Sunday, July 29, 2007

DDR Stamps

No, not Dance Dance Revolution. It was miserable outside today. Cold and rainy. I got myself out of the house anyway since I figured it would be a crime to just sit around when I only have 3 weekends left in Germany. So I got a döner kebab for lunch. It was good except that they used normal bread instead of pita. But the bread was toasted so it was good anyway.

After this, I really wanted to just go back since the weather was so bad. But I decided to go to a flea market to hunt for some cool stamps. I went to the one near the museums and tried to juggle my umbrella in one hand while trying to look through stamps with the other. I stayed at one of the stands for a while but the lady didn't seem to mind. I guess they're used to collectors coming and looking through stuff. Anyway, I found a nice package of 100 DDR stamps for 5 Euros. The stamps are in pretty good condition so I thought they were worth it. I really like this one with the ships.

I started walking to the nearest S-Bahn station, which is a 10 minute walk. I think the BVG is building a new U-Bahn line that will have a stop at the Museum Island. I think this is very good investment. Anyhow, I discovered a chain of antique stores. They're like a permanent flea market. They're so awesome. They're all connected and some of the stores had really cool things like old typewriters, sextants, silverware, and of course more stamps. I was really happy.

I know, these pictures are kinda useless but I won't get to upload anymore pictures for a while. Not unless I smuggle my camera into the office and upload there...

Saturday, July 28, 2007


We went to Lübeck on Saturday. We being my roommate Hua-Chen, two of her friends (Anna and Wei-Ming), Carolyn, and me. It's a nice place. The center of the city is an island and is very small. Only about 1.5 km from tip to tip. It took us about 4 hours to get there on the Regional Express. Our first train was late but we were able to make the connection anyway.

I had torn pages out of my guidebook on Lübeck and Anna had a Lonely Planet Germany guidebook with her. But even between the two of us, we were still a little disoriented when we got out of the train station. That's when we saw a group of elementary school kids on a field trip. They were all wearing yellow hats. So we decided to go in the same direction as they were. This turned out to be a pretty good decision since they lead us right to one of the gates of the city. I'm not sure if the city center is actually an island or just surrounded by a moat. All the streets leading to the island had gates that once actually defended the place.

We walked around a bit and saw a church or two before we stopped for lunch by the Rathaus (Town Hall). We all had sausages and such. It was pretty nice out at the time. We also saw this pool thing with hand powered paddle boats. The kids look like they're having so much fun. We were all very jealous.

After lunch we walked around some more. We went to St. Peter's, St. Mary's, and St. Jacob's church. We also went to a cathedral and a medieval hospital that looked really depressing. The picture with the people on the slide of Hua-Chen and Wei-Ming on Noah's Ark. Very cute play structure.

Since the place was so small, we also got to walk around some of the residential streets too. It was pretty quiet once we got off the main streets. We met a cat sitting by a door. It was definitely not a stray and came towards us. We pet it and then Anna gave it a small piece of ham. It was very happy and followed us for a little while.

Lübeck is the marzipan capital of the world. We went to the most famous store and got some marzipan. They had them in every shape imaginable. Carolyn and I also got marzipan ice cream. It was all very good except that at this point it started to rain really hard and got cold. It's too bad I didn't take any pictures of the store. But I got souvenirs!

Here's a model of the island. For those of you who are into city planning or have taken 11.001, you can pretend that's Le Corbusier's hand. Except of course, this place was nothing like anything Le Corbusier would've built.

It was a fun trip. Pretty relaxing since we didn't do too much. It was a good day trip.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Civil Engineering at Work

Speaking of work, I've actually been doing stuff. Turns out that they really DO want me to make real calculations. The company wants to a couple of train stations and I'm calculating the new loads on some concrete columns. Now that I've taught myself enough German to comprehend engineering reference books (I'm very proud of this), I've made a lot of progress in these calculations. Earlier this week, I was so confused. But now I'm actually pretty sure about the numbers that I've been getting. I'm sure that my calculations will not be the final calculations. They're just estimates. But the architects need to know the information before they can continue with their design work. So yeah, I'm pretty excited about this. I hope I'll actually get to see the new Essen Hauptbahnhof someday when all the new buildings are built. That would be awesome. I can go there and say I helped build this thing.

Upcoming Events

Nevermind, I lied. I think I have wireless until the end of this month! Yay! So some updates. Tomorrow, I'm going to Lubeck. Horray for weekend ticket. We managed to get 5 people to go so it'll only cost 6 Euros roundtrip for each of us. Next weekend I will be visiting my penpal in Bonn. I'm hoping to take Friday off. The weekend after I will be going to Munich with Jingwen.

Next week will be a quiet week at work. All the guys are going on a camping trip. So I knew that Oli was going somewhere and I had asked him about it yesterday. I was pointing to their holiday calendar and asking if he was going on vacation. He thought I was pointing out the window and was like, "there's a restaurant and uh". Yeah, anyway, he Google Earth the place where he's going for me. It's an island in the very northeastern tip of Germany. There's a 10 mile stretch of nice beach. I informed him that it wasn't going to be very warm and he agreed and said it would be cold. Beach + Cold = I'm confused.

So today one of the other guys, Andreas, brought some ice cream sandwiches and gave one to everyone. Christina, my other officemate, informed me that he's giving us ice cream because all the men are going on a camping trip. I'm so jealous. I want to go camping. Sounds like so much fun. I really wish I knew German and can chat with these people. They're so cool. They're definitely more than just coworkers. They make fun of each other, share stories, and probably hang out after work too since they have each other's numbers in their cell phones. *Sigh.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Potsdam again

This will probably be the last time I get to upload pictures for a while. Probably until I get back to the States. Won't have wireless after tonight I think. Sad. So yeah, enjoy the pictures. They're from my second trip to Potsdam.

