museum-ing, so you'll get to hear all about Bach and the new Bach museum in Leipzig... or the Neo Rauch exhibit in the art museum that's opening today... or both... in the next blog!

And if you’re getting sick of hearing about Leipzig, and I hope you’re not, but if you are, I’m probably traveling to Hamburg next weekend so I’ll have a new place to blog about. My friend from Czech summer school in 2008, Rike, is coming here on Wednesday for a few days, then it's Hamburg for the weekend. Yay, new adventures!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Case of the Mondays

It’s been a bit blah here for the last few days. Well, at least Saturday through Monday. The weather was decidedly un-spring-like and got me feeling rather un-spring-like as well. After an exploratory jog around my area of Leipzig on Saturday, I spent most of the rest of the weekend doing not much of anything. I had high hopes for myself: visiting art galleries and checking out a museum or two, maybe even an out-of-town excursion. But, alas, the best I did was get as far as the outsides of such places. Part of it was poor timing – I tried to venture to one place on Sunday, when absolutely everything is closed in Germany (except for bakeries!) . Part of it may also have been that I wasn’t feeling quite up for a lot of adventure after staying out rather late on Thursday night with some acquaintances from my German class (offered for free by the Max Planck Institute – thanks, Max!).

Anywhere, here are the outsides of building that contain some things I fully intend to see in the near future:

The building in the first picture – the Spinnerei [pronounced roughly shpinner-eye in German] – is a place I will definitely return to. Formerly a cotton mill, it now houses a number of art galleries and other fun artsy things. I learned about it back in January from the New York Times article “The 31 Places to Go in 2010,” where Leipzig is featured as #10 (yay, Leipzig!). The article also discusses some of the other cool things going on in my temporary residence, such as various tributes to Bach and Schumann and an underground music scene worth exploring.

So just be patient and I’ll report on cool culture-y things soon enough…

But in closing, I have some sad news. I just found out that my friend Rachael’s grandfather Vincent Caudy passed away yesterday (Monday, April 12, 2010). I only met him once, when I was about 11 or 12, in Grayling, but in the past few years we have periodically corresponded over e-mail about Czech things. As a heritage speaker of Czech he was very interested in Czech culture and developed relationships with many of his distant family members in the Czech Republic. When I went to the Czech Republic in November-December of 2008 to do some research, Vince put me in touch with many of his Czech friends and relatives. They were Czechs who not only helped me with my research (by allowing me to record their speech), but many of them also warmly welcomed me into their homes: they fed me, gave me gifts and souvenirs, set aside valuable time to speak to me (despite my broken Czech), and often provided me with a place to sleep. Without Vince, I never would have had these invaluable experiences (many of which I’ve written about in this blog).

During that visit Vince’s relatives gave me some of their moonshine (specifically, slivovice ‘plum brandy’), which I smuggled back to the US and sent to him. Here are pictures he e-mailed of him drinking it:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Leipzig Old and New

The Old: The Easter Market

Since I wrote earlier this week, I’ve had some time to explore Leipzig a bit more. The Monday after Easter (April 5th) was a holiday and a big event in town was the Easter market. It was as if from an era long gone (please don’t ask which era) with stands set up in the central town square selling handmade tchotchkes and traditional food and drink. Here is a picture of a stand with a pig roast and another with a manual Ferris wheel:

Look closely at the first picture and you can actually see the pig on the spit. (Mom – this reminds me of those neighbors that had a pig roast every summer in Grayling… it’s the only other time I’ve seen a pig on a spit, I think.) You’ll also notice the old-fashioned costumes. Everyone working at the market was dressed up in a similarly old-fashioned way, whether they were vendors or actors or musicians. For example, here are some musicians playing drums and bagpipe-like instruments:

And I’m not sure what to say about this “fire woman” who chased around small children… :

But don’t start thinking that Germany is all old-fashioned and quaint. Any inklings of this notion were certainly wiped out of my mind on Tuesday when I started my stint at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

The New: Max Planck Institutes

The Max Planck Institute where I’m working was established in only 1997, which is evident from the ultra-modern building. Here’s a view from the outside:

And another couple of shots from high up in the inside of the building, looking down on the atrium.

