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Friday, August 31, 2012


While we were in Hamburg, I interned at UNESCO's Institute for Lifelong Learning.  UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  Probably what they are best known for is establishing World Heritage Sites, but they do a lot of other great things too.  What I was working on is a publication called GRALE (Global Report on Adult Learning and Education).  Basically, in 2008 a bunch of UN member states got together for a conference in Brazil, called CONFINTEA VI.  It's a conference held once every several years to discuss adult learning.  After the conference, they put out a document which summarized what had been decided at the conference.  This document is called the Belem Framework for Action, and in it our little institute is charged with compiling data from as many member states as possible and synthesizing the data into a publication.  That publication is GRALE.  The first GRALE was published in 2008 and the one I worked on is the 2nd one.  Sorry for all this info.  I know no one probably cares but me.  Anyway, so before I got there, the institute (read: Anna) had already created and sent out reporting templates (read: questionnaires) to all of UNESCO's member states (which is something like 190 nations).  We were working on getting the nations to send them back to us, and to do so using the correct format, etc.  So, I kept up a spreadsheet on our progress and drafted emails and called UNESCO offices, etc.  Also, GRALE is organized into 6 chapters: governance, finance, participation, quality, policy and literacy (whew! still remember!).  I was assigned to the participation chapter and (together with input from the rest of the group) came up with the chapter's outline, main points, etc.  Also, once we finished collecting reporting templates, I spend a couple weeks inputting the data into the computer.  I also helped prepare for a conference, took down minutes at meeting, did some editing and lots of other little things.  It was a great experience.  I really loved the people I worked with.  They were kind and hard working and interesting.  I felt like I was a valued part of the team and like I was doing something real for a change, instead of just schoolwork.  One of my favorite aspects was that I worked with such a diverse group of people.  There were several Germans, a woman originally from India (who had lived in Germany for many years), a man originally from Togo, a woman originally from Ghana, a man from Ghana, a couple people from Korea, one from China, one from Japan, one from the Philippines, etc.  We all brought our different backgrounds into the work.  It was sad to say goodbye!

Below are some photos of the building:

My desk - coveted for how much relative privacy it offered.

Binders filled with email correspondence and completed reports from member countries.

Window by my desk with the flowers I bought from the market at lunch.

Snack table in our little intern room.  Sometimes other employees would come by just for our snacks.

Some of the other interns!  From right to left: Eugene, Mika, Seara and Ruthie.  They're great.

The building is an old mansion.

One day this famous German rockstar name Udo Lindenberg came by to see if he could use the house for a party.  All the Germans freaked out and we made him sign our guestbook.  Apparently Mika thought he was some homeless guy when he first walked in.  She is obviously not German.

This Chinese temple style building was across from our building.  Always reminded me of Taiwan.  I think it was a museum.

Dammtor Station, where I got off every day to go to work.
Farewell UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning!  Keep learning!!!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Goodbye Hamburg: Home

So, this post is just so that Tom and I can remember what our home looked like in Hamburg.  I use the term "home" lightly here.  As it worked out, we were able to stay in the basement of Tom's boss' house.    It was incredibly fortunate, because it was free and we were broke.  That said, it wasn't exactly the most comfortable accommodations.  Since it was the basement and we were in Hamburg and Hamburg is cold, we were freeeeezing anytime we were home.  We were even freezing when we were in bed, because the covers were pretty thin.  Every morning I would wake up, pick out my clothes, put them in the sauna that they had down there, get ready to go, then get dressed in the warm sauna.  

Another negative was that it was utterly infested with spiders.  If you know me, you know that I'm not scared of much, but I'm terrified of spiders.  I paralyze whenever I see them.  Luckily, they were just daddy long legs (which are lower on the spider creepiness scale) and I had a heroic husband who would (nearly) constantly kill them for me.  

The kitchen was also a negative.  We didn't have a microwave, our oven didn't work and our stovetop basically had no regulation - it just got hotter the longer you had it on.  Oh, and we had no knives so we used some scissors we had brought to cut everything.  Tomatoes and onions tend to be rather tricky little buggers.  

The last negative was the trash system.  See, Germany (like most highly developed nations besides the US) is serious about recycling.  According to the boss' wife, every house has 5 or so trash bins, each designated for a different type of waste, such as packaging, glass and paper.  This cause a few problems for us.  First, we did not have 5 different trash cans in our house, making it difficult to adequately separate the trash.  In fact, we only had 1, which was in the bathroom and was tiny.  For the kitchen we reused the bags we paid for each week when we got our groceries, along with the free bags used for bagging fruits and veggies.  Truth be told, we made sure we snatch a few extra of those each week and just stuffed them in our pockets.  Thievery at the highest level, I know.  The second problem was that we had no idea which of the trash bins outside the house were for which types of trash.  You would think we could have figured that out by peering inside, but no.  Somehow, they were always empty or their contents always defied categorization.  So, what did we do?  Well, we took our trash to the metro station with us because the trash at the station is labeled!  

