Welcome to my new blog! Following many years of graduate study in musicology (see my bio if you don't know what musicology is), I am finally embarking on my fieldwork portion of my degree, spending one year in Germany. For all the latest updates on Music, Life, and Travel, read on, friends!

Sunday, September 23

Week Two

Monday we visited the offices of the German Academic Exchange Service. Our presentation turned into a “How to keep getting money from the German Government to do our research here” speech. I learned more about the research institution organization in Germany, and it was nice to see the office that has so frequently given me and denied me funds for my project over the years!

Afterwards we took a bus to a brown coal mining operation. The Rhine Valley has a few sites with lots of brown coal, and there are three above ground mines currently active near Bonn. I always am amazed and freaked out when I visit industrial sites. This mine is quite the sight to see; basically this company is removing many layers of earth, taking what they want, and then replacing the remaining layers as they were taken up. We saw several massive excavators, including the largest land vehicle in the world, the Krupp Bagger 288. This monster had been operating in a different mine nearby, and it cost over 10 million euros to move it to its current home/hole. Seeing monster machines created a monster hunger among several of us, so we sought out some tasty burgers in Bonn. I was impressed; normally the only “American” burger you can get in Germany is from McDonald’s or Burger King, and all of them are small, with too much bread and not enough meaty and topping goodness. This place delivered, even if avocado wasn’t a topping option. I then had to walk my largest suitcase to my new place for safe keeping while I’m in Berlin.

Fuzzy picture of coal operations
That is one BIG machine, the Bagger 288!
Tuesday we went to Deutsche Welle, which is the only news company/TV channel in Germany that gets money directly from the federal government. DW is going through constant restructuring, so our interactions with different employees seemed a bit bittersweet. For our last minute packing and errand needs, I had Tuesday afternoon to organize my things and stop in the city center. That evening we took a bus to the Russian Consulate in Bonn. This was the first time I’ve set foot on Russian soil, and it was much cheaper than paying the cost of securing a visa to visit this former communist country. The Consul General was extremely generous and hospitable. We had a barbeque in his (large) backyard, complete with Russian yard games, group singing, vodka, and a discothek. The Americans all sang “Amazing Grace” as a group, and I was expected to lead/sing for the entire group. I guess this is what happens when you are the resident trained musician/singer. Too bad I don’t know lyrics to songs…
Deutsche Welle, where the magic happens!

Champagne, caviar, and vodka at the Russian Consulate

Original section of Berlin Wall with East German watchtower. Freedom never looked so good!
On Wednesday we took the entire day to travel by charter bus to Berlin. It was a low-key day. Thursday we spent the morning taking a bus tour of the city. I recognized most of the areas we drove through, except for the one place we stopped. I have never spent much time in the northern part of the city, and there is a nice visitor’s center and exhibit dealing with the Berlin Wall in this part of town. Portions of the wall are still present here, as well as a preserved East Berlin watchtower and no man’s land. Most of my friends stayed in the city center, but I spent some time in Weissensee, where our hotel is located. After looking around more, I realized that I have been to this neighborhood before. In 2006, B and I stayed at a hostel in Weissensee; I have already been to the grocery store and restaurant we visited almost six years ago now. The area looks a lot nicer now than it did back then. I am sure that being here in the early fall instead of the early winter makes for a brighter and greener experience this time around. 

Friday we had free again to take care of bureaucratic matters. I don’t have to search for an apartment or complete any visa applications while here, so I am one of the few who was not otherwise engaged in setting up things for their year in Germany. The group met in the afternoon for an excursion to Oranienburg, a small town near Berlin, to visit the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I don’t know if I should consider myself to be quite fortunate to have now visited three concentration camps. Each camp is different, and I have yet to visit an extermination camp, like Auschwitz. The experience was spooky and eye-opening all at once. The former camp was literally on the edge of the town, with civilians living right along the prison walls. Our tour guide was very honest and tried to give us a good idea of what it was like to live in the camp, as well as to highlight some of the less commonly known facts about the camp. That evening I ate with friends at the restaurant B and I went to for his birthday in 2006.

