Saturday, April 9, 2016

Easter getaway to Hungary

Ayyyyy it's time to bring back the blog after another pause. This time I actually stopped writing on purpose, rather than out of pure laziness, because for several months I really wasn't doing anything. Since November I had been searching for a job, which for me followed the very predictable pattern of hopeful applications followed by weeks of waiting and final rejection. Although I'm very happy/fortunate to be out of that slump now that I finally found a good job, which I started last Friday, and so far so good, except for the fact that I had to move to Bielefeld, while Erika stays in Bonn. I'm still getting to know the city, and will have to post again once I get some more pictures of it.

But before I moved, Erika took some vacation days and her mom asked us if we wanted to join them in visiting Erika's family in Hungary.  Since we didn't have any other plans, we tagged along to a 12 hour car drive through southern German, Austria, to a small village near Budapest. Here's a bunch of pictures I took, I don't know the names of a lot of the sites, I'll have to do some research and annotate it later.

All in all, it was a great trip, Budapest was beautiful but a bit melancholy which led to an interesting vibe. It reminded me a lot of Paris, but with an eastern, rustic, underdeveloped twist to it. The way the Danube splits the city, dozens of historic bridges, the 3-5 story tall, square buildings with flat roofs and high ceilings and windows, and of course beautiful old churches with intricate murals.

Cool house in Budapest next to all embassies 

Victory tower

Disney-like castle in the middle of a gigantic park, wish I took more pictures of it from the courtyard

One entrance to the East(?) train station

With some dope langos inside as well

Front entrance to the train station. They are in the process of renovating it, it could use some work.

The Citadel on the cliffs of the Danube

One side of Budapest. This river actually starts from a tiny little stream in the Black Forest and ends up all the way in the Black Sea


That big building in the bottom left is where the following pictures all took place

Beautiful church. Loved the roof

And the sun finally came out to say goodbye before setting

That big white building on the other bank is the Parliament building. 2nd biggest in Europe, behind the one Bucharest

Sweet castle

Church from the other side

Let's see if Erika complains about this picture

This whole area with all these awesome views and buildings is call the Fisherman's Battlement I think

Yeah baby, MGD at the Tesco

Day 3 we went to Eger, known for its wine and the site of where the Hungarians halted the Turkish advance into Europe in the 1550s (only for about 40 years). 

Sitting on the embattlements of the fortress

It was a nice, cute city. I liked it

And just a 10 minute drive away from the fortress, you get to the wine district

Each one of those little porches is an entrance to an individual wine cellar built into the hill

I say cellar, but most were more like a cave...This one went about 200 feet deep

Just the outer parts of the Alps near Salzburg. Southern Bavaria and this part of Austria were awesome, definitely want to go back for some real hiking

The coolest thing about the wine was that you can buy it straight from the barrel. They fill you up with 1L 2.2L (pictured here) or 5L or even bigger plastic jugs. Each one of those 2.2L jugs cost about 3 Euros

Our return haul - Salami and wine of course, plus cheese, Hungarian Jaegermeister variety, and some nasty puffed corn things that Erika used to eat as a kid.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

And the job hunt drags on

I've been back in Bonn for two and a half weeks now, and a lot of my time at home has been spent looking for work and doing little things, like study German, that might help me get a job. There is definitely a real chance for me to find work in Bonn or in a nearby city, but the trouble is finding it sooner, rather than later. I'm definitely getting anxious to hear back from a few different places that I've applied to a couple weeks back, because the longer I wait, the more I feel like I'm not going to get even an interview. And it seems like the quality of opportunities is shrinking too, since I've already applied to my favorite places. Graduate degrees don't mean shit if you're in the wrong place, but not finding even an internship in something I'm interested in here is even more depressing. Going back to the US also reeks of failure, unless I can grab a nice job somewhere, but that is also a long process.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Berlin Part II - FSFE

The whole point of me going to Berlin was because I had an internship at the Free Software Foundation of Europe. The details of my work aren't exactly sexy or exciting, so I won't bore you the details. Basically they are a non-profit aimed at empowering users to control their devices (by switching to Free Software). The idea is that Free Software allows people to see and modify the software in whatever way they choose. This is great because it allows a very high level of transparency in software, given that you can understand the code. This transparency is pretty useless if you can't understand the information. But overall, the concept of sharing knowledge and co-creating better products and services through Free Software means is pretty cool, and it can lead to a lot of great innovations that proprietary companies like Microsoft and Apple might try to lock down for greater market shares.

