Monday, May 2, 2016

Last details of Germany

In my last few weeks of being in Germany, in my little village, I started to realize how much I'd miss it. It wasn't all about my little trips to other European countries, that I would miss, but my running routes through neighborhoods, my walk to the train and the people who I was surrounded by for the two months I was there.

This was the main street of the town, which I almost never saw more populated than this. There was a book store, a restaurant, a church, some bars, a bank and a ton of other things I never went into. 

There was a town celebration at one point, but I ended up forgetting about it and not going, until I realized when I heard fireworks go off deep into the night that that was in fact the night.

I loved the cobblestone streets and sidewalks and the flowers and the fact that cars couldn't drive on half of the streets. (I didn't have to drive so it wasn't a problem, but it was sort of annoying when we had to go way out of our way just to get home, when it was on the other side of a street, but we just couldn't get there.)

We had cake and coffee a lot in the afternoon, it seemed like there was always a reason for celebration. In Germany, apparently it's customary to bring in a cake for yourself when it's your birthday, you have a baby, you're quitting or really any reason at all. And then sometimes we just had cake just because. I enjoyed those afternoons.

The TVs were on in my office all the time, just without sound. You could tune the headsets in so that you could hear, which we did a few times. Being in Germany during the 2015 Greece financial crisis and then during the beginning of the real Syrian refugee crisis in Germany was a fascinating time to be there. Germans, as I found, are very intelligent and informed people who care about the government and social issues and want to be informed.

I asked a lot of questions and learned a ton.

And then when the first republican debate happened, I answered a lot of questions and taught a lot.

It took me a day to watch it, as it was on in the middle of the night in Germany, and I had to then find it on YouTube, but I did and then answered even more questions. (They were mostly shocked that Donald Trump was even allowed in the US, much less that people agreed with him.)

The view of Düsseldorf from the 13th floor of my office. It had a nice outdoor patio and we chose a nice day to go see everything.

It was apparently a "dry" summer, but some days it poured and poured and poured some more. I watched more rain than ever, and borrowed a few raincoats and umbrellas.

Altstadt is Düsseldorf's "downtown" and sort of touristy, but also has legitimate restaurants and bars and clubs and shops. I went on my first day in Düsseldorf and then ventured out there to get obligatory gifts and just to see what was there during my last few days.

While most Germans will scoff at the idea that Germany is old, I thought it was beautiful and picturesque and even if these buildings weren't the oldest in Europe, they're still built to look like it and certainly older than the western USA.

These trees were my favorite. They look good from next to them, as well as underneath them, but from across the water, they still look good.

Before I left, I knew I had to get a picture with these guys. I worked with these four more than anyone else, as I joined their team.

From left to right:

Gefion was helpful, kind and went out of her way to include me on meetings and always took time to introduce me and explain things. She also had me read a letter from the SEC one of the first days I was there, and then translate it into my rudimentary financial German and giver her a synopsis so that we were both on the same page, and that gave me a lot of hope.

Chris was the one I spent the most time with, and he was hysterical and thought I was hysterical too (whether that was because of my German abilities, we have yet to know). He was helpful and nice and so very patient and always, always made sure I knew what I was doing and that I had someone to go to lunch with.

Frank was the boss, and also my neighbor. He was serious and wanted to get things done right, but also silly and funny and so kindhearted. I was his neighbor, and he invited me to come over and sit in the yard with them before/after dinner, eat dinner and lunch with them, stay with them, go on trips with them, and generally just make sure that my time in Germany was good but also authentic. With two daughters my age, he knew how to interact with me and that was important, but more importantly, he is a very kind person and I get excited when I get messages from him these days.

Ophelia was more or less a savior to me. Frank had told me there was a Canadian, but it was well into my first day before she asked me if I'd rather speak English with her, and she might have regretted that after a while. We ate lunch together and talked about the differences between Germans and everyone else, language barriers and cultural differences. She made sure I understood the conversation and was the first to help me translate things and make sure I was understood. She made me believe that it was possible for me to live in Germany and survive, and I loved her for that.

I don't know who started this but it was probably Frank.

And on the other side of me, again, from left to right: Mo, Karin and Franco.

