Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paiste Factory near Kiel, Germany!!!

This is the crew of artists who make the gongs - standing with me in front of an 80 inch beauty. It is a very labor-intensive process. First, they take the round plain piece of nickel-silver metal alloy (stacked in the shelves), then they burn the edges as shown with the two disks against the wall. That is the easy part. Next is all the hammering by hand to get the tuning that sounds great or matches the fundamental note for the planetary gongs. Then they warm it up for a few hours in an oven. Finally, they check the tuning with tuning forks and equipment that measures the tones. If it is not right...back to hammering.

I was really moved by their dedication and skill. They were also so friendly and took a lot of time to show me around. Then I got to play ALL the gongs, including some 60 inch beauties. What a wonderful day. I was there from 10:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., and at the end thanked them by giving them a 20 minute gong bath. Unbelievably they'd never experienced this and left feeling quite relaxed. Wow, what a great adventure at Paiste. I'll never play a gong again without feeling great respect for these men who hammer away all day with great skill to bring us these glorious instruments.

Monday, May 30, 2011

My New Best Friend

As i rolled into the Kiel train station I pondered: rent a car for an arm and a leg (100 Euro a day), get a taxi to the hotel (50 Euro) or wait a few hours for the train that would get me closer but still take taxis around to the Paiste factory and more. I want to visit both the Baltic and North Sea, too, and what a hassle to figure out about busses and trains and such. So, I got the car. A Mini! with no key, just like Malia's car - you just stick a fob in a slot and press a start button. A 6 speed manual (been a few years, but no problem). Problem: how do i get where I'm going? Answer - my new best friend, the GPS lady!! I had to get the car rental person to teach me how to start the car and use the GPS. Then, what a trip speeding along the country roads and freeways not knowing where I was going and getting used to a new car, shifting all the way (after 6 hours of train riding to get here). But now I've arrived, learned new technology, feel cool, and it was fun. And now I can go to the beaches with my new best friend! She smilingly says..."Prepare to turn right in 250 meters..." huh? how far is that?

There is the fast ICE that is wonderful and smooth. The “DB” stands for Deutch Bahn (= German train, which is the name of the train company). The glass building is the Berlin HBF. How do people travel to the station with with suitcases on bikes?
And the slow regional RE trains that stop at every one horse town. They often give you a connection schedule that allows only 10 minutes and the famous on time German trains don’t always live up to their reputation. Twice now I’ve been 5 minutes late arriving at a station and literally ran to catch the connection – one time hopping on 30 seconds before they closed the door. No biggie. I made it and it was exciting! On the train to Malia’s I wasn’t sure when to get off so I asked someone sitting next to me what the stops were between Nuremburg and Vilsek. She wrote them on my ticket and I had her sign it as author: Lily! She drew a heart around her name. Fun to talk to people on trains. Nice to relax on trains and I’m on one now as I write this on my computer.
Which, BTW, I’m on the train from Hamburg to Kiel in the north and if you look at the sign it leaves at 13:20 but we are still in the station (see the clock)! And below the sign? People running who are undoubtedly happy that the train is leaving late!
They were probably at one of the numerous bakeries in every train station. Too bad I don’t eat gluten.

Leyla and Sasha in Berllin

Here I am with the charming and beautiful Leyla.After our tour Leyla and the smart and successful handsome Sasha take me to a wonderful dinner at an Indian/Thai/Chinese restaurant and then for drinks on a cool dock on a lake. We make a pledge to meet in Mexico in the future. It was fun walking down the street holding hands with Leyla, just like school girls.

Historical buildings in Berlin

There are pictures of the current German Parliament building (with painter), an art museum, and more beautiful buildings that I have no clue about.

This is Checkpoint Charlie (white small building)- the American military ran it while the wall was up and it remains as a tourist attaction - next to the Einstein Coffee House.

This is the Holocaust memorial in Berlin (grey slab picture). Underground is a list of the millions of Jews and others who were killed by name (see more at Wikipedia).

Berlin with our two Russian/ German,/Brazilian Friends!!

Never was attracted to this city but WOW, what amazing architecture and the history, of course. I meet Leyla and Sasha at the train station and they take me on a wonderful tour of both East and West Berlin. The centerpiece, of course, is THE Wall. They’ve left a bit of it up for historical reasons and allowed street artists to decorate it. It is not as tall as I imagined, but it formerly had coiled wire on the top to deter climbers. I’m standing on the Eastern side and immediately on the other side is a murky river. I guess if one was successful scaling the wall the water pollution would kill him/her. The painting of two men kissing includes Russia’s Brazhnikov.

Living in Mannheim, Germany

Kathrin arranges for me to live in a nice apartment in Mannheim – see the view as I step out my door. Also note that the cars all park halfway on the sidewalk. Across the street is the University of Mannheim, which is located in an old castle (Schloss in German – one of the few words I know, embarrassingly).

My routine is to walk a couple of blocks to the tram and then take it for 15 minutes to the neighboring Ludwigshaven, then walk about ¾ mile to the institute for teaching (and return the same way). I love all the walking in Europe. It feels so healthy and it is wonderful to have so much local cheap transportation. This is my ride: tram #4.
Of course nothing is too cheap right now with the exchange rate of $1.43 to 1 €. Still, that doesn’t stop me from shopping, once anyhow, in Mannheim - this is the normally lively square (Parade Platz, pronounced pah-rad-ah plahtz) surrounded by yummy European fashion and cafes. I note that the style for women includes scarves – so I followed suit and it exaggerates the heat on warm days.
They are setting up for a huge street fair this weekend. It will have lots of food (pretzels, sausages, pizza) and music and cool homemade and other stuff for sale. Germany has street fairs every weekend somewhere. The Christmas fair and fall fairs are especially huge…and of course, the famous Octoberfest.

Took off to see Malia and Marco the weekend I had off between teaching days. A 4.5 hour train ride and 200% worth it! They live in Vilsek in the Bavarian regio , 2 hours from Prague. That sounds exotic as I see it roll off my fingers!
Tomorrow – train to Berlin to meet Lelya and Sasha! These are Russians who live 9 months of the year in Berlin and 3 months in Moscow. Cyndi and I met them in Rio de Janeiro in January and immediately fell in love. They are wonderful and fun.

Teaching in Ludwigshafen, Germany

I love my students in the BIP program in Germany. They are bright, motivated, charming, professional and energetic. I also really enjoy my hosts, Kathrin and Gerhard – we enjoy meals and wonderful conversation every time I visit (think I started these annual trips, which are now twice a year, in about 2004).

I tried to find some paper cups for doing a taste test in class but could not find any at the local stores. I know they exist but I couldn’t find one on my hunting trip. Germany is excellent at recycling and I rarely see a paper cup for anything, even in restaurants. We have to separate our garbage by paper, plastic, and refuse/other. There are no trash landfills in Germany.
This year I taught brand management and this is the view of an old water tower from my classroom. One day we heard a lot of cheering outside and discovered that the winner of the German Idol competition was at the radio station in the same building. A crowd amassed to catch a glimpse of the star as we tried to stay focused on class.