Even though I'm not a verified computer geek, I still found things to do at FSFE.  Since they are an advocacy group, rather than a creator of software, a lot of the work involves writing up news items and press releases, or publishing comments about particular issues that are going on in various parts of Europe. So a lot of my work was to read up on whats going on, digest it, and turn it into something understandable for others. In the process I learned a lot about Free Software programs and systems myself. I used a Linux OS for the first time, got a lot of practices entering commands in the terminal and managing data on a subversion network which controls the shared data among our team.  It was definitely challenging at first, going from 0 experience to a full Free Software environment in a few days, but I think it was pretty valuable. I learned a lot of shortcuts for writing up HTML and publishing content online.

The office itself was pretty small, just one room with enough space for about 6 desks and some shelves for promotional material like leaflets and stickers.  I worked with 2 trainees most of the time, one guy from Italy and a girl from Estonia, and the President, from Germany. Everyone was really nice and helpful, and being in such a close environment meant it was easy to ask questions when they arose. On the downside, close quarters meant shared germs and there were definitely a few sicknesses going around. Some days 3 or 4 people were sick, with 2 of them completely out of the office, combined with typical German holidays meant it got pretty quiet at times. The office itself was pretty centrally located in Berlin, just in the northern part of Mitte (the downtown neighborhood), and it was surrounded by loads of hip restaurants and cafes, so if you want to pay 5 euros for mediocre 'craft' beer or coffee, you were in the right location.

However, on my last day, I did go out with the two trainees to a nearby Belgian bar, that had an amazing selection of Belgian beers that were completely reasonable in price. I consider 5.50 euros for a full 12oz 12% something something to be a very good deal. Or 4 euros for a 9% something blonde something. 10/10, would try again. Love me some Belgian beers

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Berlin, part I

I arrived back in Bonn on Saturday evening, after a lengthy, but enjoyable bus ride from Berlin.  I know I haven't updated this blog in a while, and it's mostly because whenever I started to work on writing something, I never felt motivated enough to finish it. Therefore, I have a lot to cover in this post, and it'll probably get broken up into 2 parts at the very least. I guess the part about Berlin will be more like a story. Later I'll start talking about my work at the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). And lastly I'll get into my graduation experience, job searching, and some odds and ends. So stay tuned!

Well, I can start out by saying that overall, my experience in Berlin was quite a bit more disappointing than I had anticipated. This is probably due to my own personal choices and situation during the three months I was there rather than the city itself failing me. 

It started on the night I arrived in the city. I was at the S-bahn station near the main bus station trying to buy a ticket, when this little middle-aged woman some baggy, colorful, and dusty clothing comes up and starts pestering me to buy one of these "leftover" train tickets from tourists that have left already and are still valid (according to her). I told her I would rather buy a new ticket from the machine. Definitely don't want to get ripped off on my first trip. She asks me what I do in Berlin and I told her I would start working and she immediately tells me: "Ah so that is why you are not cool".  That response kind of set the tone for my experience in Berlin: You're a square if you work and don't chill with the hip crowd.

 For anyone who doesn't know, finding apartments in Germany can be very difficult, especially if you only need it for very specific time period (like I did), so actually being happy with your first apartment (especially in Berlin) is almost never going to happen, but that's a different story. Since I could barely afford a cheap apartment, and I was scared about not finding one at all and having to live in a hostel for a couple weeks, so I took the first apartment that fit my budget and was available.
It was a bit like a hostel, I shared a room with 3 other people and paid too much money for it. Overall it wasn't too bad. Like college dorm room style. The guy in the bunk bed below me snored very loudly but I adapted (and by adapt I meant I stopped giving a shit). There was hot water, heating, and a bed. If the guy who I was paying rent to could live like that 10 years, then I sure as hell could stay for 3 months.

