About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

13 January 2011

German Inefficiency

Every now and then, you encounter German inefficiency, which sort of pulls them back to normalcy. But the strange thing about inefficiencies that I have come across - they know about it, they are very apologetic about it; and they don't seem to do anything about correcting it.

Two recent events give rise to this post, and both happened within hours of each other. The first, happened in Mainz, where I was meant to change trains (to the airport). Ariving at the platform, there was an electronic and verbal announcement (in German, but fairly easy to translate), that the train was cancelled. For me, that is a minor inconvenience - Mainz is very well connected to Frankfurt, and the airport, so an alternate is easily found. Not so fortunate for others, who were going to places beyond the airport - and there was no ready help at hand to assist in determining the best way forward. One passenger I met had particular trouble - this train was a connecting train to yet another train. This cancellation had a massive impact on his travel plans. The inefficiency comes in, not that the train was cancelled, but how it was handled afterwards. Furthermore, the cancelled train was an Intercity Express - which run from one end of Germany to another - surely, such information should have filtered through to the booking systems?

The second instance, relates to "Tax Free" services at Frankfurt Airport. In most European countries, you can claim back a certain percentage of the VAT, if your non-perishable purchases are made through "Tax Free" affiliated stores. The store provides you with a stamped form (with the amount) and then you need to first get a customs stamp, before you can claim back the money (either cash at the office in the airport, or by credit card or bank deposit through post). The process itself is well documented and easy. however, the customs office, once you are past passport control is in Departure B only, after security. The customs office in Departure C, which is where many of the large long haul planes leave, is closed (under further notice). So, to get the custom stamp, one has to go all the way to Departure B and clear security. Those of you who have made this trip, will know that this quite a long walk - about 15 - 20 minutes, depending on how many people you share this journey with! So taking account of clearing security, the round trip was almost an hour; and luckily I was able to leave my bags in the locker in the lounge ... otherwise, I don't think the effort would have been worth the refund!

10 January 2011

Bi-lingual schools

I discovered on Saturday, a fairly recent innovation in Germany, bi-lingual schools. The intent, I am told, is to encourage mor fluency in English. Thus, a certain percentage of subjects (in the case of my friend's children, all the sciences) are taught in English, often with native English speakers. Other subjects, are taught in German.

The thinking is obvious, the learners get fluency in two languages as they are forced to use two, with a degree of regularity, but is not forced to learn everything in the foreign language, as would be the case with English medium schools. Given the number of official languages in South Africa, maybe this is also a viable way of encouraging bilingualism? Personally, while I was taught Afrikaans at school, there was no motivation for gaining any level of fluency, since it was only one subject, and a minor one at that. Being forced to learn Afrikaans, for another subject, would have certainly provided greater practice and motivation to learn.

09 January 2011

German Expressionism Exhibition at Mathildenhöhe

The Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt sits above a hill, close to the city centre, and is the highest point in Darmstadt. It is a purpose built exhibition hall from late 1800s built by Darmstadt's Grand Duke, as part of a wider artist colony. It also features a Russian chapel built for the Tsar, and a wedding tower. Although, the artist colony is now gone, the beautiful houses remain, and many have been maintained by their current owners, either private citizens or various organizations.

I was not too aware of Expressionism, so I went in with an open mind. The exhibition had a wide range of exhibits, from all the various forms, painting, sculptures, movie clips, music clips, architecture models and drawings and stage costumes. The exhibits are largely chronological, tracing from the founding of the movement, through world war 1 to the end in the beginning of Nazi Germany. The exhibition itself ends with Mein Kampf, where the audio guide explains that Nazism's rigid control of everything was what brought the movement to the halt.

There was an array of interesting art works, where the whole motivation was "total art", which sounded very much like other similar labels, total football or total politics. Some of the ideas have persisted, such as glass architecture and weird and wonderful stage costumes. But there was also some very weird motivations for the artists, for example a number wanted world war 1 to happen, so that they could experience war first hand, and because they believed only a war would be able to reshape the worked to their point of view. After the horrors of war, which they often depicted in their works, they were left broken and it similarly impacted on their subsequent works.

It was an enlightening experience, and sheds some interesting perspective on at least a part of German life between the wars. That in itself makes it worthwhile.

It's Spring ...

Before continuing to Bonn, I went to visit a friend/collaborator/colleague in Darmstadt. We have been trying to meet every time I lass through Frankfurt, and this is the first time we actually made it happen! While looking at his garden, I commented on how green the grass was, and he said, "for the last two days, it has been spring. I did not expect such good weather for another few months after the snow".

The weather has been quite good, daily temperature of approximately 10 degrees, and even some rays of sunshine. But the heavy winter snow has taken it's toll. Many roads have potholes, has a result of the snow, while there is flooding in quite a few towns. In fact, the Rhine river in Bonn has broken its banks in a number of places, submerging paths, trees and in quite a funny way, completely isolated a Chinese restaurant (on a boat) because the path to the boarding point is completely submerged. But the remnants of the winter are still visible - uncleared snow still lies in it's dirty, brown mush in some corners, while many of the lakes are still iced. And despite the comfortable air temperature, the wind means that many layers of clothing is still warranted. And Frankfurt airport is still prepared for more snow, with cots for stranded passengers still stacked up in the hallways.


Now that there are two daily fights out of Johannesburg on the A380, a lot more South Africans can fly on it. Has it brought back the romantiscm of flying? No. But that is probably because cattle class on Lufthansa's A380 is like cattle class on it's other planes, just a few more ameneties. But it does have a few nice touches. It is really quiet for example, although my noise canceling headphones were still useful in drowning out people's conversations and the aircon. The flight map uses Google Earth bringing a more lifelike perspective on the flight details. And you can now sit in the front row and still not fly business class :)

But the romantiscm is not all gone. I sat next two young guys, who were taking their second flights ever. The first was earlier in the day,when they flew from Maputo. They are 4th year computer science students, who are taking part in an exchange program with an University in Finland. It wasqute an interesting conversation, on their interests and their wish to pursue Masters and higher, with the constraints of funding and the lack of opportunities in Maputo. But they have already turned down part time job offers In order to pursue the exchange program, and I wish them all the best.