Thursday, January 31, 2008


On Monday I accompanied a pair of computer-savvy types from a digital signage software company here in Hamburg to a convention in Amsterdam; I was signed on as translator for the boss (he speaks no English).

I had been looking forward to this trip for quite some time, and was a bit nervous about having to interpret on the fly for a company head who would be depending on me for making new foreign business connections.

So after a somewhat awkward 4.5 hours of sparse conversation and nauseatingly rapid ac- and deceleration on the Autobahn West- and slightly Southward through Bremen and Osnabrück--with a brief stop for a questionable meat-filled Dutch pastry--we arrived in Amsterdam. The sky was overcast. Big surprise.

After navigating the chaos of hundreds of laborers scrambling to finish a vast array of display booths in 3 giant halls at the Rai convention center, my colleague and I (the boss and organizer of this trip was off at a meeting) first discovered a problem which would end up cutting short my stay and greatly disappointing all involved:

The Japanese electronics company SANYO, at whose* large display booth our company was a guest, had, through inadequate communication between our boss and their technician, failed to provide us with the space and tools to achieve our goals; namely, attracting customers and demonstrating the software.

[*through a similar inadequacy in communication shortly before we left, my boss referred to a certain Sanyo who would be meeting us at the convention, and who would stay in the same hotel -- thus the person/object confusion]

Having nothing to do that afternoon, I spent the day exploring the city. While I still find the city structure and architecture stunningly beautiful, I had been there twice within the last year and a half, and my opinion of the rampant English language, trash, pot-head tourists, and apparent lack of unique Dutch culture had not changed.

To make a long story shorter: the result of our communication problems left us with 4 screens upon which to run looped company spots; no posters, no separate stand for our brochures, and no laptop with projector to demonstrate the software. Important to add, these displays on which our spots were allowed were the only LCD and Plasma hardware SANYO had on display, meaning passersby were far more interested in their high-resolution, weatherproofing, and touch-screen features than what one small Hamburg software company had to sell.

The result: I had virtually nothing to do. Tuesday I stood around for 8 aching hours eating complimentary cookies and saying, "no, I don't work for Sanyo, but could I interest you in some software". Why, might you ask, was I not translating anything for the boss who was paying me 15 EURO/hour to be there? Well, NO ONE who didn't speak German had anything to say to him.

So, that night I bought a train ticket back to Hamburg, unwound in a Coffeeshop, and passed out in my 4-star hotel room, feeling sorry for the 8 or 10 smug Japanese businessmen SANYO flew out their from Japan to stand around with us. If I had virtually nothing to do, those guys actually had nothing to do (and for 2 more days than I did).

The Dutch word for boring is above: vervelend. In the related German language, the similar sounding word verfehlend means to miss or not achieve something. There was definitely something missing in my Amsterdam experience.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Following my 8-week stint at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus theater's scenery shop in October and November, I called upon a connection I made through a colleague at the Thalia Theater and started an internship at ZeZe Möbelbau GmbH.
(The name is pronounced "Tsay-tsay" in english, ZeZe being the German phonetic spelling of CC, standing for the two guys--both named Christian--who started the company)

While an apprenticeship at the Thalia Theater had peaked my interest for some time... it slowly became clear through my continued experience in theater construction and in conversations with colleagues that such an environment would not be the richest from which to learn.

The ephemeral flow of a theater which keeps things exciting and fresh on stage, demands mostly crude building techniques and cheap expendable materials. This realization, and the resultant decision not the pursue an apprenticeship backstage was disappointing. However, these regrets were allayed not only by the friendly and interesting people I found at ZeZe, but by their level of skill and the quality of their work.

It having become quickly clear to me--over the two weeks before Christmas and my first week back--that this would be a good place to learn the trade, and considering their interest in me and my skills, I decided to sign a contract with them as apprentice!

(The only downside of the whole this is their location, no less than 1 1/2hrs travel time door-to-door -- Katja and I will likely move to somewhere in between in a half year or so)

* * *

On a different note, last weekend we went to a symphony concert in the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg (her Christmas gift to me), where we heard:
- Dvorák: Serenade für Streichorchester E-Dur
- Mozart: Violinkonzert Nr. 5 A-Dur KV 219
- Haydn: Sinfonie Nr. 45 »Abschied«
...while all three are beautiful pieces, during some of the less enthralling movements I found my myself wondering HOW they managed to cut/bend/laminate the gilded wood moldings that fit perfectly even where their snaking arcs bent along the inward curving ceiling.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ein zweites Arschloch gefreut*

In response to the wonderful experience I had seeing friends and family over the last three weeks and at the nudging of some of those folks I have committed to making a better effort to stay connected... so here is where you can find updates -- (and should I drift again from this blog please send me a personal note)
[ok, so the weather in MN was not ideal]

I may have stopped short of "delighting myself a second asshole*" as zee Germans might say, but it felt really good to be back in the states.

At home, with the whole family together again after nearly a year and a half, I felt as if a sea change had receded, leaving a more friendly comradery among my brothers and me where an often strained antagonism had once dominated. And I'm happy to say I attribute none of this shift to the sheer length of time we'd been apart. My relationship with my parents and the dynamic of the family as a whole also felt much more organic as a result of the improvement between the boys.

Having always been somewhat turned off by the loss of subtlety and (relative) intimacy of voice or text correspondence I had forgotten how much I deeply missed the people I hadn't seen for so long... I'm glad to have caught up on all the unsaid subtleties that come in a face to face conversation.

* * *

The pace and feel of life is so much different in the U.S. than it is here. Alone due to the broader spaces and dependence on driving, a series of errands ends up being a far more personal and internal journey (interrupted by the occasional store merchant or panhandler) than it feels in Germany. The feeling of a series of errands in Hamburg is more like a journey, encompassing the walk to the bus or train stop, the ride itself, the people you watch, the announcements you hear, and finally the experience at the destination itself. In Minneapolis the feeling is not much different from staying at home; I'm listening to my own music, alone (or with family), and distanced and alienated from what it is I am actually doing. And the combined result of being among other bubbled shoppers and movers seems like a less sympathetic social environment than my trip to Penny in Nettelnburg.

I wonder if using a bike and (mostly pitiful) public transport in the U.S. would have the same effect?