"Work makes one free" - at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Soviet Memorial at Sachsenhausen

I was very lazy on Saturday, but I still managed to get out and walk around, picking up an HDMI cable for my computer, and going to get Döner with Emmeline. We explored Alexanderplatz and the Museum Island a bit. We caught the end of an outdoor church service and a protest parade! Instead of “Occupy” banners, the protesters were carrying “Rockupy” signs! They were accompanied by a DJ in a van.
Alexanderplatz TV-tower

Me standing in/on Berlin!

Emmeline is trapped in the Humboldt Box!

Pointing at something...

Emmeline with her training chopsticks

Berlin is celebrating its 775th anniversary!
The third week has already begun and ended; I hope to keep up with posts a bit better once I get to Bonn!

Bis dann!

Tuesday, September 18

So läuft’s weiter

Monsters, Inc.

Thursday through Sunday last week were filled with lots of fun activities and new experiences. We don’t have any scheduled activities on the weekends during the introductory seminar, but I easily filled the weekend with errands and events that were going on in Bonn.

Picking up from where I left off in my last post, Thursday, the 6th, was a long day, beginning with an excursion to Leverkusen, a small town north of Cologne. We visited the world headquarters of Bayer (as in Aspirin). Our tour included information about the three divisions of Bayer, such as the area of nutritional research. While we were there, the 7,070,000,000th person was born. (See below.)

Too bad we are losing arable land...
I tried to capture the exact birth, but it was not meant to be!

We then went around the factory space by bus. The best part of the tour was the nkt cables company that produces extremely long and technologically advanced cables designed to connect continents across oceans, and as a means to transport electricity produced by deep-water wind turbines to power grids.

That night we attended a wine tasting in the Ahr valley. The Ahr river valley is known for prize-winning red wine, and the valley is especially protected from cold and rainy weather all year long. The south-facing mountains receive a lot of sun, and the mountains contain a lot of slate, which warms the grapes even after the sun has set. We had a private tasting with a small vintner. We began the evening with climbing up a hill and enjoying a bit of a sparkling rosé wine. We stayed on the hill until the sun set. I tried eight more wines, including a red wine made from only the best-placed vines in the area. Dinner consisted of a phenomenal “Abendbrot,” that included a pumpkin mango soup, homemade cheeses, breads, and meats, and lots of salads. So far the wine tasting has been one of my favorite activities!

Our amazing German hosts

Friday we visited the Federal Ministry of Defense. Germany is currently downsizing its military and in the last two years, it abolished the one-year mandatory service requirement for men. Many of our group’s questions revolved around Germany’s military actions as they are connected to EU, UN, and NATO missions. As a military actor, Germany never acts alone.

On a lighter and brighter note, Friday we also visited Solarworld, a very successful German solar panel company. They specialize in small and medium installations. If I had a house, I would get solar panels from them! It would cost me between $5,000 and $10,000 to do so! Their US headquarters is near San Diego, and US manufacturing is based in Oregon.

As if our first week wasn’t busy enough, I spent a lot of my weekend out and about. The 7th was the first day of a month-long Beethoven celebration in Bonn. Some fellows and I watched a live broadcast of the kick-off concert on the main square. The Birmingham Orchestra performed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Saturday I brunched with friends, then we visited Beethoven’s Birthplace, which is now a museum with collections of artifacts, instruments, music, and a digital archive. We realized that visiting Beethoven during Beethovenfest might not have been the best idea (lots of people!). After coffee and internet at Goldbraun Café, the US Bukas who stayed in Bonn for the weekend had dinner together at a great Italian restaurant in town
Emmeline, Lizzie, and Ellen

Me, Beethoven, Beethoven, Beethoven, etc.

