|For those interested in Karstadt's bargain Eiswein, I bought some yesterday. First, I got the price wrong. It's selling for 5.99, not 6.99! (Plus, it comes in a half-liter bottle instead of the usual 375 mL, so you get even more wine value for your Euro.)|
Last night I was feeling the need for relaxation, so I took a hot bath and tried one of the bottles that I'd bought. Simple review: don't get your hopes up too high; this is not the diamond-in-the-rough bargain wine that you will be fooling your wine-snob friends with. Compared to other, more expensive ice wines I've tried, this was not as sweet, and its taste is pretty simple and lacking in complexity. (Getting the bottle a little colder might have helped; my hotel minibar fridge wasn't working so well.) Still, it's certainly enjoyable enough for a casual evening, and the price is definitely unbeatable . . . but I'll be filling the remaining space in my luggage with the more expensive stuff.
|Near the hotel, there's an advertising kiosk covered with giant ads for the Hamburg Dungeon. The Dungeon is a local tourist attraction that puts the "fun" back into "gruesome events in Hamburg history". I've never been there, because I find the concept completely unappealing, but from all I know, it's pretty much a haunted house with a thrill-ride section (a water ride based on the Christmas Day flood of 1717).|
Enjoy your way through such jolly hits of the past as:
|... but maybe you're reading all that and saying to yourself, "yeah, yeah — that's all great, but it's simply not enough." Well, not to worry, as the Dungeon has now added the Cholera Epidemic of 1892!|
Apparently a cholera infection makes people rise up and become zombies with heavy facial bruising. I don't know what's more gruesome — the fact that some stone-cold accountant-type created a business case where he had to justify that reenacting a cholera epidemic would be a good idea, or the fact that the Hamburg Dungeon has apparently trademarked the word cholera (click on the image at right for an enlargement where you can see the ™ symbol).
In forty years, will there be an updated Hamburg Dungeon that features such new classics as the Great Flood of 1962, or the Bombing and Firestorm of 1943?
|If you're thinking about a trip to the Dungeon, I recommend that you save your money and go to Miniatur Wunderland instead — it's even in the same building! If you're into pirates, go to the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte — they've got an exhibit that features real pirate skulls from Störtebeker's time, nailed to a log with giant spikes. That's some authentic gruesomeness.|
I survived an epic planning meeting yesterday; things started at 9 AM and didn't wrap up until 7 PM or so. (At one point, our videoconference system popped up a message: "Your current call has been connected for 480 minutes. Would you like to disconnect?" Then it decided the question by disconnecting itself.) I'd had no sleep the night before, thanks to continuing insomnia, but I managed to distinguish myself by not falling asleep and drooling down my shirtfront. It could have been worse -- I could have been one of the people calling in from California via video, starting at midnight and lasting through until 10 AM ... by the time everything ended, they weren't looking so good.
Hey -- German pope! From what I've seen, the media is fawning, but nobody around me seems all that enthused.
I did a little bit of shopping this morning, and found that Karstadt had some Eiswein on sale for 6.99! At that price, it's obviously not the top-shelf stuff, but it might well be worth taking some back for not-so-special special occasions. I'll have to try a test bottle to see what it's like; hopefully I won't go blind.
(Click on any of the pictures for a larger version of that image.)
I'm back in Hamburg! My "stay up until I crash on the day of arrival and then wake up the next morning, perfectly acclimatized" plan has hit a snag — I got the "stay up until I crash" part down just fine, but then I woke up at 5 AM this morning. So now I'm doing some insomniac typing. I haven't figured out the hotel's Internet access yet (and, given its cost, I'm not sure I want to); this entry will sit around inside my laptop until I make it in to the office and get a chance to upload everything.