Mo would spend hours each day talking to me, about German life, American life, finance, my German knowledge, grammar, jokes, travel, you name it, we talked about it. There was a point every afternoon that he would look over and ask me something about America, ask for my opinion, or just show me something. Mo was the most patient person, and was willing to wait for me to get the right words together so that we could laugh together instead of just me laughing at whatever I had tried to say. The day I got my mom to send me a picture of the backyard featuring our pool was one of the better days of my relationship with Mo. He lost it, and I had to show everyone that picture. Google Maps just wasn't good enough for him, seeing neighborhoods with pools just wasn't good enough, he needed the panorama that my mom sent. He was great, and I was lucky to have sat next to him during those months.

Karin was gone for my first two weeks, so by the time she came back, I was settled and thought I knew what was going on, only to have another face to meet. Karin was, disregarding Mo, the sweetest. She'd been to Arizona, and told me about her time in Tucson and driving on the I-10 (I was amazed she remembered) to the Grand Canyon (for part of it). She, like Mo, was interested in my life and wanted to know about my weekends and my plans for the rest of the summer and was so, so patient with me and my German, which was the most helpful thing anyone could do.

Franco was something else. He is one of those people who is always smiling, like he's just so pleased with life and people and can't stop being happy to be alive. His face, by far, was the most encouraging thing, and hearing him pick up the phone to speak in Italian, then switch to English, hang up and turn around and speak in German? That helped a lot. It wasn't until my last day that I found out Franco had worked with my uncle when my uncle worked for this bank in London. He had many contacts at the bank (and it's how I got the job), but I figured out pretty early who knew him and who didn't. I never thought to ask Franco, until he overheard me the last day saying goodbye to others who wished me and my uncle well, so that was just a small testament to Franco. Stayed at the company for all those years, and isn't one to brag about it, but stands out just the same.

And then one day, I got invited by a co-worker to go to a gasometer, which I had never heard of and had no idea what it could be. (Not sure if that's because I don't live in a industrial area or just because they're rare? I'll see when the next time I encounter a gasometer is.)

Oberhausen is 25 miles away from Düsseldorf, and it was explained to me as the "Detroit of Germany." (Maybe if I lived in Detroit I would have known what a gasometer was.) I guess it's a mining/industry town, which works well because it's on the river, and now both of those industries have gone down considerably (at least there) so the city is having a bit of a rough time.

But! What they do have is a gasometer, which is essentially a silo that's used to hold gas. The roof can move up and down, in order to compress the gas depending on how much there was, and I'm not really sure about the details or mechanics of storing gas, but it seems like it was quite the thing to do back in the day.

The gasometer has now been converted to hold exhibitions and art shows and events. With walls that are only millimeters thick, it's not great for the real art, as it's freezing inside when it's freezing outside, and hot inside when it's hot outside. It was pouring and freezing the day we went, but the inside was decent.

The exhibit was called "Die Schöne schein" or "The beautiful shine", and was a collection of some of the most iconic and beautify artwork in the world. Because of the non-perfect indoor conditions, these were all high-resolution photos and reproductions of the actual art pieces. The great thing was that if you wanted to see all of these in person, you'd have to go to a million museums in a ton of different countries and it'd take more than a few hours in the afternoon.

There's a rooftop observatory! It was raining and the clouds didn't help us out much, but you can see some plans in the distance on the right. It was green and pretty and I might have been the only one to think that.

As if there wasn't enough water from the rain, there's the Rhine.

This was a kind of light show, very unique and awesome. In the middle of the gasometer, it was something like 14 stories high, and what the artists did, using those 14 stories' worth of round walls, was create a light show with music. On each section of the wall, different patterns would come from the top, middle, bottom or in from the sides, choreographed with the music. It was too dark to take a video, but this picture worked out well because the walls were almost completely lit with green.

This one is from the top, looking down into the cylinder, but we spent probably close to 20 minutes laying at the bottom, on the giant pillows they had set up, looking up to the ceiling and being sort of mesmerized by the lights and sounds and sound of the rain hitting the steel sides of the building.

A view from the outside.

And on to finish my last week in Germany...

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