Sunday Emmeline and I attended services at the American Church again, and then we enjoyed a nice lunch at one of Bonn’s many museums. We then used our free entry tickets to view the Pixar exhibit at the Federal Art Museum. The organization of the exhibition was very well done, and it was a bit like walking through my childhood, looking at the artistic renderings of Woody, Buzz, the Incredibles, and the like. Some of the exhibits were more interactive, and I liked being transported into the worlds created by Pixar. The rest of the day was filled with packing and hanging out at our hotel.

Monday, September 10

Week One of my Einführungsseminar (Introductory Seminar)

The days and weeks are going to fly by in September, considering the busy schedule the Bukas have during our introductory seminar. There are many highlights from the last seven days, so I have a few days of posts ahead of me in order to catch you all up on happenings in Germany.


Last week we started with a conference meeting in Bonn, consisting of a keynote address on climate change, several nice meals at a hotel, and most importantly, presentations by all the Bukas on their projects…in German! We were all very nervous about presenting in German, especially for those who had only begun learning German in May or June of this year. I think everyone was pleased with their presentations. Many fellows had their German hosts in attendance; my host was unfortunately unable to make the trip. Everyone was exhausted at the end of day.


Thankfully we all had the morning free on Tuesday. Despite this, one of my fellow Bukas and I had to wake up early to take care of some errands, including taking care of something at my future apartment, going to the bank, and getting some train tickets for an upcoming trip at the end of the month!

In the afternoon we traveled to the Ruhr region (north of Bonn, including the cities of Dortmund, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, etc.) and visited the Zeche Zollern, an old coal mine from the first part of the 20th century that has been turned into a museum. As some of you know, I spent most of summer 2010 in the Ruhr region, attending concerts that were part of the European Capital of Culture. I learned quickly that many elements of this region’s strong coal and steel history have been reimagined as public places, museums, parks, and concert halls. I felt very at home!

Zeche Zollern, Dortmund, Germany
Each time I return to Germany, I learn something new about the country’s history. A new installation at the museum presented the history of forced laborers during the Third Reich. The stories of foreign women who were forced to give up their new babies or to work in brothels for foreign male workers were particularly startling.

"German Eastern Settlements, 11th to 19th Century"
Our evening concluded at an event hosted by the Amerikahaus in Düsseldorf. Klaus Scherer, who served as a German news correspondent in Washington, D.C., discussed his new book, “Wahnsinn Amerika: Innenansichten einer Weltmacht,” and offered his own perspective on the upcoming US election. The lecture was very interesting, although I quickly learned how rusty my German political vocabulary is! It was also fascinating to hear what elements of the election campaign Germans found to be significant: religion came up, as well as homosexuality and the various wars and military actions in the Middle East and Africa.


Did you know that Bonn has a United Nations campus? Well, it does! We got a quick introduction to the UN activities in Bonn (climate and environment ministries), and we were able to take in Bonn from above, on the top floor of the building formally used by the German parliament, when Bonn was the capital of West Germany. Continuing with the theme of Germany, 1945-1989, we visited the Haus der Geschichte, one of my favorite museums ever, that presents the history of the Federal Republic of Germany post-WWII, contra the German Democratic Republic. For all who are planning a trip to Bonn (!!!), we will go to this museum!

Bonn, from above, at the UN Campus
We also got a tour of Palais Schaumburg, the formal site of the German Chancellor’s office, and nearby, the former house of the German Chancellor. The network of government buildings in Bonn increased during the 1970s, so only a few chancellors actually used the beautiful villa as their control center. Still, the grounds and Palais are beautiful. The Chancellor’s house, however, was a bit too modern for me. Too many windows, too much Öffentlichkeit, not enough privacy!

Palais Schaumburg, Bonn
German Chancellor's Office, the equivalent of the Oval Office, during the 60s and 70s
German Chancellor's House during the second half of the 20th century
I rounded out the busy day by attending a Bible study associated with the American church in Bonn.

Stay tuned for an account of the rest of last week, not to mention this week! I leave you with a new concept, namely, the Gebetomat – a booth that is a prayer ATM. Sorry to those non-German speakers out there; this link is only in German, but you can see some photos!

Coffee with Emmeline!