Sunday, March 27, 2016

My week: March 27 ed.

I put most of my plans on hold this week because of a work trip to Brussels. As I was driving there, I received a phone call from my boss and was directed to return to our office. There had been a terrorist attack at the airport and on the subway. It was sobering news.

During the rest of the workweek, I stayed home because I was really worn out. It's probably the pollen and allergy misery.

-I visited Karlsruhe with my friends C+K. Along the way, C had to stop by Kakteenland, which is a giant greenhouse full of cacti for sale. K and I watched in bemusement as he shopped for new cacti; his focus and determination was admirable and on par with athletes.

Since we were close to Wissembourg, which is just over the border in France, we stopped by for a visit. C was keen to visit a Flammkuchen restaurant that he had really enjoyed before. Unfortunately, it was closed so with trepidation, we tried the restaurant next door (9 Place de la République). It wasn't a good sign that their menu had pictures of the food and was not far from a tourist area; we should have known better. When our Flammkuchen arrived, it was barely cooked, with almost raw onions. How is it even possible to make bad Flammkuchen? Sheesh, it's not that hard to make.

We consoled ourselves with some delicious pastries from Patissier Rebert, just down the street. I chose a delicious cafe Éclair and a violet macaron. Both were lovely! C made very happy noises as he feasted on a delicate-looking petit four with layers of mouse, chocolate, and a bit of cake. K ate the chocolate foil to my cafe Éclair.

Following our sugary interlude, we walked through the town, trailing the city walls. From there we found the way back to the car and drove to Karlsruhe. Once there, we walked through the city, starting with the palace in the center, the Karlsruhe Schloss. From there, the city lays like a fan. I had wanted to see the city's pyramid, but it was covered up for construction and restoration. After our walk, we ate dinner at Shiraz, a Persian restaurant. Soon I said goodbye to C+K as they left for a concert and I went home.

-For Easter, I thought that I was going to attend a friend's BBQ and garden planting party, but I mixed up the dates and decided to just stay home instead since I was still tired. I did manage an enjoyable two hour stroll through town after the rain stopped. I finished Easter with a Skype call to my family.

Finding a good fare on local German Train Travel

My friends invited me on a day trip to Karlsruhe and I wanted to avoid spending a crazy amount of money on train tickets. (I definitely didn't want to drive there.)

We worked it out that I'd take the train from Kaiserslautern to Neustadt and ride with them in the car to Karlsuhe since they were driving anyway. We'd spend some time there together and then I'd take the train back because they were staying for a concert.

I wanted to find out: how could I best buy the train tickets to minimize the prices? I'll share the steps I took in hopes that it might be useful for someone. Do you have tips to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments section; maybe you know an even better way to buy tickets.

-The first thing to know is that train tickets can be rather costly and prices have recently climbed. There are ways to buy cheaper tickets, such as by linking different regions through creative ticket buying.

-If you are only traveling in one or two regions instead of taking a long distance trip, it can make more sense to buy tickets from each regional traffic association instead of buying an overall ticket from Deutsche Bahn. However, it can be a bit confusing that if buying tickets at a train station, one uses the ticket machines that are labeled DB but also sell local tickets.

-When I searched the DB website,, I found that a default setting is "schnelle Verbindung bevorzugen," which means "prefer fast connection." This means that Inter-City Express and Regional Express trains are more likely to be chosen. You'll get there faster but there's a possibility you'd pay more. I unchecked this option so I could see both the high speed and the cheaper local trains.

-If you have a reduction card, such as the BahnCard, be sure to select that option. After all, why not save money?

-The DB website can usually give a price for distance travel (i.e. the whole trip from Karlsruhe to Kaiserslautern), but for local travel, it'll often give a message "Preisauskunft nicht möglich," which means "price information is not available" because travelers must visit the individual regional transportation websites to determine the prices. Grr! Why this isn't integrated is beyond me.

-If you want to save money, you'll want to check the regional train sites to "hack" your trip.

-I ended up buying a VRN all-day train ticket. VRN is the transportation association that covers Kaiserslautern to Mannheim, and many other cities too. That got me to Neustadt to meet my friends.

For the return trip, I bought a ticket from Karlsruhe to Bad Schönborn-Kronau, which is the end of the Karlsruhe region and only cost me 3,50 euros with my Bahncard. From there, I used my VRN day ticket to get me to Mannheim, where I transferred to another train to get me back to Kaiserslautern.

Let's compare prices.

