Don't Wish for Less Problems, Wish for More Skills.

- Jim Rohn

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Berlin...


I know it has been awhile…I apologize, but this post is about an event that I particularly did not like. I guess I was trying to push it off as much as possible. But, then I discovered that I wanted to let you all know the information I wish I knew before going to Berlin.

Last weekend, I traveled to Berlin on my own. To be honest with you all, it was one of the worst decisions of my life. I did not like Berlin very much at all.

My first day in Berlin, I walked to the East Side Gallery, which is the recreation of many of the murals left on the wall. It was a conglomerate of self expression and anguish. I enjoyed looking at the contrasting styles that expressed the same message.

I stayed in a nice hostel right next to Alexanderplatz, which is only a short walk to all of the main tourist attractions, so far so good right? I don’t know if it was the communist-esque architecture, the rain, or traveling on my own that really bogged me down…


There was something in the air of the town that put me down in the dumps. There was trash everywhere, it rained the entire time I was there, the hostel staff gave me recommendations for dining that were terrible. I hated all the concrete and lack of trees in the city.

On Saturday, I tried to leave early from Berlin, but was unsuccessful because of the train schedule, just my luck.

Aside from all of the misery that I put myself through, I did have the joy of driving a seg-way, which is more fun than it looks (even though it looks like a lot of fun). I rode the seg-way on a tour of the city, hosted by Fat Tire Bike Rentals. The seg-way added another variable into my tour experience. My tour guide was an English girl, named Mariette. She was very nice and about the only smiling soul that I met during my trip…I’m kidding. Nonetheless, it was a good tour. She escorted us to the TV Tower, a communist memorial, the Berlin Wall, and a few parliament buildings including the Reichstag, along with many other sights you can see in my pictures. There are definitely a lot of tourist sites to be seen. And, seeing them on a seg-way made it even more enjoyable. It was really funny seeing some of the other people in the tour struggle with the machine. We had a practice session before leaving for the tour, and many of the other people struggled greatly with mastering the balance act. One lady from Alaska had this awesome burnout and ran right into our tour guide. Everyone was worried, but we all laughed off the situation once we found out that the two of them were okay.


It is really simple in its design. There are two ways to move it, shifting your weight forward or back, as well as shifting the handlebar to turn. But, just like a controller for a video game system, you balance the two and you can go in any direction. The tourists took more pictures of me on my seg-way than of the Reichstag or Berlin Wall.

Berlin is very unusual. It is billions of Euros in debt, yet they provide unemployment benefits equivalent to working at a middle management job. Everything is very cheap as well. Real estate in the city is basically pennies to the dollar comparative to some of the other major metropolitans in Europe. I am actually amazed that it was such an important territory.

I learned a lot about Nazi Berlin, as well as the effects the Cold War had on the city. There is a lot of history to be learned, but I think that the only way I’ll see the city again is through the pages of a book.

Sorry to those who like the city.

Pictures from my trip

Saturday, March 13, 2010

And So It Starts...


"Every End is a New Beginning" - Proverb

For the past seven weeks, I have ventured to the corners of Europe - by train, bus, and plane - with and without friends. I have walked through countless cathedrals, spoken to locals from six different countries, slipped down icy roads, bronzed on sahara sand, and so much more.

There has been one thing missing throughout these seven weeks...classes. I had managed to sign up for 12 hours of class and not have to go to class until this past week. There were no weeks skipped, or angry professors. I had created a legitimate schedule where I gave myself a seven week break to reach as many places as possible. I think that I did alright for myself. But, unfortunately, that chapter has just ended. I have to slip back into the schedule of classes; Monday through Thursday from 1:00 to 4:00. I am hopeful that I can kickstart my academic self back up and throttle through this chapter of life with ease.

I am taking Law and Corporate Finance, both of which are pretty daunting subjects. I knew looking at my curriculum as an Econ major/Finance minor that I would have to take these classes, but it never really settled in that I would have to learn two pretty complex subjects until now. I am optimistic though.

Law is taught by a Clemson professor, named Megan Mowery. Coming into to the class knowing simply what was going to be taught, I had considered that the class was going to be a total drag. But Prof. Mowery has somehow graced the world with an uncanny ability to keep 30 study abroad college students to show up and enjoy a subject devoted to justice and law! Pleasant surprise... I am really looking forward to going to class and having a professor that is engaging and enjoyable.

Corporate Finance is a team taught class setting. It is taught by two Belgians, which might be a cause for alarm. Many of the other CUBC students said that Finance might be a very tough class because of the language barrier. Luckily, I found myself well-prepared for the professors. Thank you Cranbrook and Kent Gardens for forcing me to take a language. Taking french for 10 years of my life has proven to be a priceless asset. Finance is going to be a valuable skill to have in later years, so I am very focused on doing well in that class. So far so good, but apparently we have a test on Tuesday...