Hydrogen Bus

I saw a bus powered by hydrogen today in Berlin! Yes, H2. It's new and it was circling around the Zoologischer Garten station. And I had a camera handy! I'll bet you it says something along the lines of "with water as byproduct" on it. Germans are really onto this CO2 emissions thing. A lot more than they are about recycling.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

UK Visa

Ahhhhh!!! Help!! I think I've really messed up this time. Arg! So I got everything I needed to apply for this visa: passport, letters, address, etc. and started filling out the online application. I selected Germany as my current location. Everything was going well. And then on the very last screen, they ask if I wanted to pay online or in person. Since paying online with my credit card means I'll have to pay 3% extra, I chose to pay in person. And then the confirmation screen kindly informed me that since I did not pay online, I must go to the UK Embassy in Dusseldorf. There are three places where you can go and get UK visas in Germany: Berlin, Munich, and Dusseldorf. For those of you unfamiliar with German geography, Dusseldorf is near Cologne, on the other side of the country, 4 hours away, and 100 Euros roundtrip. I literally felt sick.

After i calmed down a bit, I checked the available appointment times. It turns out that for Berlin, the soonest available appointment is August 15th. So I guess it would've been bad if I had paid online because that's not enough time. I'm leaving the country on August 23rd. The website wasn't very clear but I think for in person appointments, I get the visa right there. But the website didn't seem to be very sure of itself. So I emailed MIT's Study Aboard office. I've already spammed every person involved in CME at MIT so what's a few more panic emails... Jen Cook directed me to an online form and told me to ask if I can reapply but through the New York office this time. I really hope they'll be okay with this. I really don't want to go to Dusseldorf. And with New York, all I have to do is to mail everything in. If I apply in Germany, they want to collect biometric data from me. Scary... Why is life so complicated!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Greece - the rest of the trip

Never finished writing about my Greece trip. Here's the rest of it.

Day 3. We all got up at the last minute possible to eat breakfast. We were served bread, cake, tea, coffee, a hard boiled egg (with orange yoke, it was really good), cookies, along with butter and jam. After eating and checking our emails, Xiumin and I decided to check out the pool. Jingwen can't really swim so she stayed in our room to work on her pictures and facebook.

The water was freezing. The weather is still nice but cooler than the day before. And it wasn't quite the middle of the day yet. It was very difficult getting into the water. Xiumin was brave and started swimming after about 10 minutes of slowly stepping into deeper water. It took me like 20 minutes. It was okay after we started swimming. At some point, these 2 ladies came too. We think they're French. They hardly cared about the cold water and just walked in and started swimming. We were really amazed. Most of the time, it was just the two of us there. We swam, then sunbathed on the beach chairs, swam again, and tanned some more. It was great.

We finally decided to go back at some point and the three of us headed to Mykonos Town. We walked around there for a while, trying to find new streets to explore, and getting lost. We ate lunch, took some more pictures, got some souvenirs, and found our way back to the buses. Towards late afternoon, we finally got on a bus to go to Paradise Beach, the most famous beach on Mykonos.

Paradise Beach is a paradise alright, if you want to go clubbing. There is a long strip of clubs along the beach. The beach itself was the same as the one by our hotel. We found a quiet spot and I started picking up pretty stones and building castles again. Xiumin skipped some rocks. She got pretty good.

Towards sunset, these two guys came down to the beach from the clubs and talked to us. One of them is Greek and the other Australian. Appearantly, they had met in Mykonos during one of the Australian's earlier trips. Greece is a big vacation spot for Australians. The Greek guy has a cousin in Boston and he started naming off famous Boston things

Guy: Yankees (we corrected him of course), Commonwealth, uh,
Me: MIT?
Guy: MIT!! Yes! *blinks twice* You're from MIT?

At this point he gets really, really excited and started bowing to us. It was hilarious. I think Xiumin was a little freaked out. haha. He was really impressed. Some of his other friends came and he told them that we're from MIT. I'm not sure they've heard of MIT though. That was a fun encounter.

Before he left he told us that the last bus was at 9:15pm and we had better leave soon to catch it (it was 9:00pm). Jingwen had said that she saw the sign and it said 9:45pm. So we were really glad that he told us otherwise. We rushed to the bus station but the bus was late.

We took this bus back to Mykonos Town and walked around some more. The last bus to our hotel wasn't until midnight. The town was still very lively as it was filled with tourists. We saw one of those tall sailing ships and took pictures of it.

When we got back to the beach by our hotel, we sat on a rock by the water. It was really nice. It was dark by then and we just watched the ocean and chatted for probably another hour.

Day 4. This was my last morning on Mykonos. I got up to eat breakfast and finished packing away my things. The driver arrived early and I had to rush out to meet him. There were already 2 other people in the van. He then went on to pick up more people. He wasn't as friendly as any of our other drivers and seemed to be in a big rush. I've found that all our drivers in Greece tend to arrive a bit earlier than when they're supposed to come. After we got to the ferry terminal, he just dropped us off and sped off.

I was confused. I asked some of the other passengers if they were going on the same ferry as I was and they had said yes. But they seemed kind of confused too. The terminal was a shack and there were hardly any signs at all. We waited there forever and finally the ship came. It took a while for all the passengers to unload. So we were late departing.

I went up the stairs with everyone else. They checked tickets and pointed people to where they're supposed to sit. This was a High Speed boat and they had assigned seats. When it was my turn, I expected to be pointed towards the Economy passengers compartment. Instead, the lady said, "Business Class, all the way to the end and left." I was really surprised. I went and was shown my seat. It was a really nice compartment. There were actual tables and my seat was at a table. But the other two people were smokers and I didn't like that. So I moved to a seat that was facing the window. There were stretch of seats that had beautiful views of the sea. I took a seat and enjoyed the view. I slept through most of the trip though. The chair and the ride was really comfortable.

When I got to Athens, it was blazing hot. I was so glad that I got a hat in Mykonos. I made my way to the hotel, checked in, and took a short nap. The hotel was okay. It was in a very good location and I was on the 8th floor with a view of the busy intersection below. I even had a balcony. I walked around the city a bit that afternoon, mostly around the flea market. I got some food and wandered around some more. At some point before sunset, I realized I was really tired and went back to the hotel. I took a shower and watched some TV. They even had English channels. There was something about Japanese Emperors and Endo. I fell asleep pretty quickly.

