Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coming together...

things are. The only thing stopping me from proceeding with the residency permit and work visa process is lack of insurance, and papers are on the way for me to sign and return which will result in my having insurance. The Big Worry, what about Brendan?, is less worry-full. He had a job interview today at a primary school and it went very well. He will observe some classes there tomorrow and speak to someone regarding a contract next week (that person is currently out of town). We signed our lease yesterday for the place in Sudenburg that comes with a kitchen sink, registered our address, opened a bank account, and opened a utilities account. Oh yeah, and I'm also waiting on my transcripts from UW to arrive, because I need those in order to get the work visa. A copy of my diploma would have sufficed, but I wasn't about to ask my parents to dig through the dozen or so containers sitting in their shed, holding most of my earthly goods.

My head is swimming less today.

The Berlitz training in Hamburg went well. I had fun with the practice-teaching, and I think the real-live teaching will be even more fun. It's such a great feeling to see the click of understanding in someone's eyes when they learn how to use a new word or grammar concept. I will co-teach a lesson on Monday. I feel a bit nervous about this, but glad that I will be able to get some experience teaching with someone else before flying solo.

Once the paperwork is processed for both of us and we have the stamps in our passports that allow us to stay here, then I will be able to relax a little and enjoy the amazing and unexpected fact that we are living in Germany. At this point nothing feels sure enough, but that point is coming, I can tell. Maybe I'll even get a library card today.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Living in Germany requires:
Step 1: find a job
Step 2: find an apartment
Step 3: get a bank account
Step 4: get insurance
Step 5: go to ausländerbehörde

Seems simply enough, right? But there's a catch-22... you don't actually GET the job until after step 5, and you can't complete step 5 unless you can prove that you won't be a burden on the system. Step 2 also wants to see proof of income, and step 3 requires an address first. So right now we're sitting on our bums, engaged in email negotiations with the landlord of the place we hope to rent. It would all be great except he sent us the lease, and IT says 220 kalt 300 warm. That's not what we had agreed on. Sigh.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Finding an apartment in Magdeburg

We are considering 3 apartments right now, and We need your input.
Things to know: Warmmiete and kaltmiete. Warmmiete is the cost you will be paying each month to the owner. It includes water, gas, and heat. Kaltmiete is the price of the apartment without water, gas, and heat. The difference between the two is called the Nebenkosten. When one moves out, the total utilities used is calculated. If you've used less than the Utilities cost, you will receive some money back. If it's more, you will receive a bill for the missing amount. Electricity is not included in any listed rent costs (nor is internet, phone, tv or anything like that), but is generally estimated to be 20€ per average person. A Genossenschaft is, as far as we're concerned, a rental agency. When renting from them, one must pay a 1330€ deposit. One only receives this amount back after 2 years. Most apartments come without a kitchen sink, cabinets, oven, stove, fridge, or lighting fixtures. We estimate that buying those will cost about 250€. By law, renters must give 3 months notice before moving out.
The first is in Südenburg (Wolfenbuttelerstraße 31). It's 5 minutes by tram to the city center. It's in a neighborhood that is, itself, interesting. There's park just a block away that's not super big, but has things, like a place to climb on and pingpong table and benches and sand. The neighborhood has shops and cafes and restaurants. The apartment itself comes with a fridge, stove/oven, cabinets, sink, and lighting fixtures already included. It consists of a short entryway with the bathrrom just off that, then the kitchen, big enough to also be the dining room, and a bedroom. You see the problem with it... not a lot of space. It costs 300 warm, 200 kalt / month.
The second is in Leipziger Strasse (Lion-Feuchtwangerstrasse 6). It is large (living room, bathroom, kitchen, and 2 bedrooms), and has a balcony. It also has a good view of the city from the bedrooms, though kind of just an okay view from the balcony. Leipziger Strasse is about 10 minutes from the city center by tram. There is, however, nothing much in the immediately walkable area, maybe a restaurant or two. It costs 311.56€ warm and 198€ kalt / month. It is being rented out by a Genossenschaft.
The third is in Neu Olvenstedt (Hans-Gradestr. 107). It is large like the one in Leipziger Strasse, but the floors are an ugly linoleum. It has a BEAUTIFUL view from the balcony. The area has many small paths from apartment building to apartment building with statues, and small parks around each corner. It is 18 minutes from the city center by tram. it costs 184.16€ kalt, and 279.24€ warm. It is being rented out by a Genossenschaft.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ignore this unless you want to know what playing in a giant Magic tournament is like.