Outside of the apartment, Berlin was fine. With around 3.5 million people, it was the biggest city I've really spent a lot of time in. I lived in Wedding, pretty much central north of the main "downtown" area. My neighborhood was mostly immigrants, heavy on the Turkish side. There were tons of shady looking cafes, late night shops, and casinos lined up back to back down the main streets. During the daytime the sidewalks were crowded with people. There were usually groups of moms in headscarves  taking up most of the sidewalk with their gigantic 2-child strollers and some older children hanging around nearby. Some places got really crowded around fruit and vegetable stands, which provided a huge selection of ridiculously cheap produce. Kilos of oranges, a dozen varieties of apples, bananas and melons were always for sale, and towards November the clementines started coming out too. It was at one of these crowded intersections between fruit stand and the family brigade of strollers that I saw a guy who was working a fruit stand ash his cigarette at his side, right onto a kids face while his mom was pushing him by. When so many people smoke, there are so many children in strollers, and so little space on the sidewalks, I'm actually surprised I hadn't seen it happen before. It gave me a good chuckle, because I think I was the only one who noticed any of it.

Though I was in a "bad" part of town, I never felt unsafe. Everyone tended to their own business, and I never saw anything bad happen. We had security guards in a lot of stores just watching out for troublemakers and breaking down cardboard boxes, but I only saw a few messed up addicts try to pull any shit.  That said, I didn't go out much at night. I didn't have any money, or friends, so there wasn't much for me to do. This was also fine. I worked during the week, and even though weekends got a little boring, I spent 5 weekends visiting friends in Erfurt, or Erika in Bonn.

I also saw, but mostly heard, the planes. Tegel airport is quite close to my apartment, and walking to and from work I often heard airplanes flying overhead and every time I always got that wanderlust to be on one. I didn't even know where I wanted to go, maybe back to the US, maybe just being out of Berlin for awhile would be sufficient, but I just wanted to be on a plane going somewhere.

In early September my friend from the Willy Brandt School, Krishna, came to visit. He had a close friend from his high school in Nepal who was in Berlin for a language course before starting his PhD in Leipzig. So I went out on a Friday night to visit him at the student dorms nearly an hour away. It was great weather, and we had a lot of whiskey and beer to drink. He bought a bottle of Jim Beam specifically because he knew I liked it. I stayed the night and the next day we all went to the lake nearby. Again, the weather was sublime and we sat all day at this lake, hanging out with our feet in the water and drinking beer. They cooked a bunch of Nepalese curry throughout the weekend, and I slept really well in the evening. It was probably the best weekend while I was in Berlin.

A few weeks later I met up with the same Nepalese guy and another friend of his and actually did a bit of sightseeing. I checked out all the major sights, the Spree River, the cathedral, the Brandenburger Tor, the German Bundestag, the Tiergarten, and the Siegesäule. All of them were quite pretty and I really enjoyed visiting them.  Of course, I liked this part of the city, and I think my favorite part was hanging out in front of the Bundestag (German Parliament building). It was a huge building that was built with a glass roof, to represent transparency within its walls. Directly in front of the building was a large open grassy area that people just hang out on. It seemed like there was quite a few people there, but it could have just been because it was a Sunday. I'll let some of these pictures at the bottom do the talking.

After that day of sightseeing, I didn't go out much. The honeymooning phase of seeing a new city never really kicked in, and I had a lot of other necessities to take care of, like writing my final report for school, job searching, and applications to fill out. After finishing at the FSFE, I wanted to start work right away, but I knew that was unlikely to be the case. But I still had to make the most of it what I could, so I prepared a few applications for jobs in Bonn, and spent the rest of my spare time studying German, taking (read: trying) some free online courses, and dulling my senses to my less than ideal living situation.

Overall I found Berlin to be an interesting place, but I think I was there at the wrong time. It's probably way more exciting, with tons of great things to do if you have money and friends. I wasn't unhappy, but definitely a bit unfulfilled. I only met one person who was from Berlin (actually from Potsdam, but its in the train network), most of the people I saw or met were from a different country, probably looking for a better place to live. I don't think Berlin actually has a ton of great opportunities to start a career, except for a few specialized jobs or in something related to politics. But if you come from very little, or just want to chill out and work at a restaurant or coffee shop, you will probably find something viable there. But I don't entirely blame the city for that, the whole WWII and especially the Cold War really ruined a lot of potential that capital cities are often expected to have. There were definitely some beautiful things in Berlin, but not the same kind of grandeur you might find in Paris or London. It definitely will make up for that with multitudes of cool people, y'know the kind of people who recommend wearing sunglasses at night, or where being a male with skinny jeans, roughed up leather boots, and a plain black t-shirt actually makes you a square (aka me).  I'm happy to be back in Bonn, where people don't try so hard to fit a city-stereotype, and where the Rhein provides all the natural beauty a small town Iowa boy needs.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