I got up the next morning for breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was horrible! Everything tasted like cardboard. The orange juice was so bitter. The sausages were greasy. I ate a little bit and just left. I checked out of the hotel and wanted to find the tourist bus that's supposed to go to all the major sites. But after walking around for about half an hour and failing to find it, I gave up. There was an advertisement at the hotel for The Mall. Yeah, that's the name of the mall - The Mall. It seemed cool and things were cheaper in Greece than Germany so I went. I took the train there and passed by the Olympic stadium on the way.

The Mall was huge. There were 4 floors and all the stores were so big. The walkway between the stores were really wide too. There were really interesting benches everywhere. I walked around some stores but didn't find anything I liked. I walked all the electronic stores trying to find a plug adapter but failed too. I got some food at the supermarket in the basement for lunch and dinner.

After walking through the whole thing and watching a beach vollyball game outside sponsored by Nestle Ice Tea (we got free drinks), I went back into Athens. I walked around some more and saw some government buildings that was on my map. They weren't very interesting. Finally I found a nice bookstore that had comfy chairs and read comic books there. They had Calvin and Hobbes! In English!

I went back to the hotel and was picked up by my driver. He was really nice and we talked a little bit. I got to the Athens airport with plenty of time to spare. I managed to buy some stamps for postcards and mailed some postcards off. I checked in and ate my dinner. Then came the franic rush to find 1 Euro coins. Greece has these really cool 1 Euro coins. I wanted to save 3. One for Yalu, Mike, and myself. I asked a lady at a store for 1 dollar coins and she gave me a weird look and told me that no one has any 1 dollar coins. I realized my mistake after walking out of the store and got the correct coins at an exchange booth. But the lady there only gave me one 1 Euro coin and 2 two Euro coins. Perhaps I shouldn't have said 1 so many times? Anyway, I was about to give up when I realized I could use some gum. After buying some gum and jingling 3 Greek 1 Euro coins in my pocket, I headed to my terminal.

I flew EasyJet back to Berlin. When I got back, it was around 11pm. I was hoping to be able to catch the last bus that leaves at Wannsee for my student dorm at 12:30am. But checking into customs took a while so I was really disappointed. I got on to a train and was expecting to stay there the long ride across the city.

After two stops, the 4 other people that were on my car left and the train stayed at the station for a while. A guy got in and spoke to me in German. I asked if he spoke English and he told me that the train that we were on was going back to the airport. I have to get on the opposite train and then take a bus because they were fixing the tracks. I thanked him and rushed across the platform. I had saw signs at the airport station but didn't know what they meant. After I got on, I asked the only other person on the train what was going on. Her English wasn't very good but we got by pointing to the train map.

So I ended up taking that train for one stop, changing to a bus, and then getting on another train. I wasn't even sure what train I was getting on but it was nearly 12:30am at this point. The S-Bahn isn't 24 hours and I was really worried that I would be stuck at a train station somewhere. So I just got on the train that everyone else from the bus got on. Luckily, it was going in the right direction. I had to change to another train though. I probably caught the last S-Bahn that went to Wannsee that night. From Wannsee, I took a cab back. It's about a mile and a half to the student dorm and I didn't want to walk 30 minutes in the dark in the middle of a highway.

When I finally got into my apartment, I was greeted by a guy and a girl. I was surprised that they were still up since it was nearly 2am. They were moving out the next day. They told me that there is another girl who is going to stay with me. I was really tired. I took a shower and went to sleep. This concludes my trip to Greece.

Long post, yes. Worth it, no?

Monday, July 23, 2007


So the people who have been providing wireless at my dorm is leaving this Friday. And they're canceling the service. So I won't have wireless at my dorm for the next month. Hopefully I can find some free wireless somewhere. But I will have internet at work. So it should still be okay.


Aftter the DB event on Friday, I went with Kim and Alex to eat ice cream and see Harry Potter. Alex knew this one place at Potsdamer Platz that will make you ice cream that looks like real food. We ordered a hamburger and lasagna and shared it between the three of us. The hamburger patty looked so real. It was amazing ice cream too. I didn't have my camera with me but they took pictures. Will post those as soon as I get them. Oh man, I can't wait for another hot day...

After this we went to see Harry Potter at the IMAX theater in 3D. It was in German but the dubbing is pretty good and I remember the story from the book anyway. It was so cool. For most of the movie, the 3D glasses just made the movie a little more 3D. The screen was so big that I can hardly see the whole thing even though we were sitting in the back. The chairs were comfortable and we had lots of legroom. For the last part of the movie, the fighting scene, it was really 3D. The characters and buildings popped out of the screen. It was so cool. I still kinda want to go see the English version though since I didn't really understand everything.

Kim stayed with me for the weekend. DB only provided hotel up until Thursday night. We got back to the dorm really late since there was something wrong with the S-Bahn. On Saturday, Jingwen, Kim, and I went to Potsdam. We got a day ticket for all the museums and palaces and went to as many as we could. It was fun. We were all really tired by the end of it.

It was rainy and gloomy on Sunday. That was sad. Jingwen packed and left for China. Kim and I went to explore Berlin. We went to most of the major sites and took lots of pictures. Luckily the sky cleared up in early afternoon. It was fun. We went by a big flea market on our way to the Museum Island. I have to take a Sunday off from traveling and explore all these flea markets. Maybe I can get some DDR stamps.

DB International Event

DB's International Club held a workshop last Thursday and Friday for all the international employees. On Thursday night, we all met at the Bahn Tower and saw a few presentations. Jingwen presented a skit and a presentation on business ethnics in China. Afterwards, we had a really nice dinner. It was a fun event since we got to meet lots of different people. There were about 50 participants. 6 out of the 7 MIT interns were able to make it. Sigrid and Sam also came.