It´s done. I played 20 games of magic today, 19 of them sanctioned, and I won 10 and lost 10. Not good enough, but better than I feared. One guy I beat went on to qualify for day two. My overall matches were 4-5
It all started last night. I had purchased an apple, a pepper and tomato (all sleva, though) and some buns as I walked home from registering. I made myself a lunch for the next day, put my sleeves, my dice, my camera, a notebook of fun stuff from Nikki, and pens and pencils in the detachable part of my bag. Then I tried to fall asleep. I did a very poor job of that, including one dream where I was sure I was awake and it was after 9 and I was at my parents´ house. Somehow I couldn´t figure out that it was a dream, even though I knew that I wanted to be at the grand prix in Prague. I think I was frustrated at the quantum probability fields that sent me to WI. Anyways, I was so upset in the dream that I woke myself up, and then spent another hour trying to fall back asleep. It was worse than childhood Christmases.
I finally got up at 7:43 even though the alarm was set for 8. I took a shower, which I hadn´t planned to do, and put the lunch I´d made in my bag and ate jelly-syrupy delicious stuff that my host has in the fridge in a water bottle on buns with fake butter for breakfast.
I walked to the palace. This time there really was a stream of geeks headed in. Noteworthily, There were a countable number of women playing as well... the proportions were probably 60 to 1 or worse, but it was good to see more gender diversity than could be feared. I arrived 10 minutes before 9, as they had warned us to get there before nine. I then wandered around and did nothing, as they didn´t actually start anything until 10.
Everybody was assigned a seat and was given 6 boosters. These we were to record on a deck list, ... well here´s the play by play:
I received 6 boosters (and my promo Chrome Mox). They said we wouldn´t be playing with the boosters we opened. This is a mechanism to prevent cheating, of course. Then I recorded on a checklist they gave me all the m2010 cards that had come in those 6 boosters (liliana vess and
royal assassin!), and I alphabetized and colorcoded them as required.
Then We were instructed to check the list of the person sitting across from us. We did, everything was in order, and we were instructed to pass the cards and list to the person to our right :(. then again. then again. And this one we kept. I counted all the cards in each
color that I wanted to play with. Each color had 11. poop. So I played green and white with 1 foil mountain and 1 fireball.
Here, you may not care, But I´ll get my cards and tell you everything I had. First and foremost, a wolf token, which I loved, and used a lot.
In my deck:
Stampeding Rhino
Windstorm (which I never used)
8 plains
Howl of the night pack
Giant spider
griffin sentinel
blinding mage
master of the wild hunt
foil mountain
2 excommunicate
silvercoat lion
white knight
llanowar elves
entangling vines
elite vanguard
2 serra angel
elvish visionary
razorfoot griffin
mist leopard
rampant growth
8 forest
craw worm
veteran armorsmith

not in my deck:
lightning bolt
trumpet blast
lava axe
snapping drake
zephyr sprite
magma phoenix
sage owl
canyon minotaur
wind drake
jackal familiar
essence scatter
seismic strike
dragon whelp
air elemental
goblin piker
merfolk looter
raging goblin
ice cage
emerald oryx
solemn offering
2 oakenform
wurm´s tooth
2 siege mastodon
tome scour
convincing mirage
open the vaults
holy strength
2 lifelink
angel´s mercy
panic attack
sign in blood
2 drudge skeletons
vampire aristocrat
wall of bone
warpath ghoul
mind rot
howling banshee
underworld dreams
soul bleed
whispersilk cloak
gorgon flail
Demon´s horn
bountiful harvest
nature´s spiral
bramble creeper
pithing needle

Anyways... So I did what I did, and played my first match against Jan.

I beat jan (even though he went at least 6-2 later). He made some play mistakes, and I capitalized on them.
My day goes like this
loss (Lots of play mistakes by me)
loss (a few play mistakes by me)
loss (some play mistakes by me)
loss (Lots of play mistakes by me) won 1 of the games, though
casual game won - played at the special tables
loss (Lots of play mistakes by me)
I suppose I could have dropped when other people did (you couldn´t go on to day two unless you had fewer than 3 losses), but I´m in prague to play magic, dammit, and play magic I did.
At some point I decided that I really wanted to play at the special tables. I got Sony (my second
loss) to play with me at the tables where they hold the feature matches when no one else was using them. Other than that, though, it was really hard to get people to play just for fun. But I did see Raphael Levy, a pro, play in a feature match.
There were 1543 people there, the third largest grand prix ever. I came in 293rd of the people that stayed till the end of the blue portion... out of 350 people or something. not at the bottom, certainly. Yay!
what else... 3 people noticed my untap upkeep draw a card shirt, two of them judges, and the
third an opponent from Romania who took a picture of it for his friend who always mutters the names of the phases when he´s stalling (and bluffing).
Just before my last round, I couldn´t find one of my cards. I went on a wild expedition with a judge, and she replaced the missing card with a plains. No stampeding rhino for me.
I´m proudest that I never broke a rule, that I successfully bluffed in 1 extra point of damage once (attacking with my griffin sentinel into a razorfoot griffin with green mana available), and when I went out I was 5050.
Burnt soybeans taste like burnt popcorn.
That was my grand prix experience.