  • 40 euros for a day of travel; does not include high-speed trains
A "traditional" way of buying the ticket:
  • Buy a one-way ticket from Kaiserslautern to Neustadt (7,10 euro regular price; 5,30 euros with BahnCard)
  • Use Deutsche Bahn to buy a ticket from Karlsruhe to Kaiserslautern (cheapest price I saw without BahnCard was 19 euros but it went up to 33 euros depending on the time and if it was a high speed train; with BahnCard it was as low as 14,25 euros)
  • I wasn't sure exactly when I'd be done in Karlsruhe and the longer one waits to buy the ticket, the more likely it is to be more expensive.
  • Using this method, I would, at minimum, paid about 26 euros without the BahnCard or as low as 20 euros with it. However, depending on the time, the average prices I saw for some of the various options were about 25 euros or so in total because I was working on this last-minute.
What I actually spent:
  •  17,50 for the VRN day pass
  • 3,50 to get me from Karlsruhe to the beginning of the VRN's coverage area (it would've been 5,70 without the BahnCard)
  • Total = 21 euros
 How I could have hacked this trip further:
  • Buy a single trip ticket to Neustadt  (7,10 euro regular price; 5,30 euros with BahnCard)
  •  3,50 to get me from Karlsruhe to the beginning of the VRN's coverage area (or 5,70 without the BahnCard)
  • Buy a single trip ticket from Wiesloch-Walldorf, which is the beginning of the VRNetwork, to Kaiserslautern (10,20 regular price or 7,70 with BahnCard)
  • Total = 22,60 euros without BahnCard or 16.50 euros with BahnCard
So, reader, are you thinking, "geez, that sounds like a lot of work and was it really worth it for ATW to spend all this time trying to figure this out?" Well, have no fear; I enjoy this type of research and it's more of a hobby for me so I'm not seeing it as a waste of my time. I also received some tips from friends to get me started (thanks, awesome friends!). Even though I've been riding the trains here for three years, I didn't know all the ins and outs as well as I could have and this helped me fill in some gaps. Of course, there's always more to learn!

Friday, March 25, 2016

If Moo went for ice cream

...and he went to Austin, he'd probably go to Moojo.

Alas, he doesn't like to travel so he stayed home in Germany when I was in Texas last November.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

If Moo drove a car

...he'd listen to...

By the way: Austin prides itself on being "weird." For me, it wasn't weird enough, but nice try, Texas :)

Would he be Moonces if he drove a car? Hmm...

Monday, March 21, 2016

Roadside candy machine: gettin' zippy with it

I found this candy machine (toy machine?) filled with some gumballs who look a bit dodgy and some jewelry.

As far as the plastic choker necklace goes, is that ever a blast from the past for me. I'll admit: in the early 2000s I wore those and yes, I used butterfly clips and rolled my hair, for a hot minute.

I did not, however, have a rad zipper bracelet. That's all now, baby.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A kind-spirited way to learn English (or a foreign language)

As a contrast to the mean spirited English-learning activity I mentioned last time, I'd like to mention a fun way to learn a foreign language that is somewhat neutral: through charades!

In our language meeting, we were instructed to write down something that happened to us and another person would act it out.

I didn't exactly have the German words for what had happened to me so I had to get some help. Some of the poor guys in the group had to act out the following:

-I was kicked in the head by a horse.*

-I wore a lucky clover costume.

(Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the word Kleeblatt so I had to say that it was like a Marienkäfer or a Shornsteinfeger but no one caught those references either.)

Once this was all figured out, the guys in the group seemed rather impressed with the idea of a giant shamrock costume. Indeed, they are rather cool!

*I was very proud that I was able to write this in the passive voice but I had to figure out the preposition for getting kicked  in the head.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A mean-spirited way to learn English

I found a book, 101 Word Games, by George P. McCallum. It is a book of games to play with English learners. Cool, I thought; it might be useful for working with tandem partners.

Then I read the rules of one of the games called "Compliments and Insults," in which students ask one another why they like Marion and hate Jim (for example). Under the possible answers for why one hates Jim, it includes such niceties as "Because he's awful. Because he's boastful" (p. 113).

Uh, I can't say that this is an activity I'd want to replicate! Could you imagine, telling a class to say all these mean things about another student (or someone else they don't like)? Or, could you imagine a student who likes Marion and might not know that it's appropriate to say that one likes her because of...who knows what!

Work Cited

McCallum, George P. 101 Word Games for Students of English as a Second or Foreign Language. New York: Oxford UP, 1980. Print.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

My week: March 6 ed.

I lost some hair this week, pre-gamed wine on a train, practiced German, and came home with a load of inexpensive German books. Sounds good, eh?

-To put the hair loss situation in context: I stopped by for a much-needed haircut. I think the last time I got my haircut was in November and it was so dramatic to see all of my hair on the ground at the salon. Now my mane is a bit more under control ;)

- Apparently I wasn't listening very closely in German class. The teacher last week was a substitute and we have our regular guy back. While I like both teachers, I dig the guy's style especially.

I also met up with my original tandem partner and we howled with laughter over what we believe (and hope) is her misunderstanding of a new acquaintance's profession. She created a special lesson for me this week after I hit a "rock-bottom" feeling of language learning last week, in which I bemoaned my stupid accent when I speak German and my pitiful vocabulary (oh so dramatic, I know). We practiced pronunciation and she taught me some new words. She is such a sweet and helpful person.

-I traveled to Neustadt to meet up with friends C+K. We enjoyed some wine at their apartment, then some wine on the train, and made friends with another train passenger, a retiree who was drinking his beer. We found common ground in that we both wore wine glass holders around our necks. C gave him the rest of the bottle of wine that we had been enjoying, after exacting a promise that he would not be offended by the Badisch wine showing up in the Pfalz. Such is life as one takes the train to wine festivals in the Pfalz.