On Friday, we went to the Nordbahnhof office and started on the real workshop. We saw another short presentation and then were broken up into groups for a case study. The title of the case study was Railion Goes to China. We basically had to assess whether or not Railion should do business in China. My group was one of the strategy groups. We had to come up with the best way for the company to enter the market and predict a timeline. We worked on this all day and gave a PowerPoint presentation on it at the end. They gave out prizes and my group got the first prize! We each got a DB toaster. Not only is it red and has the DB logo on it, it stamps the DB logo onto your toast. It's pretty cool but I have no idea how I'm going to bring it back. I would need to get a voltage converter to use it in the US.

It was a fun workshop. They fed us lots of food. The room was always filled with cookies, coffee, tea, fruit, and candy. Our lunch was paid for too. So it was nice.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

New Roommates

Two guys moved into my apartment yesterday. They are undergrads and are here for a summer program. They're only staying until the 18th though. Very short time. One is Polish and the other is Lebanese. They are going to take German class but their German is pretty good already. They can both speak English but they speak to each other in German. We chatted for a while after dinner today and got to know each other a little more. The Polish guy is studying international relations (economics, not politics). The Lebanese guy is majoring in marketing. They're interesting people. They can both speak 4 languages. Jealous.

So yeah, this upcoming month will be interesting. Jingwen left for China this morning. Hua-Chen will be leaving next weekend and moving to another dorm in Charlottenburg. The two guys are leaving on the 18th. I'm not sure if more people will move in before I leave.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

This week at work

So work is actually going well for once. Yay! I haven't had anything to do for a week. Earlier this week I went over to Nordbahnhof and met someone from the Environmental Department. He's an interesting guy but he said I was 2, 3 days too early. They are in the middle of compiling some data and I can help out once they finish. So I told him that I can come back next Monday and he was very happy about that. So I went back to the main office and did nothing for a while.

My boss is out again but he called some other guy and asked him to show me stuff. This guy works on the 4th floor of the same office and gave me some plans to look at. Then these 2 women came in and introduced themselves. They're both architects and they showed me some projects they're working on. I offered to help out and they gave me three little projects to work on. That was today. I was really happy. Two projects involve calculations. They were really happy to hear that I'm studying civil engineering. They don't seem like they wanted to do the calculations. For the other project, I get to redesign a whole train station. Well, not the whole thing but part of an area around it. They want to make it more welcoming. The city's been wanting to change the area for a while and I can basically do whatever I want, including demolishing buildings and taking out roads. Isn't that awesome? I mean, I get to propose it and see what they think but yeah, still cool.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Prague Part III - Coming back

The pictures don't match but here goes the last part of the trip.

We were actually taking the same train with the same guy wheeling the cart with drinks. That train was 30 minutes late, again. It was packed too. There were so many high school kids. Some of them were part of a lacross team. We didn't make reservations and got kicked out of our first cabin. The train wasn't well air conditioned and was amazingly hot.

We found a cabin with only one other guy in it and sat down, hoping no one else as a reservation. After a while, two people (a guy and a girl) came in and sat down with us. They spoke American English and it turned out they were grad students in Colorado. They're both from California and had went to undergrad in UC Santa Cruz. The girl was working in Germany for the summer as well. The guy was there visiting her and touring around Europe. They were just in Prague too. We had another interesting conversation with them, mostly about living in Germany.

After we passed the last city in the Czech Republic, we had to face border control again. The German border control people came first. The two people we just met had US and Canadian passports. The other guy on the train was German and all he had to do was hand them his ID. Didn't even need a passport. They hardly looked at any of our passports but gave Jingwen a lot of trouble again. The German guy asked for a German resident permit. I got one when I went to the Alien Registration office. She didn't get one for some reason when she was there. Her visa said that she needs one. But he finally backed off and stamped her passport. And then comes the Czech border control lady. She said that the "in transit' stamp that Jingwen got when entering the Czech Republic only allows her to go from Czech to a non-Shengen country. And she wasn't supposed to go back into Germany even though she had a visa for Germany. She didn't speak English and spoke to us in German. At this point, both the American lady and the German guy were trying to help translate using their not-so-great German and English, respectively. After several minutes of us all sitting there not knowing what to do, she finally stamped Jingwen's passport too. I'm so glad I have an American passport.

As if that wasn't enough, we had trouble with the ticket guy too. We already had our ticket checked once and it was okay. But this guy insisted that we needed 2 Bahn Cards. We thought that one Bahn Card can get discounts for up to 5 people traveling together. I think that is still true except when we got our ticket from the machine, Jingwen had put in that we had 2 Bahn Cards. So the guy charged us 22 Euros extra. Jingwen paid for this since I already paid for the Bahn Card.

When the train stopped at Dresden, the two grad students and the German guy got off. Believe it or, three more Americans came into our cabin. They had seat reservations but luckily there were still enough seats in the train. This time, we met a econ professor at Florida University and his wife and son on vacation. Well, the professor had a conference in Copenhagen and his family joined him to travel around Europe. They're now also staying in Berlin. We chatted mostly with the professor who teaches advance microeconomics to grad students. Kind of like 14.04, I think. They had been to Europe a lot. He said that since Florida is so hot in the summer, they always try to go somewhere cool in the summer, like Europe. Which was funny since it was so hot on our train. But he says Norway never fails them. You can always go high enough that it's not hot anymore. They saw the Midnight Sun near the Artic Sea on one of these trips. I was jealous. Hamburg is as far north as I've ever gone. I haven't even been to the other side of the equator!

Anyway, we said goodbye when we got to Berlin. I've really enjoyed these conversations with random people. That's what I've missed the most since coming here to Germany, I think. Not being able to talk with other people. I hardly know my officemates. Can't chat with them. And they're nice people too. I'm sure they would like to chat with me too. I don't know about random people at train stations though. People claim that Americans are easier to talk to than Germans.