Friday, September 4, 2009

If you care about Magic...

I´ve done it. I registered for Grand Prix - Prague. The Palace of Industry, built at the end of the 19th century, is only a 10 minute walk from where I´m staying. I expect that tomorrow Prague´s residents will see giant spiders crawling over its towers of glass and metal and lightning bolts lancing the skies above it. It´s a majestic building, and it´s filled to the brim with Magic.
I have never participated in a professional tournament before. I´m a bit overwhelmed at this first look at what my weekend will hold. Packs of international players roamed the courtyards. A timid "money draft" was whispered by players who, I´m sure, know they´re better than most. I may or may not have seen an international group of pros speaking English in French and Japanese accents.
I´m humbled by the vastness of it all.
I´m going to play Magic in a freaking palace.


Brendan speaking here. As you may or may not know, Stina is in Hamburg for the week training for her new job with the Berlitz in Magdeburg. While I was disappointed not to be offered a position as well, I am quite pleased that it allows me the opportunity to participate in Grand Prix - Prague, a major sanctioned Magic: the Gathering tournament with a top prize of $3,500 and an invitation to Pro-Tour Austin, which has a top prize of $40,000. So wish me luck and enjoy my adventures:
I got to the hitchhiking stop that Hitchwiki suggests from Hamburg headed south, and the directions are good. Follow the road in the same direction as the bus, and after about 50 meters, you will indeed start to hear the Autobahn. The road curves to the left, but there´s a smaller paved area that´ll lead you to the gas station. First, though, note the supermarket across the road. That´s where I bought a yogurt and two bananas for my breakfast. I ate the yogurt and one banana while I walked to a place under a tree by the exit, because just as I got there, it started to rain. The tree did its job well, and I was surprised to find that I was pretty excited to be on the road again. The challenge of getting from there to here with only my wits and little else was exciting to me. I think the fact that I felt entirely well returned much of the exuberance that´s been flagging for the past several weeks. My first ride was a delightful ride from an Indian man who, like all other German speakers, was shocked that I spoke German.
Take that as a given for all my interactions, and I won´t mention it again. He gave me a ride out of the rain about 50 km down the road.
Then I got a ride from a German who wanted to practice his English. He was older, but a fit bike rider and he´d recently gone to Görlitz which he wanted me to go to as well as it´s kind of on the way to Prague. Next time, I promised him. He likes to practice languages. He worked at an American army base for many years as a dishwasher, and he learned his English there from the soldiers, by reading articles about the same topic in German and English newspapers, and by listening to the news on the American radio station from the base and the regular German news radio stations. He said his English was so bad that his English teacher wouldn´t let him talk in class. His English was excellent. Quite meticulous, even. He spoke very carefully and slowly, and asked me to do the same. When I did, his comprehension was complete, and his vocabulary was extensive. He also practices Dutch with a friend of his from the Netherlands. They´re penpals, and they pretend they are the Dutch queen´s marshall and Germany´s ambassador to the Netherlands. He said his friend just wrote to him that he has retired from his marshallry,
more´s the pity.
He was going to west of Hannover, and, as you know, the route from Hannover to Prague takes one east. We looked on the map, and saw that there was a Raststätte not too far along the western route. I knew I didn´t want to run across six lanes of 100mph traffic again, but we found an underpass leading from the westbound side to the eastbound side. I walked the wrong way for a while, and thought what a nice autumn day it was for a walk with a loved one, as I saw two people pushing two other people in wheelchairs along the sidewalk next to a very autumnal copse of trees. Then I realized my mistake, and turned to follow them.
There I waited 3 hours. I made several mistakes which probably cost me some of those hours, but even so, it seemed there were fewer people willing to pick me up than the volume of traffic should have suggested. Of course many were just going into Hannover, but there were plenty of other license plates, notably Polish, Czech, MD and Berlin. My major mistake was believing people who said that they were going to Berlin but not through Magdeburg... okay, okay, I suppose they don´t go THROUGH Magdeburg, but they come darn close to it, so I
eventually cornered a Ukrainian guy - and by cornered, I mean he stopped for me, despite initially shrugging apologetically and seeming he would continue. My gaze and fierce thumbing halted him. He was going to Berlin and dropped me at the Tankstelle I told him to.
I waited there only a few dozen minutes before a Czech guy stopped and took me all the way here. This country is gorgeous. If it weren´t for all our other plans, I would say we should buy a place in the countryside here and raise those sheep immediately. What a lovely drive. I borrowed my driver´s cell phone to let my couchsurfing host know I´d get there a day early. She said it was fine, but she was out with friends and wouldn´t be home until 1130. I said okay even though I got to her house at 8, but I went to a Chinese restaurant and got some fried rice for 59czk and a half liter beer for 30czk. In all, I had a full sit down restaurant meal for less than 4 euros ($5.70). I started writing in my journal, but then everybody left the restaurant, including my waitress. I started to think that they were closing so I finished quickly and left. When I got out, I saw that they would be open until 11 and it was only 9, so I kicked myself and went in search of an internet cafe. I didn´t find one, so I wrote while sitting in front of a very old church. By the time I looked up, it was 1030 - close enough to 1130, right? I walked up to my host´s front door and plopped down on my bag to wait. I had barely written a sentence before she showed up with a "contemplating Magic strategy?" I greeted her, and she led me to here. She has a tremendous flat, about which she keeps apologizing for the mess. The mess, however, is not particularly dirty, but rather is made up of glorious books. Some of them are in English, and this morning I claimed one and am now 128 pages in. The reason for my progress (despite all of the other opportunities Prague has to offer) is that there were 2 other Couchsurfers here as well, a very nice couple originally from Bavaria but now studying in Salzburg. They were out late at a jazz club last night, and so didn´t get up until noon. Despite my being awake, I didn´t want to go anywhere or do anything noisy and didn´t have the key, so I searched amongst the books and read. Tonight: Registration. Tomorrow: DAY ONE!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A whole new world