This place is like Julia-topia. It has all the academic perks of Berkeley: eminent scholars, interesting talks and classes, nice library; and all the logistical perks of the NRC: free copies and office supplies, my own computer set-up in a semi-private office, nice facilities. They’re going to have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming when it’s time to leave on June 1st.

Me in Julia-topia:

A small side note -- I said this Max Planck institute, because it’s not the only one, not by a long shot. In Leipzig alone there are 3 Max Plancks:

- Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (<-- this is where I am)
- Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig
- Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Leipzig

So if you had any doubts about modernization in former East Germany, rest assured it’s shaping up quite nicely. At least it seems to be here in Leipzig – smack dab in the middle of the former GDR. Though apparently in rural areas of former East Germany there is still a good deal of economic struggle.

Julia’s Leipzig/Germany/Central Europe adventure continues next week! What sort of things are in store? ... Classes in Upper Sorbian – an obscure Slavic language spoken completely within the borders of Germany – at the University of Leipzig … Visits to various art, music and ethnographic museums in the area … a potential trip to Dresden, or even Wrocław, Poland … Perhaps even an explanation of what exactly I’m doing here! … Check back soon for details!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Little Fiat That Could (or: The Bane of Bulky Baggage)

I'm here! Where's here? Leipzig, Germany. Where's Leipzig? Check the map below (also on the right). It's a bit south of Berlin.

To get from Berlin to Leipzig it takes about 1.5 hours by car. I know firsthand because I drove it Friday. Why on earth, you may ask, did I drive from Berlin to Leipzig when there is an amazingly efficient train system all throughout Germany? Well, I have so much luggage that I was seriously concerned that I couldn't lug it from the Berlin Tegel airport to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main train station), then onto the train, then off of the train, then to my apartment in Leipzig. You see, I had two suitcases and one backpack. And one of the suitcases weighed 70 lbs. And the other was full of books and probably weighed 45 lbs. Not to mention the large-ish backpack full of books… (I'm a graduate student, I'm addicted to books).

So I rented this little Fiat to get me and my luggage that probably weighed more than me from Berlin to Leipzig.

In this picture, the Fiat Punto is parked in front of my new apartment on Oststraße 48 (the full address is Oststraße 48 #19, 04317 Leipzig-Reudnitz, Germany, in case you’d like to send mail, hint hint ☺)

I arrived in Germany at sort of a weird time. As you may know, Easter is Sunday, April 4, and Easter is a national holiday in Germany. Stores and cafes have been sporadically open since I’ve been here (I’m thankful they’ve been open at all!). Despite the fact that I didn’t train it from Berlin to Leipzig, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the train station the last few days. Below the station there’s a mall with lots of stores and, crucially, Internet access. There’s also lots of Easter cheer at the Hauptbahnhof, as you can see from this stand selling Easter goodies:

The Leipzig center is very cute, as far as I can tell so far. My apartment is less cute. Well, it’s not so bad: decent-sized for a one room (with a full bath & kitchen), good location, big windows… It’s just that there’s a mysterious smell that I’m not too excited about. I’ll spare you the details, and just say that I’ve purchased a number of candles and baking soda since I’ve been here. This required figuring out how to say baking soda and matches in German, since these words were not part of my German 1 vocabulary… (baking soda = das Natron, match = die Streichholz).

Don't be shocked, but I actually went to church on Easter Sunday. What?! Well, after the masses there was a Bach concert in the historic Thomaskirche in the city center. Here's Thomaskirche around 7:30 pm, before the 8 pm concert:

I start "work" tomorrow at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in the Comparative Population Linguistics Group. What is all of this? Well, let me explain more later after I've actually been there...