Prague Part II - Saturday night and Sunday morning

Prague castles is up on a hill. After failing to find the tram that goes up, we ended up walking up the stairs. By this time it was nearly 6pm. Everything was closed although there were still a lot of tourists around. We enjoyed the view of the city and walked around the castle a bit. It doesn't look like a castle. Just a bunch of modern looking building surrounding a big church - Church of St. Vitus. After wandering around for another couple of hours we headed down, found a Chinese place, and had dinner.

By the time we reached the Charles Bridge again, the sun was setting. We took some pictures and continued walking around the river. The sunset was nice and we sat on a bench facing the river. This was the start of another interesting part of our trip - chatting with fellow Americans. Prague was filled with tourists. We saw many Americans, Koreans, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, Australian etc. There were two people sitting next to us on the bench and they were from Oaklahoma. This was the last part of their missionary trip to the Czech Republic. They stayed in a little town and helped build houses and such. They said that everything there was half the price in Prague. We talked about many things and they said that there were fireworks last night along the bridge. They were sitting there to see if there were more fireworks tonight. One of the guys is actually an environmental scientist and works with contaminated groundwater, essentially brownfield redevelopment. That's what I'm supposed to be doing this summer as well so that was cool. At around 10:15, it was getting really dark and we decided to leave for our hostel. I really enjoyed their company but it was getting late.

Sunday. We had to check out by 9am so we got up at around 8am. The hostel didn't provide breakfast so we had to find our own. I brought bread and cheese with me from Berlin and had that. We got some snacks and drinks from the stores around the hostel since everything was a lot cheaper than the tourist attractions. It was a nice neighborhood. We were able to leave some of our things at the hostel so we didn't have to carry around big backpacks. Although my bag was a lot lighter since I brought 1.5 liters of water with me. I've figured out that I need 1 liter of water a day while traveling.

We took the subway back to the river and walked over to the Old Town Hall. Another big tourist attraction. We saw another St. Nicholas church. I've been to so many St. Nicholas churches lately, it's quite amazing. We went in and sat down for part of the service. Very friendly church. The priest even said a few things in English. We then walked over to the famous Astronomical Clock. The clock was huge. Bigger than I thought. We then walked into another church that wasn't visitor friendly at all. They closed off all the pews and had Silence written all over the place. We rushed out at 11am to try to see the Walk of the Apostols on the clock. But we missed it and decided to keep walking around Old Town until noon.

We walked around and saw the Spanish Synagogue. They charged for admission so we didn't go in. We didn't have time to go see all the Jewish sites anyway. We had lunch at a pastry shop and I tried some local sweets. I'm still not sure what I ate but it was good. We went back to the clock tower at noon. The place was filled with people. The "show" was pretty short and not much happened. Jingwen was so disappointed. She said that there is a clock tower in Switzerland that had a show that went on for like 10 minutes. But that one wasn't religious and had dancing animals and such.

After this we wanted to take the subway to Prague Castle but got stuck in a shop with really cute toys. They had many wooden dolls that were really cute. Jingwen got this mouse doll after changing for Czech currency from me. I had just changed 10 Euros that morning. We walked and came across a street with many stalls selling the same kinds of toys. We found her mouse nearly half the price. So she ran back and returned the more expensive one.

We finally took the subway and went across the bridge. We walked up the hill again and was able to go into the church. That was free. Everything else cost money. We didn't have the time or money. I had no interest in them anyhow. Jingwen climbed up the church tower. I was too tired and saw in a courtyard and ate my snacks. I thought I had climbed up enough stuff for the weekend. We finally found the tram and took that down the hill. We got back to our hostel at 3:30pm and had just enough time for us to get a little food from deli before rushing to catch our 4:34pm train back to Berlin.

Prague Part I - Saturday Morning

We went to Prague this weekend. It was great. We stayed one night and was able to see a lot of the city. It was really hot the whole weekend. Too hot but at least it wasn't freezing and raining.

Saturday morning. We got up at 5am to catch the train to Prague. We get to Berlin Haufbahnhof with lots of time to spare. Jingwen got breakfast and we walked to our platform. There were lots of families and young people with backpacks. The train we took goes to Dresden, Prague, and finally Budapest. It's a lot faster (stops less) than the train we took to go to Dresden but unfortunately it was late. By 30 minutes. It was a nice train ride though since the train wasn't crowded at all. Jingwen and I got a whole cabin (6 seats) to ourselves.

The ride was nice. After we got to Dresden, the scenary got better. We rode along a river and there were hills and mountains on the other side. We saw lots of castles and forts. So it was good except for border control. They hardly looked at my passport and stamped it. They gave Jingwen a hard time though. She has a Chinese passport and a visa for Shengen countries. But the Czech Republic won't ratify the Shengen agreement until the end of this year. After we showed them our train ticket back to Berlin, they stamped her passport with a "in transit" note which gives her 5 days in the Czech Republic.

When we finally got to the Czech Republic, we changed some money at the train station. We should've changed less since it was a really bad exchange rate and they charged commission. 1 Euro is worth 28 Czech Crowns. But we weren't able to find this rate anywhere. The best we got during our whole trip was 27.60 and no commission. We took the local trains (which was pretty nice, modern, and comfortable) to our hostel. We found it pretty easily. Our accommodations were okay. Not much to complain about.

We walked around the neighborhood and gawked at the cheap prices. We ate lunch at a local restaurant. They had menus in English and the waiter spoke English pretty well. Fish was the least expensive thing on the menu, surprisingly. We got a fried bass and asparagus and shared the two dishes. We had Czech beers too, not that I knew how to enjoy it. The meal came out to be around 200 Crowns (about 8 Euros). Pretty good, I think.

We took the train to the tourist part of town. The trains there are really deep underground. The escalator went really, really fast. I had to jump on! Jingwen said tha the trains in Vienna are like that too. We're not sure why but probably so that people up above doesn't feel or hear the trains.

We got out at the Muzeum stop. We didn't have a good map so we didn't know where anything was. We wondered around and passed by the New Town Square. After much wandering, we finally found the river and saw the famous Charles Bridge in the distance. It was amazingly hot out.