Take note of the trash can in the foreground of this pic.  Although, this was not the same station, the trash can is the same.

I just want you to imagine us on our last night together in Hamburg, after we have cleaned out our fridge and discarded everything not absolutely necessary to be packed.  Both of us have arms loaded with grocery bags full of smelly trash and we have excess trash held in our hands.  As we take the long trek to the train station, feeling like our arms are about to fall off from the weight, we look around us nervously to make sure Tom's boss doesn't happen upon us in our bizarre, sneaky activity.  We are laughing because it is absurd and somehow we feel like fugitives.  Then, we get to the station and people are staring at us as we repeatedly cram boxes and jars through the tiny holes in the train station trash cans.  But you know what?  You do what you have to do!!!  

For all the negatives though, there were so many great things about that place.  By our standards, it was HUGE.  The living room along was the size of our former apartment.  Added to that was the sauna room, the kitchen, the dining room, the bathroom, the bedroom and the laundry room!  Also, there was a ping pong table down there which we played almost every night for a while.  Such bliss.  It was also in the nicest, most posh part of Hamburg.  So, all the houses around were lovely.  Plus, within walking distance was the metro, the botanical garden, a couple fabulous parks, the river and the grocery store.  I also got really used to sleeping in my hoodie at night to stay warm and I actually missed doing so when I came back to the states.

So, these are the things Tom and I will remember that place by.  I took these photos the night before Tom left and after he'd already left the next day.  So long boss' basement!

The Bunny Park

This post is really just so that I don't forget this park.  I probably will if it's not on my blog.  The first time we came here, Tom and I were trying to walk from our house to the river.  We had just moved to our new place.  The park was supposed to just be a means to getting to the river, but we ended up loving it so much more than the river.  It was beautiful!  We walked through it and to the edge of it and could just look down a big drop to the riverfront path.  They have big stairways that go down to it from the park.  The river is nice, but there are big commercial ships out on it and factories on the opposite bank.  The first time we went we saw a big ship pass by that said Monrovia on the back.  It was amazingly ironic, both because of our Liberian friends in Philly and because Tom had just been telling me about a case he was working on at the firm involving a German company that was buying a ship from Liberia.  What are the chances?  After the river, we walked up through the little cobblestone alleyways that connect the mansions on the hill and made our way back to the park.  We found a bench (the one below) and read our books.  While we read, several bunnies hopped out of the bushes and ate the grass in front of us.  They were so close and so cute!  We came back at least one other time, which is when I took the photos.  This time we watched the animals at the little nature preserve inside the park.  It started to rain, so we left.  It was a lovely park.

Goodbye Bunny Park!

Anniversary Celebration: Canoeing the Alster

For the second weekend of our anniversary extravaganza, we decided to go canoeing on the northern part of the Alster lake.  We had been wanting to do so from the very beginning, and we thought our anniversary would be a great time to do it.  The area of the lake we were at is the part that you can see from the park that I talked about in this post.

A strange thing happened while we were on the metro, on our way there.  When we got on the train we saw a whole bunch of people dressed in 70's garb, with neon colors, bell bottoms, fake flowers and afro wigs.  Then, more would get on at each stop!!!  It's always so amusing being in a foreign country because things that this happen and you're just so confused.  You never find out what is going on like you would if you spoke the language.  I think it's how babies must feel.  Anyway, our guess is that they were headed to some big music convention, because they all got off at the Reeperbahn stop, where (among other things) there are always big rock concerts, etc.  

Kept meaning to take pictures of Hamburg from the metro, but only took one or two.

Unfortunately, a lot of the photos I took at the beginning of our excursion are overexposed, because I thought the camera was in AV mode, but it was in manual.  But, you can still kind of tell what the dock, where we rented the canoe, looked like from the photo below, while I have made into b&w.


The canoeing itself was great.  We went through all these different little...riverlets (?)...canals (?) that run off from the lake.  We went under bridges...

Passed by some kids and their dog spending a lazy summer day on the banks...

And nearly got plowed over by a ferry (and actually saw a ferry hit someone - don't worry, they were ok).

The trees along the sides were lovely.

As were the houses.