The flight over was very uneventful. I transferred to my Hamburg flight at Heathrow, shopping paradise of the international jetset. Heathrow doesn't assign connecting flights a gate until the very last minute, so you spend your waiting time in a bank of seats surrounded by a square of duty-free shops of every description. I picked up a few select items of British food for Shelby, but that was the limit of my shopping. Some people are really into the duty-free thing, but not me; for one, very little of it is anything I'd ordinarily buy (giant bottles of Scotch, anyone? cartons of cigarettes? perfume?), and even if I did, "25% off of high street prices!!" isn't a great enticement when those prices are in British pounds and I'm shopping with my damn-George-Bush weak dollar.
|I arrived at Hamburg airport and survived my first all-German-speaking interaction, with the immigration officer at passport control. I thought that the guy in front of me was going to get deported; not only was he a pretty grungy-looking dude, but he also lacked convincing answers for any of the questions that they asked him (in English) — where are you staying? "Ummmmmm ... with friends." What are your friends' names? "Ummmmmmm ... one of them is named Klaus." Where do your friends live? "Ummmmmmm ... in Hamburg, but I don't remember where, exactly."|
But he survived, too. After I picked up my luggage, the first thing that struck me were the dogs; in addition to the usual giant crowd of people waiting for returned travellers, there were two or three dogs in the crowd too, wagging away for their soon-to-be-returned people. I haven't just come back to the land of public smoking and no drinking fountains, I've returned to the land of public dogs!
I made it into the city and checked into my hotel, the Park Hyatt Hamburg. The hotel alone is a significant fringe benefit for travelling to Hamburg on company business; it's one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed in, even including some five-star splurges we've made in the past. The bathroom, in particular, is something that people always rave over; if I could find some way to justify dropping a carbon copy of this wood-and-marble-and-glass modernist wonder into our 1900s-era house, I would.
(Back in the go-go dotcom days of 1999, I made a monthlong stay at a different Hamburg hotel. Afterwards, they talked about bringing me back for another month — but this time living in one of the apartments on the Hyatt's top floor! Sadly, that never happened, because I ended up coming back for my first longterm stay in Hamburg five months later. If only!)
|After unpacking and a brief nap, I made my way over to the Hamburger DOM. Since I had time to waste and was feeling twinges of nostalgia, I decided to walk over, so that I could pass through through our old neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, not much had changed on Valentinskamp in the nine months since we'd left. There was still the mysterious storefront packed full with junk, lit by a purplish light that is never turned off. (Note the poster from 2000 that's taped to the door.) There were still the handful of art galleries (maybe "art spaces" or "art happenings" would be a better term), some of which still had the same art in the front window. The restaurant-space-formerly-known-as-Valentino's at the bottom floor of our apartment building at last had a new tenant, some kind of dinner theater.|
Then over to the DOM. I rode the Ferris wheel and the Wild Maus roller coaster. I visited the Mouse Circus. (The best fun that you can have at the DOM for Euro 1.50!) I had my usual bad-for-you festival food, a bratwurst and beer, and then I had a crepe with Snickers-sauce filling in Shelby's honor. The woman making the crepe didn't do a very good job — it was the last night of the DOM, so perhaps her heart wasn't in it — and my crepe soon suffered a total filling-containment failure, squirting caramel-y stuff all down my shirtfront and onto my shoes. Oops. (Fortunately, it later all washed out.)
|We are making money and having fun.||Most of the other haunted house-style rides have facades that are even larger and even more over-the-top than this one.|
And today it's shower, breakfast, and off to work. This week may turn out to be much more of an English-speaking week than I'd thought; besides me, there'll be a number of other Americans, some of them relative corporate bigwigs, turning out for our planning and strategy sessions. This may mean a life of ease for me; besides the English-speaking, I can likely piggyback onto this group for such things as taxi rides and trips to good restaurants. Since I'm travelling on business, it's not like I can't ride in taxis or go to those places anyway — our travel guidelines allow for some ridiculously high amount for food each day — but when I'm left to myself, I tend to forget and live like a monk, riding the S-Bahn and grabbing a bratwurst from some random Imbiss. I'm a corporate accountant's dream, the frugal expense-account traveller.
Before I go, it's time to catch up on some pictures that I've had hanging around for a while. In this installment: a little Easter, a lot of Beagle. (Click on any picture for a larger version of that image.)
You probably all know about all of these already, but here goes:
For your globe-hopping needs, SeatGuru.com offers airline seat maps for a number of carriers, with annotations. Find out which seats have more leg room, and which seats are back up against the bulkhead wall and across the aisle from the galley. (Even though I had to settle for an inside seat because my reservation was so late, SG assures me that I'll have one of the best economy seats on the plane for my LAX-to-Heathrow flight tomorrow -- woohoo!)