So next week I'll move to Berlin to begin my internship, and I'm actually pretty excited.  I found an apartment for a decent price within walking distance of my work, which will save me a good chunk of money, and hopefully I have a cool roommate. I still don't know exactly what the room looks like, I've only seen 2 pictures online, and I pretty much took the apartment based on price and location, and because it fit the amount of time I was going to be in Berlin perfectly. I'll start working at the Free Software Foundation of Europe and even though I still do not exactly know what tasks I'll be doing, I'm still quite excited to work. I think the theme is very important and interesting, and most importantly it'll get me some experience working in an digital content related field. And with any luck, I'll be able to find a job or other good work experience somewhere else in Berlin or Bonn.  I think it would great to work at a smaller digital content rights organization, like the Creative Commons or something, but I don't know how likely that is. In reality, I would take any job as long as they pay enough for me to actually make a little money, rather than borrowing from people.

So during these next 3 months of internship, I'll have a lot of applications to write to find a real job for after the internship ends, but I'm optimistic, for now.

Das Auto

One of the nice things about summer is that its warm enough for all the nice cars and motorcycles to come out of winter storage.  While I was in Erfurt, I didn't see, or maybe didn't pay attention, to too many nice old cars except for the old commie, East German car, the Trabant. But since moving to Bonn, especially in my particular neighborhood, I've seen tons of cool cars I've never seen before. I'm a big fan of the old Mercedes-Benz sedans in all shapes and sizes. My favorites have been the S200 or S220 (I think) and there are a couple nice ones on our very street. Like this baby blue one.

There is another one, that is slightly older than this one in dark gray with some big ol' tail light fins. But I didn't take a picture of it because it's not is super great condition. And for some reason both still have a horseshoe stuck to the grill. I read that sometimes Mercedes-Benz will award badges to cars with a certain number of miles on it, but the horseshoe is probably related to some other club or organization.  

Also around the corner from my apartment I've seen this hilarious little 3-wheel transport car, called the Piaggio Ape, that looks just like this picture, but in white. I used to pass by it all the time on my runs and it always cracked me up because it was so little! I can't imagine even sitting in it. I guess it makes sense in some old Italian cities with tiny streets for delivering newspapers or milk or something, but now it is just a novelty car.

Lastly I've seen a few cool motorcycles and mopeds around, and now I really want a moped. When I was biking in the next town over I saw some girl with long blue hair and lots of piercings driving a Simson s50 or s51 which seemed like a super moped or a really small motorcycle. I couldn't catch a picture of it, but I saw it up close and it seemed really really cool. I really like the seat and the size. Fast enough to have a lot of fun, and but hopefully small enough I don't need a motorcycle license if I try to pick one up.  Any thoughts, Nash?

The final cool moped I've seen around a lot is a Zündapp moped. It's exactly like this picture, with that shiny blue finish and rack and all. Of course German automobiles are the best, they are so sweet to look at! 


Yeaaaaaah... we finally made it into August, which means there is approximately 2 weeks of summer left in Germany before it returns to being 50 degrees and cloudy most of the time. I finished my thesis on time with the help from my sister and support from Erika. I don't think it was a super great thesis, but it was good enough. I'm proud that wrote nearly 22,000 words in a comprehensible fashion, and better yet, I feel like I am quite knowledgeable about net neutrality and recent FCC broadband policy. So, woo! Shortly after I submitted my thesis, Erika took a long vacation from work and we got to spend 3 weeks together in a sort of summer honeymooning phase before I head off to Berlin for my internship.  But for lack of disposable income, we spent most our time in and around Bonn, and became much more acquainted with our city.  We spent a lot of that time near the Rhein river, it being a major geographical highlight of the area.  Beaches, picnics, hills, bike riding, people watching, clouds, sunsets, and wine all topped the list of our major priorities and here is some evidence to show it!