We walked to the Charles Bridge and went up the watch tower. Worthy investment since we got a really nice view of the city and finally found out where Prague Castle was. The city is very pretty. There are not many modern looking buildings about. All red roofs and highly decorated fronts. We were also able to get some nice, inexpensive postcards. I also got a really nice map of the city center with all the houses and churches drawn in.

We then walked across the Charles Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge. There were lots of vendors selling really nice paintings and pictures of the city. Everything around here was pretty expensive. About the same prices as tourist places around Berlin. There were lots of Russian dolls on sale and Jingwen got a set. They were all very pretty but we weren't allowed to take any pictures.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


We went to Potsdam last Sunday. As you can see in these pictures, it was actually sunny! It hasn't been sunny for about 3 weeks here. Unfortunately this beautiful weather didn't last and it's back to gloomy and rainy here again this week. Hopefully the weather will clear up when we go to Prague this weekend. Yup, Prague! We're going on Saturday and staying for one night.

Anyway, Potsdam is the capital of the county of Brandenburg. Berlin is it's own county and is completely enclosed by Brandenburg. Potsdam is right next door to where we live and it's about a 20 minute train ride. There were so many people on the train! Almost like rush hour except with more families. And on the bus too! There is a bus that goes from Potsdam Haufbahnhof to Schloss San Soucci.

The first thing we saw was a windmill. We went to the base of it and walked around there a little bit. You can get tickets to climb up but we didn't. I got something where you can make a cardboard model of the windmill. They actually have these cardboard things for other windmills too but they're not exactly cheap. These windmills of San Soucci were used as pumps to bring water up to make a big pond at an artifical ruins site.

Schloss (palace) San Soucci has a huge garden. It was the summer home of one of the King Fredricks. Anyway, the gardens are amazying. There are so many fountains. One of the kings had an engine room built just to power the fountains. We didn't make it that far though. We walked around the gardens for a while since the line to get tickets for the palace was way too long. I had a map but it wasn't very big so we just ended up wandering around.

Then Jingwen got hungry and we went to find some food. We walked around and came to Brandenburg Strasse and saw the Brandenburg Gate. Not to be confused with the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Behind it is a pedestrian street with lots of cafes, restaurants, and shops. I love these streets. A lot of the clothing stores were actually open even though it's Sunday. Jingwen got some pastries and we kept walking down the street because we saw a tall church at the end of the road.

After visiting that church (Church of St. Peter and Paul), we took the bus back to San Soucci. We lined up for tickets but were informed that there's only one last tour left. We wanted to get a day ticket so we can see other palaces in the area but they all close at 5pm.

So we then decided to walk to see a site where some king build artificial ruins and a big pond. It was supposed to be a 10 minute walk but we got lost and overshot it by a lot. So it ended up taking like 20-30 minutes. There was a lookout tower and we paid 2 Euros to climb it. It's not very high up but you can still see a lot because the landscape is very flat. I thought it was cool since you can see all the way to Berlin and various other sites. Jingwen wasn't very impressed. I think she was annoyed that we got lost and wasted time.

Anway, we went back to the gardens and walked around some more. We came across a really beautiful garden with lots of flowers all arranged very nicely. I took a picture of this plant which I thought was very cool.

We did a lot of walking that day and we were both really tired on the way back. On the train back, there were 2 British couples sitting behind me who were vacationing in Germany. They had just walked around Potsdam too and were trying to get back to Berlin Haufbahnhof. One of the wives kept asking her husband whether or not they had to change trains at some point. Of course, her husband had no idea. So I turned around and told them that they were on the right train. I don't know if they would've asked me if I didn't volunteer the information. I don't think anyone else on the train would've told them if they didn't ask though. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who spoke English. I find German people very, uh, indifferent to other people's problems sometimes.

Anyhow, I slept really well that night. I wasn't sore or anything though. I think I've gotten used to all this walking.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Birthday Celebration

So after renewing my passport, I got to work at around 10:30am, maybe almost 11am. Partly also because the S-Bahn wasn't working right either. Anyhow, it was someone's birthday and they had a huge celebration. Everyone in the department was invited. That's about 20 people. We had lots of bread with 10 different kinds of spread: salmon, herring, salami, cheese, eggs, etc. And there was also cucumbers, pickles, and tomatoes as finger food. For drinks there was coffee, sparkling water, cherry juice, tropical fruit punch, and 2 types of red wine. It was great. And yes, I did have some of the wine, the sweet one anyway. I wish I could've joined in on the conversations but couldn't understand a thing. Everyone took their time too. This lunch went on for an hour and a half. And I finished my little internet research project at around 3pm.

I went back to the main office and Oli helped me get my DB account working. But it turns out that the account can only be used for Lotus Notes. Nothing else works, not even Microsoft Word. I was really sad. But my other account, which Oli had set up for me before gives me access to everything. So all is good, I guess. All in all, it was a really chill day at work.


I went to renew my passport today and it was another adventure. The place is next to an U-Bahn station near where I live. So I took the bus to the nearest U-Bahn station and the bus driver announced something about the U-Bahn station. Of course, I didn't understand but when we got there, there was a huge crowd in front of the station. After I got off, I realized that the trains must not be working. There is currently a strike going on. So I got on another bus with the rest of the crowd and took that instead.

When I got there, there was a line in front of the Embassy. I was really sad until I saw that everyone in line had maroon colored passports. I read the posting for American Citizen Service and realized that this line was for Visas and I can just go to the front. So I did and they basically waved me through. All the guards spoke English and happily directed me up to the American Citizen Service room, which was much nicer than the Visa Services, with carpet and nice tables. And there was no line. I got help right away. They even charged my credit card in US dollars. Which is really good since they're still using the old exchange rate of $1.25 to 1 Euro (it's now $1.35). So had I paid with Euros it would've been a lot more expensive. It was expensive nevertheless since I wasn't 16 when I got my last passport. Missed it by 2 months. They changed it now to 14. Sigh. Oh wells, I appreciated the nice service anyway. My new passport will arrive in 2 weeks and I just have to go and pick it up. They gave me back the old one so I can travel outside of Germany. I was worried about this before. Yup. After this though, I will have to stand in line for the UK visa...