Everybody's already heard about how Google Maps now offers satellite imagery (although not at the resolution of TerraServer USA). Somebody's now taken that one step further with Google Sightseeing -- famous (or weird) landmarks, collected for you.
Big Box Reuse: What happens when Wal-Mart moves, like a hermit crab, out of that big-box store to an even bigger box somewhere across town? Julia Christensen has collected examples of how communities have reused the husks of former Wal-Mart/K-Mart/grocery/department stores. My favorite is the Wal-Mart that turned into an indoor go-kart raceway in Round Rock, Texas.
Look up the stats on every roller coaster you've ever ridden in the Roller Coaster Database.
Leisure Town is back! (Potentially offensive: the front page warns "for mature readers" -- "mature" might not be quite the right word ...)
And some blogs:
Once we started on the downhill slope for this version of our product, the edict went out for us employees to get some practice with our own application and actually use our web-designing tool to design us some websites.
Conveniently, my friend David needed a website. About to graduate with his master's degree in classical guitar, he's ready to publicize himself. Not having much success in creating his own website, and not having the wearwithal to hire a Professional Designer Guy, he was wide open to an offer for a free website from a hack like me.
Today all the hosting stuff straightened itself out and now the site is live: www.isaacsguitar.net.
Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend David's master's recital -- it's next week, when I'll be in Hamburg. But Shelby and I went to a performance that David gave a couple of nights ago, where he played most of the same stuff that he'll be playing at the recital. We were both in awe; the man is a virtuoso. As a tentative musician who has to watch my finger placement carefully and hang on to my sheet music for dear life, just the ability to play a piece that lasts over a half-hour with his eyes closed throughout has my deep admiration.
Orange County has a reputation for Xtreme Political Conservativism; everybody joked about how we'd have to scrub our left-leaning political beliefs and register as Republicans now that we were moving 'behind the Orange Curtain' (hyuk-yuk; that 'joke' gets old, folks). As one who'd already grown up behind the curtain, though, I'd usually regarded Orange County's loony far-right as more to be pitied than feared, given some of its colorful representatives:
Recently, though, it gave me a pause to realize that the Traditional Values Coalition, prime source of retrograde ideas and an organization with some actual power here in George Bush's now-more-moral America, is headquartered less than a block away from our house! They're in an office building just across the street from our usual grocery store -- so now after I pick up a little something for dinner, I can cross the street and pick up a petition for a ballot measure to STOP THE HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA FROM BEING TAUGHT IN CALIFORNIA'S SCHOOLS!!!1!!!
(Regarding the homosexual agenda being taught in California's schools: is there anyone whose junior high/high school sex-ed experience wasn't taught by an uptight biology teacher/football coach/school nurse type? The Traditional Values people make it sound as if every public school has a Resource Lesbian on call, ready for when sex ed time rolls around -- but every teacher whose job it was to talk to us about sex had a difficult enough time approaching discussion of plain-vanilla heterosexual sex that even thinking about making a passing mention of transsexual orgies in class would have made their heads explode ...)
Tonight I decided that we needed to go to Disneyland, so we did. (Remember that we have annual passes, so it's not quite as impulsive as it sounds.)
You can tell that summer is getting closer -- the park was surprisingly crowded for two hours before closing time on a Monday night. Getting around was made even more difficult by the number of parents pushing Urban Assault Strollers -- gigantic behemoths being wielded with absolutely no concern for surrounding pedestrians. Suddenly stop our two-child, doublewide stroller diagonally in the middle of a narrow, busy pathway, or right at the bottom of a flight of stairs? Sure, why not? Keep nudging the person in front of us in the back of the knees? You bet! I suspect (although I don't want to make any generalizations here) that more than a few of these stroller gladiators are the same people who'll drive their Ford Expedition around you on the shoulder to jump a few more carlengths ahead, sipping a latte with one hand while giving you the bird with the other.
But it wasn't all crowds and bitterness.
Shelby and I rode the new Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride, which is basically a high-tech improvement on the old-fashioned shooting gallery. Your ride vehicle comes with a couple of "Astro Blasters" and a joystick to spin the car around. You ride through a series of rooms; various alien and robot baddies (in the service of the Evil Emperor Zurg) pop up; you shoot at them with your Astro Blaster, spinning around the car to give you better aim. Big LED score displays in the dashboard of each car give each rider instant feedback on how well he's doing.