The terminus of our wine-soaked journey was the Bad Dürkheim Weinbergnacht (wine mountain night). I attended last year (read allll about it here) and felt rather darn cool to show up with my special wine glass holder-necklace-purse-thingie that the nice lady from last year gifted me. You know, it was as if I actually belonged.

It's funny to return to events which are now becoming traditions for me. Last year, I went with the two S-es and didn't drink that much (we still had fun). This year, I showed up after already enjoying some beverages and felt a bit more unfocused, but we powered through the light rain, dodging mud as well as we could. (In other words, when I got back, I thought, dang, my boots and the bottom of my trousers are muddy!)

The three of us sampled various regional cuisine and snagged some wine, of course. I knew the score this year after having many wine sampling tickets left year; I suggested that we only buy two tickets for the three of us, and I brought the wine glass I already had. Since we had pre-gamed on the train, we had tickets left and used them to "purchase" a bottle of wine to go. We were apparently two tickets short but K made sad puppy dog eyes and the booth employee was kind enough to let her have the bottle anyway.

-It was the weekend of the annual Pfennigbasar, a charity rummage sale to benefit local organizations. I'm happy with what I bought, the price I paid, and that the money went to charity. I picked up three pairs of jeans for 4,50 euros and an armful of books in German for 50 cents a piece, including some on my favorite local topic, hiking in the Pfalz. I was also in the need of books to practice German and was able to find a YA book that I've read in English. My main problem was finding books that looked interesting but were short enough that they won't take forever to read. I'm willing to buy secondhand books that don't suit perfectly because I can't justify buying new books for practice when I'm going to mark them up with definitions.*

One day, I volunteered at the sale and mostly spoke German. It was funny when Americans would come up to the booth and nervously ask me if I spoke English; this was my life when I first got here. 

*I come from a family that does not write in books, especially because we normally would borrow books from libraries. My niece found an old book of her father's. As a toddler, he had scribbled in it. She showed it to her grandmother and in a disdainful, 3 year old tone, stated, "we do NOT write in books." Good kid! As I'm trying to learn German, I'm going to put aside this rule with the practice books.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Pfennigbasar (giant rummage sale in Kaiserslautern) starts Friday!

Don't forget! The Pfennigbasar starts tomorrow morning. Find some great deals, whether they're in clothing, household goods, or toys.

It's especially useful for those looking for 220v appliances. Cakes, snacks, and drinks are available for sale.

March 4-6 2016,

11 am-6 pm Friday, 4 March
10 am - 5 pm Saturday and Sunday (5-6 March)
Pfennigbasar at the
Veranstaltungshalle (Banquet Hall)
An der Kalause 9
67659 Kaiserslautern

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

My week: February 28 ed.

Here was another jam-packed week. I'm not sure how long I'm going to have the energy to keep up this schedule but I'm learning tons, hanging out with many people, and feeling connected, so it's worth it so far.

-I invited my tandem partner over for dinner and made Persian food, thanks to the canned Ghourmeh Sabsi I bought when I was in Freiburg. Moo was thrilled to see my friend; he actually ran into the hallway and twined around her legs. She spoils him with many moo treats and has won her way into his heart (not that he's hard to impress :)

-I started meeting with some new tandem partners. Since I spend so much time sitting, I suggested that we take walks while we talk. With J, we walk around the TU's campus and into the woods. It's an added benefit to learn the trails better and he's a pleasant conversation partner. Even better yet? He wants to meet as much as possible because he's working on his English. That's great for me because I want to level-up on my German. I also joined the language meeting group too.

-We had a new teacher in German class this week. Several of us were a bit disappointed. She is very nice and knowledgeable and I think she'll do a good job, but we really enjoyed the energy and the style of the first teacher. Oh well.

-I took a trip to Mannheim to celebrate a friend's birthday. On the way, I ate lunch at Safran, a Persian/Afghani restaurant, visited the art museum, and lost myself in Thalia, the book store.

Can I say how much I love book stores and libraries? Normally I'm too cheap frugal to buy books because when I have time I'm a voracious reader and that could get expensive. However, I've gone back to buying books for my German classes because it's required. It's a wonderful feeling to wander among the Thalia bookshelves and it's made even better by the store's selection of local history books too. I'm so tempted to buy some of the Pfalz hiking books for maps of the nearby trails.

I did have an experience that was utter Quatsch though: I wanted to buy some advanced level vocabulary flashcards but could only find A1-A2 level cards. I asked a store employee for higher level cards and he made a cursory search. Since he couldn't find any, he self-assuredly declared that they must not exist because German students learn all the vocabulary in A1-2. Um, nonsense! People know about 1,000 words in those levels but speakers need thousands more of words to be fluent and each level introduces many more words. There is no way that a person could learn everything in only two levels. Argh - it's frustrating. I wish he'd just admitted that he couldn't find it or didn't know the answer. So, if you know of German-English flashcards for B1 and above, please comment with the name and publisher.