4th of July in Berlin

I realize it's not 4th of July anymore but yeah. Anyhow, the interns at Siemens invited all the MIT interns in Berlin to come to their place for a BBQ. I was feeling sick so I didn't go. It was a good choice, I think, since they live far away from my work and dorm. Instead I found Worchester sauce at the local supermarket and made sloppy joe. My other roommate and her friends had never even heard of sloppy joe. So it was kinda exciting for them. Unfortunately, the ketchup that I got was not very good. It didn't taste right and had too much water. So I had to boil the sauce for half an hour to get all the water out. It turned out okay but a little too tangy. My roommate and her friends made pasta and invited me to join them. So my 4th of July dinner consisted of sloppy joe, pasta, and salad. They even got Thousand Island dressing, which was labeled American Dressing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


So work has been uh, interesting this week. So I finished up writing my research paper at work on Monday and gave it to my supervisor. So he sends me off to another office that is about 7 minutes away by train. They printed out directions for me and everything but of course I still went down the wrong street and got there kind of late. Anyhow, I get there and I meet Mr. Meyer who is in charge of the group there. Not the most talkative guy. The first thing he asked was do I speak German, even though I'm pretty sure Prof. Fischer had told him I didn't. He then said, "So uh, this is the former DDR and everyone learned Russian as their foreign language. There's only 2 other people in this office who speaks English besides me." I was pretty sad. Now I wish I'm working in Frankfurt. I was really happy to find out that I would be working in Berlin since there's so many other MIT people here. It would've been so hard for me to be the only one in Frankfurt but my coworkers would speak English....

Anyway, he hands me off to another guy, Michael. Michael speaks English because his wife is from Ghana where they speak English. His English is okay. He showed me some of the projects that they have been working on and tells me about what he does. We ended up talking about ourselves for about half an hour at the end.

Today I went back to the same office and met another person, Bastian. Bastian's English is really good. He's young and did an internship in South Carolina years ago. He was really confused as to why I was at their office. He actually works in the Central office, where I worked before. He comes to this office sometimes since he's got 2 positions. He tells me that everyone finds Prof Fischer really cryptic. He never tells them what he wants and they can never guess. Bastian thinks that maybe it's because Prof Fischer is a real professor at a university and professors are generally very cryptic people. Anyway, I tell Bastian that I wanted to do something useful and he said he totally understands. He felt the same way at his internship. So he actually gave me some stuff to do. It's just research but it's okay. I'm working at the same office as he is so I can ask him all the questions I want.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Hamburg - Part III: Coming back

These pictures are unrelated to what I'm writing about. They are of Hamburg. Anyhow, we got on the train to go back to Berlin. The train was really crowded and we had to walk through the whole train to find seats near each other. I mean, the whole train. At some point, a guy wanted to tag along with us since we had a weekend ticket. Weekend tickets are 33 Euros and allows you to travel on all local trains for one day and can be used for up to 5 people. But we think we thought we were crazy to keep walking around so he gave up on us.

The seats that we found were pretty nice. Carolyn and I got "tables" next to us, which was nice since we were trying to eat our burger. Carolyn and I talked about the most random stuff ever and were having lots of fun. The lady in front of us, however, was not. She was sitting near a guy who had his music on really loud (I'm going to call him the "music guy".) She asked him to turn it down and not only did he refused, he mumbled bad stuff at her for like 10 minutes. She asked him again and they got into a heated argument. The guy sitting behind us started yelling at the music guy too. I'm not sure what's with guys and arguments but those two started fighting. The music guy butted his head against the top of the other guy's nose. It didn't sound too good. They separate and the other rummaged through his stuff and took out a perfume bottle. I was afraid he would take out a knife or something sharp. But he hit the music guy and the music guy started bleeding. I don't think either of them were injured badly but yeah. All of them either got off the next station or left our car, which was good.

After this we changed to another train on which we rode for only 10 minutes. Then as we were changing to our final train, Carolyn noticed a guy wearing an MIT 2009 sweatshirt. We were debating whether or not to say hi to him. He was waiting for the same train as well and we chatted near him until Jingwen and Carolyn finally made me ask him whether or not he's from MIT. Turns out he goes to Princeton but his brother goes to MIT. He's also Class of '09. So we ended up chatting with him the whole way back to Berlin, which was another 2 hour long train ride. We had a really interesting conversation.

He grew up in Germany but was born in the US. He's studying psychology at Princeton and is working for the Parliament this summer. Which is really cool since Carolyn was born in Germany but grew up in the US. His English is really good, by the way. Anyhow, we swapped stories about college life and other things. At one point, Jingwen mentioned that she really likes the British accent and he said he might pick one up when he goes to England for an exchange program next year. Turns out, he's going to Oxford. Too bad he's not going to Cambridge but man, what a coincidence! At some point, he asked about Carolyn's Brass Rat. So she told him all about the details of the ring. This took a while and a guy who was sitting in front of us poked around and was really interested as well. He is serving his time in the army but wants to get a degree at a university. He's thinking about going to the US and asked us about financial aid and admissions. He had done an exchange program and lived in the US for a while in high school. Seems like a pretty smart guy. His English is definitely good enough. He got off the train before we did to go to his army base. The four of us kept talking about random stuff and decided to go museum hopping together on Thursday. That was one amazing train ride.

Hamburg - Part II: We're Here!

So after 4 hours on the train, we finally get to Hamburg. We ate at the train station and headed out to the city. Even though it was 1pm, the city was still pretty quite. We more or less followed the path shown by my guide book. We walked through the shopping district where everything's closed since it was Sunday. We looked at a couple of churches and then got to the Rathaus (City Hall). We all thought this place was really, really nice. There was a wine fest going on too. We all took pictures and continued walking.