Even though I lose out on the experiences I could have if I didn't have class for another seven weeks, I guess I have to pay for the luxury I had for the past seven weeks. It might be hard for me to get back into the swing of things, but I think I'll be fine. Luckily, I have a great professor for Law, and Finance is a subject I am particularly interested in.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stefan Sagmeister: The power of time off | Video on TED.com

Stefan Sagmeister: The power of time off | Video on TED.com

Here is a video that my brother told me to watch. It really goes well with one of the central ideas that I try to stress with my blog, the necessity to travel - or as Sagmeister put it, "take time off." If any of you have ever read "The Four Hour Work-Week" by Timothy Ferriss, you would remember he called this idea a "mini retirement." It is an interesting concept that I have grown very infatuated with (which explains why my brother and I talked about it today for about twenty minutes). To learn exactly what the "mini retirement" is, click on the link above.

Erik and I talked a little bit about the American view of "retirement" during our phone call. We were both disheartened with the idea of stressing over work for 50 years only to retire and have two things happen - the need to return to work because it is all that one knows after 50 years, or be too old to really appreciate retirement. In either case, the dream of retirement is almost wasted!

I could be wrong, but I know I don't really want one or the other to happen to me. Reading about sabbaticals and watching someone talk about it has opened my mind to the wonderful idea of taking pieces of retirement and spreading them across one's life. I do foresee it being hard to drop what you are doing (be it your job) and flying somewhere foreign like India...It's risky...You can lose your job, you could cause stress on your family and relationships...

Maybe I'm being irrational or dreaming too much.

I would consider that my study abroad trip as my first life sabbatical. I have found myself improving my life. This trip has been nothing less than blissful. I have been able to relax, and take my time and do with it exactly what I want to do. I have been able to pack my bags and go off to places like Munich and Amsterdam for a weekend, I've been able to read or workout,etc., etc. I have finally felt in control of my situation instead of dealing with my situation. I am not fixing wrongs; I am creating rights.

I have read many books while studying abroad (which is why I started the book reviews). And, every book has provided another outlook on the logistics of life. It does depend on the books I read though, which includes "The Four Hour Work Week" by Tim Ferriss and "The Logic of Life" by Tim Hartford. I owe this development to breaking away from my life back at home (not to say it wasn't amazing, I love my life back at home), not to the books.

Even though Sagmeister took one year sabbatical and I'm only taking 4 months, there is still ample time to really mature, find myself, and create ideas that will benefit for years to come. Sagmeister focused on his business and the innovations that he produced while in Bali, while I have really found myself becoming much more knowledgeable in what life is really about. I cannot forecast what another's "mini retirement" will bring to them, but I assure that nothing bad will come from it.



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Munich! My Own Oktoberfest!

Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, Der Gem├╝tlichkeit!

The night of my arrival

Imagine being in the beer capital of the world, on a Saturday night right after a football match. Now imagine sitting in an old Bavarian beer hall enjoying a big mass (one liter glass of beer) with a few groups of football fans belting their favorite team chants. I sat down near the front of Augustiner Bierhalle in Munich, Germany last Saturday night and did just that. It was the perfect introduction to the beer capital of the world.

This weekend, I am venturing off by myself to Bavaria’s capital city, Munich, for some R & R from the R & R lifestyle. I decided to come mainly because everyone back in Brussels was cramming for their finals (that I don’t have). I wanted to go somewhere that I couldn’t necessarily be able to go with a group, and I wanted to go to Germany specifically. The two options were Munich and Berlin. Berlin is a little closer to Brussels, so I am anticipating going there with friends later in my travels. So far, I am glad with my decision. The city was full of energy. The buildings were lit up showing off their old Bavarian architecture. The people were happily walking down the main street (probably to go to another beer hall or something).

Day 1

Waking up on Sunday came with two surprises. My roommates had all left, and my hangover was nonexistent…I found out later that there is something in Bavarian beer that makes consumers less likely to have hangovers…Point Bavaria. Leave it to the beer capital of the world to fid the right ingredients so they can enjoy the day after drinking. But, I still don’t understand how all of my roommates had left the room before 8:00 in the morning. It must have been something else in the beer…