My goodness, here we are indeed. We've had a whirlwind of a time this past almost a year, and It's not quite settled down yet, but the net stage of our trip is in sight.
Stina and I will begin living in Magdeburg, Deutschland within the next two weeks, and we intend to stay there for a good long while.
What's that you say? I need to catch you up? You have no idea what I'm talking about, or if you do, you don't know how we got from there to here 'cause we haven't blogged in a while? Well, here goes then:
Before we left Saarbrücken, We checked our emails once again. Lo and behold, Stina's email had in it a job offer from the Magdeburg Berlitz! We redid the budgets, figured out we could just squeak by if only Stina is employed and she gets enough hours, and accepted the position on the spot! After evaluating our many travel options, we decided to head to the places we had the greatest concentration friends (northwestern Germany) so I could bask in their warm glow on my birthday.
We tried to leave Saarbrücken by tramping (hitchhiking). It was a hot day, and we trudged about 2 miles from the Studentenwohnheim where we were staying with our couchsurfing host. (and where I discovered that Bulgarians play a much funner card game of BS than the American version and that Stephen King really is a good writer - Lisey's Story grabbed me. I'm on page 375. I had to leave the book with our host.) After that 2 mile trudge, we saw that our spot looked kind of dead, but we waited faithfully anyways until a lady from across the street hollered at us that no one was going anywhere from where we were standing. She invited us to her shady backyard and gave us sparkling water and then drove us to a bus stop near the freeway entrance. We waited for about an hour and a half, then gave up, took the tram back to the Hauptbahnhof, and got our quer durchs ticket. We rode the train to Bonn where we got to relax again with the most pleasant of people. We headed the next morning by train (can you tell we're tired?) to Düsseldorf and to our Magic friend's door. We couch hopped for the week in Düsseldorf, staying a few nights with each of several friends we had made before, making new friends, and indulging our passion for relaxion. My birthday was particularly relaxing, as we spent most of it lounging around a park and eating the pasta salad I had made that morning.
We hitched pretty easily from Düsseldorf to Hannover, now fully refreshed from our long stay in Düsseldorf. Our final Düsseldorf couchsurfing hosts accompanied us to the gas station in Oberhausen, 'cause they were on their way to do some geocaching out there, too. It took us 2 rides, and our last ride, a buddhist priest who wrote a book on relationships and generosity with his girlfriend, dropped us right in front of our hosts' door. In Hannover we stayed with friends of Stina's from her bible school days. They, too were game enthusiasts (like attracts like), and we spent a rollicking 2 days with them. We ate plenty of good vegetarian food, and discovered trampolines and centrifugal force and mini golf in various parks. After our stay, we hitched the most efficient hitch ever - I stuck out my thumb for the first car, he pulled over like magic and took us all the way to the central station in Hamburg. We took the Sbahn to Veddel, walked 5 minutes and arrived at our current couchsurfer's home. Now Stina's spending her days in unpaid training for Berlitz, and I'm trying to figure out what happens next. I'm researching for this weekend's Magic Grand Prix in Prague, and will be hitchhing there on Thursday. Wish me luck!