After rowing through the little alleyways, we made our way back out to the open water of the lake.  By this time though, it had started to drizzle.  I was thoroughly enjoying it, but Tom did not feel the same, so headed back to the dock after a thoroughly delightful excursion.

Isn't Hamburg charming?

Anniversary Celebration @ Hansa Park

Since we couldn't celebrate our anniversary on the day of, due to some poor flight booking on Tom's part, we chose to celebrate it the two previous weekends. On the first weekend, we decided to take a Friday off so that we could have the weekend to celebrate.  Frivolous, I know, but it's not like we were getting paid or anything.  The original plan was to take a weekend trip somewhere, but all of our plans fell through (couldn't find accommodation, getting there was expensive, etc. etc.).  Instead, we decided to simplify our lives and take a day trip up to this amusement park on the Baltic Sea, called Hansa Park.  Friday threatened rain, so we decided to go Saturday instead.  Friday, we took it easy.  We went downtown by the lake and got breakfast at a bakery.  Fed some to the ducks and geese who all fought over it.  Then, we went to a great bookstore with an English section and skimmed book after book.  It was divine. 

 For lunch we got yummy, cheap Mexican (which didn't taste like Mexican, of course) and ice cream.  Then, we got a few groceries and hopped on some of the bike's I talked about in this post.  Our plan was to ride them to a movie theater and buy tickets for that night, then return them to the bike station outside a nearby metro stop.  Well, half way there my bike randomly decided it was done with peddling.  Yeah, the pedals just stuck in place.  Luckily, we had the extreme fortune to be just passing another bike station, so we dropped it off there.  We were going to just get a different bike and continue, but of course that station was completely not working.  So, we just walked.  Then, our plans were further destroyed because the movie theater only showed movies with German dubbing + the only ones we wanted to see were in 3D (which we hate) + it was super expensive.  Instead, we took the metro to the main station, bought tickets for the next day's excursion and spent the rest of the night, quietly at home.  This last part is what I mean when I say that living abroad does not always mean excitement.  Sometimes it means staying home because you can't watch a movie in English.

The next day, early in the morning, we headed off to Hansa Park!!!  It was a glorious trip from start to finish.  Can't say enough good things about it.  We love amusement parks and it had been too long.  The main thrill ride at Hansa is called Fluch von Novgorod (the Curse of Novgorod).  We, naturally, headed there first.  It was AMAZING.  Writing about a ride can never do it justice.  But, I would have to say that this is now probably my favorite ride ever.  The theming is all creepy Bavarian scarecrows and dungeon style.  It's very well done.  I was legitimately unnerved just walking through to the line.  When we went for the first time, the line was so short that we basically walked right on.  So, after being unnerved from the theming, I didn't even have time to prepare myself before being strapped in and not having the choice to back out.   

The ride starts off taking you past this ghostly knight who sings the story of the Curse of Novgorod opera style, which was even more awesome because we had no clue what he was saying.  Mystery makes it better.  Then the grim reaper says some stuff, then this door opens and you take a steep drop into the pitch black.  Before you have time to collect yourself you shoot straight forward toward a wall at a REALLY high speed.  Like, probably faster than any other ride I've been on.  Before you hit the wall, you take a fast turn and are outside.  As soon as you are outside, you are speeding uphill, then take a very big steep drop.  This is three things all at once and each one happens before you collect yourself from the last one.  This situation produces, in Tom, the most ridiculous laugh!  He really just starts this fast, convulsive laugh that is utterly infectious.  He does this on all the rides, but this one most of all.  So great.  Anyway, so after that drop you twist and turn a bunch of different directions and in spirals, etc.   Then, you go into the building you see below...

It takes you 90 degrees, straight up, slowly.  Then, you drop at a more than 90 degree angle.  Like, it bends back in on itself.  Crazy.  Off the drop you speed through several other twists, turns and smaller drops in complete darkness before the ride comes to an end.  If you'd like, you can see what I mean here.  But, of course, it doesn't come close to doing it justice.  It doesn't look that scary in the video.

There were many other fantastic attractions at the park, but our two other favorites were probably the swings and the ropes course.  The swings was just like swings at any other park, except that instead of sitting in a loose seat and flying in a circle near the ground, you do in really high in the air.  It was terrifying and liberating at the same time.

The ropes course was long and challenging and really interesting.  We both love physical stuff like that.  After we finished, we felt like we had just worked out and our hands were all calloused.  There was this little 6 year old kids that kept up with us the whole time though, which totally put us to shame.

The whole day was AMAZING.  We would go to amusement parks every day if we could and this one was one of the best.