A surprise comes once you get off: instead of paying $5.00 for a lousy copy of a picture of you onboard the ride, you can E-mail a picture of yourself -- for free! with your score! -- to the address of your choice. That is, if you can bear to wait in line behind the crowds of preteens trying to remember their best friend's E-mail address (and whether it's spelled "firstname.lastname@example.org", or is it "email@example.com" instead?)
Now that we're rolling the latest version of our software out the door, it's time to start planning for the version after that -- which means that I get to go back to Hamburg!
It won't be for very long (Apr. 17-25), Shelby won't be coming (partly due to the extreme-last-minute nature of the trip, partly because she says that she's still "Germanyed out"), and I'll be either working or sitting in hours of deep-thought brainstorming meetings for the majority of my time. Still, I've got the evenings and some weekend days for playing around -- and frankly, it'll be nice just to walk around and soak in some familiar sights.
This trip will also serve as a chance to stock up on all things Germanic: Eiswein, writing instruments, one-kilo plastic tubs of Haribo, model railroad parts, and (if I can muster up enough courage for this illegal act) Frolic Wunderknochen for our Hunde.
(And I even get to attend the Hamburger DOM! The last day of Spring DOM will be my first day in Germany ...)
While you can't rush out and buy a copy just yet, please put it on your to-do list, and maintain an attitude of readiness until then.
You may have read/listened to this one already, but in case you haven't:
. . . a transcript and audio recording of a real, live phone call that a San Clemente woman made to 911 when Burger King failed to provide her with the order she wanted.
There are so many levels of stupidity operating here -- the largest, of course, being that people with real problems could have received a busy signal during her call -- but her base mistake was driving into Burger King and asking for a "Western Burger". Lady, I think you wanted Carl's Jr. instead ...
(My favorite piece of the transcript: "Well, what are we protecting you from, a wrong cheeseburger?")
On Wednesday, I was stuck at our local Sav-On, the Pharmacy From Hell. (The straw finally broke the camel's back this time; now we'll be taking our custom to Rite-Aid, hoping that they're merely the Pharmacy From Heck.) My agony was prolonged by a beanpole white guy in his late thirties, who wasn't in my line, but was talking loudly enough so that everyone in the front half of the store could hear:
"You know, a murder -- somebody just getting shot like that -- that's the kind of thing you just expect here! That's why I live in Villa Park! That kind of thing never happens in Villa Park!
"You know why that kind of thing happens here? Because of the lousy neighborhoods here -- around here, you've got people living in apartments -- living in the projects. You've got lots of -- bad people living here."
"But in Villa Park, we don't have people like that! That's why it's worth living there! Good people in a good neighborhood -- you can feel safe!"
"See? Doesn't that make sense? Do you understand what I'm saying?"His companion was mutely nodding, hunched inward like she was trying to shrink into herself and disappear. It was clear that she'd been exposed to this kind of public diatribe many times before -- and that while loudmouth man was oblivious to everything but his own stunning logic, she was aware that everyone around was just staring at them. And while nobody actually came out and said well, why don't you stop slumming with us bad people and go back to Villa Park then, asshole?, a number of people looked like they were definitely thinking it.
Villa Park is one of northern Orange County's nicer suburban neighborhoods, but it's certainly not the be-all-and-end-all, the exclusive and gated Beverly Hills or Malibu of "The OC". I wouldn't trade downtown Anaheim's streets of early 20th-century bungalows for VP's 1960s and 1970s tract homes. And "the projects"? Excuse me, but did you take a wrong turn and end up in, say, Chicago or Detroit during your six-mile drive over from your precious suburban enclave?
I can only hope that some of my neighborhood homeboys mugged the guy as soon as he left the store, giving some life to his paranoid-suburbanite fantasies, or that he got home to the safety of Villa Park to find that his poolboy had just been assassinated on the front lawn in a drive-by shooting.
(The money thing is working out just fine, too. Out-of-pocket cost to us is in the hundreds, not -- my fear -- the thousands, which we can cover with our medical savings account.)