Hamburg is a harbor city. It has many, many canals and waterways. It's a major river port so it's not near the ocean. We walked to the habor where they're building the new Hafen City. Still in construction but the plans for it looks pretty cool. They're building multifamily housing and retail right along the harbor. We walked around there for a while and went to look for a really tall church that we saw on the way there. We thought it was St. Micheal's church since that's really famous. But it turned out to be St. Nicholas' church. It was pretty impressive anyway. There was an elevator going up on the inside of it but we didn't go.

After taking pictures of it, we decided to go check out the botanic garden. We took the U-Bahn and got off right at the garden, which was really nice. I will have pictures of the garden in the next post. We walked around the garden for nearly 2 hours. Everything was really pretty. There were a fair amount of people there. We even saw people taking wedding pictures. They had a rose garden which had lot of pretty flowers. Some of the roses weren't in very good condition though. After taking this nice walk and eating ice cream (I've eaten more ice cream in the past month than I have in the past 2 years), we went back to the Hamburg Haufbahnhof. At the train station, we got Burger King with Carolyn's coupons and ate on the train. The next post is really interesting, I promise!

Hamburg - Part II: We're Here!

So after 4 hours on the train, we finally get to Hamburg. We ate at the train station and headed out to the city. Even though it was 1pm, the city was still pretty quite. We more or less followed the path shown by my guide book. We walked through the shopping district where everything's closed since it was Sunday. We looked at a couple of churches and then got to the Rathaus (City Hall). We all thought this place was really, really nice. There was a wine fest going on too. We all took pictures and continued walking.

Hamburg is a harbor city. It has many, many canals and waterways. It's a major river port so it's not near the ocean. We walked to the habor where they're building the new Hafen City. Still in construction but the plans for it looks pretty cool. They're building multifamily housing and retail right along the harbor. We walked around there for a while and went to look for a really tall church that we saw on the way there. We thought it was St. Micheal's church since that's really famous. But it turned out to be St. Nicholas' church. It was pretty impressive anyway. There was an elevator going up on the inside of it but we didn't go.

After taking pictures of it, we decided to go check out the botanic garden. We took the U-Bahn and got off right at the garden, which was really nice. I will have pictures of the garden in the next post. We walked around the garden for nearly 2 hours. Everything was really pretty. There were a fair amount of people there. We even saw people taking wedding pictures. They had a rose garden which had lot of pretty flowers. Some of the roses weren't in very good condition though. After taking this nice walk and eating ice cream (I've eaten more ice cream in the past month than I have in the past 2 years), we went back to the Hamburg Haufbahnhof. At the train station, we got Burger King with Carolyn's coupons and ate on the train. The next post is really interesting, I promise!

Hamburg - Part I: Getting there

We had planned to take the 7am train to Hamburg. This way we can get there at 11am and then come back at 6pm. But Jingwen took a while getting ready in the morning and we missed the bus. The next bus comes in half an hour. I had told her which bus and subway we had to take in order to catch the train to Hamburg the night before. But she looked at the bus schedule in the morning and thought that there was another bus that comes 10 minutes after the one I said to take. But she was looking at the wrong hour and we ended up walking to the train station. It took us 35 minutes to get to Wannsee. And then from Wannsee, we took a S-Bahn to the Haufbahnhof and got there about 10, 20 minutes after the train left. Carolyn had been waiting for us. So then we looked up schedules for other places that we can possibly go. In the end, we decided to wait 2 hours and still go to Hamburg.

We wandered around the train station and got some pastries. While we were eating, some guys came and sat next to us. They told us to go and check out the sand sculptures. There had been a competition yesterday. So we did. It was amazing, as you can see from the pictures. The big one is really, really big.

After this, we finally got on the train. We had to transfer at Schwerin after about 2 and a half hours. We chatted the whole way there. It was an enjoyable ride. When we got to Schwerin, we had half an hour before our next train came. So we walked around the city. There was a big lake with a fountain. It was really nice and quiet since it was early afternoon on Sunday. Not many people out.

Berlin Zoo

Last Saturday we went to the Berlin Zoo. We were supposed to meet up at 10am but we were late since Jingwen took a long time getting ready in the morning. We got there at like 11:30. Anyway, the student ticket was 8 Euros and comes with a picture of an animal. There's an aquarium too but we decided not to go since we thought the zoo alone would be big enough. We were also planning to go shopping afterwards.

This cat here is one of the first creatures that we saw on this trip. Isn't it soooo cute? We all stared at it for a long time. Poor guy, I think it just wants to sleep. We kept walking around and saw a lot of rodents. They had a noternal animals exhibit too. All the animals were so cute and fuzzy.

After this we wandered around and found a bridge overlooking lots of ducks. It was pretty so we stayed here for a while. Then we decided that we were hungry and went out of the zoo to get some lunch. We went to Nordsee and all got a sandwich. On the way there and back we passed by this store with lots of stuffed animals. One of them was Pookie! You know, Garfield's bear? It was sooo cute. But it was also 10 Euros so none of us got it.

The zoo is huge. We saw so many different animals. There were also lots and lots of bird houses. At some point, we got sick and tired of birds. We were so tired when we finally walked the whole zoo. I'm not kidding, we walked the whole thing. It took us more than 5 hours to do it.

I saved the best picture for last. Well, not really the best picture but that white ball of fur you see behind me is Knut, the first captive born and still alive polar bear. There were so many people crowded around to see him. The other polar bears were pretty active and more interesting, I think.

After the zoo, we did a little bit of shopping. I was really tired and wasn't in the mood for shopping. Jingwen and Carolyn both got something though. And after this, we went to the Haufbahnhof, the main train station, to get monthly passes. Carolyn had to find a place to take a picture. That took a while. She was able to convince the lady that she's a student and got the student rate. It was so much easier for me this time. I just showed the guy my old ticket and the ID that I got last time and he issued me a new one.