On Sunday morning, I woke up and enjoyed an all-you-can-eat breakfast along with a few Hamburger SV fans visiting for the match that was played later that day against the hated rival, FC Bayern Munich. Streets were littered with a mix of red/white (Munich) and blue/black (Hamburg). This apparently was bigger than the World Series of Baseball back in the States. I felt more loyal toward the Hamburg fans. They were all very draped in their team’s colors and singing they fight song. The Munich fans were all dressed in posh suits and designer jeans. I felt like I was in the middle in a rivalry of classes. Anyways, I managed to jump on the New Munich walking tour at around 10:45. I met a few girls from Chicago along the way. We mildly chatted about our specific study abroad experiences as we walked to the meeting point of the tour. I had expected that they were going to join me on the walking tour. I was surprised to see the split off and go to the Dachau Concentration Camp. I must have smelled bad, or something… The tour started at Marienplatz, the main square in Munich. I met up with my tour guide, a Canadian expat, named Stacey. She started the tour talking about the New and Old Town Hall, which are adjacent to each other. The funny thing about the New Town Hall is that it is actually older than the Old Town Hall. It sounds funny, but the Old Town Hall was destroyed during the Second World War. So, the reconstructed Old Town Hall is only 50 years old. We were fortunate enough to see the Glockenspiel ring at 11:00. It was an interesting testament to part of the history of the city of Munich. Like Prague’s Astronomical Clock, there are sculptures that come to life as the clocks rings. The figures portrayed two stories, the wedding of Duke Ludwig I, and the end of the plague in Bavaria. Crowds surrounded as the hyped up show brought utter disappointment to a few locals and me. We then learned more about two churches, Frauenkirche and St. Peter’s church. Frauenkirche is better known for its “devil footprint” in the floor. The story goes that the church was built so quickly due to help from the devil with the exception that there could not be any more windows installed. When the Devil inspected the church at the end of the construction, he slammed his foot down in a fit of rage, causing an imprint of his foot in the ground. If you don’t believe the myth, take a tour of Munich with New Munich to learn the truth.

Stacey then escorted us through a section of the city known for its history with the Third Reich and WWII…Any guesses to what type of neighborhood it was?...If you couldn’t guess it was the Jewish Quarter. It was fascinating to see the first neighborhood ransacked by the Nazi regime (which was started in Munich if you didn’t know). The devastation was overwhelming to even hear. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live through that era…We talked more about the Third Reich and Hitler, but that was not until the latter half of the walking tour.

After a brief break at Starbucks, the tour focused more on the beer industry in Munich. The city has beer gardens, beer halls, beer restaurants, cafes, regular restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs, and many more venues to sample the golden liquid that made the city famous. Stacey told the group funny stories about how Munichers used beer to put out a fire, accidentally build one part of a church higher than the other, and some other ridiculous stories that no one would actually believe, but apparently happened. Essentially, Munich is known for beer and the unusual spectacles that happened after a couple masses.

The rest of the tour focused on the terrible years in between 1933 and 1945. Stacey shared with us sights where Nazis made significant advances in becoming the leading party of Germany. We passed the beer hall where Adolf Hitler captured three major political figures and held them at gunpoint, threatening them to join his campaign. We also walked down secret alleys that citizens of Munich used to avoid SS officers, as well as a square where Hitler gave many of his first speeches proclaiming Nazi legislation to citizens.

Munich’s history is a puzzle of Bavarian culture, the horrible emergence of the Nazi Party, and the drink known around the world as beer. It is a fragile culture, which can be really enjoyed as a tourist. Even though the city has been stereotyped for an unlucky 12 years, there is much more to the city than that. For example, Bavarian culture was perfected over hundreds of years. I only got a glimpse of what the city has to offer on Sunday, I cannot imagine what one could learn if they lived there for a few months or years.

The people are all very friendly and enjoy sharing beers while singing songs. After my tour, I had lunch at the Hofbrauhaus. I shared a table with a father/son tandem awaiting the Hamburg v. Munich football match. I talked with them about the States for a while, until a homeless Bavarian joined us. The two of them tightened up, and quickly left. I decided to hold my ground, mainly because I had not finished my pretzel and beer. It was a difficult half hour trying to deal with this man. But, experiences like that only make my experience more real. I don’t remember the man’s name, but I will always remember how big a struggle it was to deal with a smelly drunk, especially when there is a language barrier. All in all, Munich has many faces. I enjoyed them all for different reasons. There is a lot of history mixed into the party town. If I had to choose one place to visit again, Munich would be that place.

That night, I attended the New Munich “Beer Challenge.” The guided tour lasted about four hours sampling some of the local brew in the best habitat for drinking, beer halls. We went to the Hofbrauhaus, Augustiner Braumunchen beer hall, and the Luwenbrau beer hall. Along the way, we learned the history of the beer halls, as well as a Bavarian drinking song (The first line of the blog). It was a very friendly group of people. I spent my time talking with an ER doctor from Chicago, a girl from Nebraska, and a video game designing couple who live in Dundee, Scotland.

Day 2

After tackling most of Munich on Sunday, I decided to use Monday to go on an excursion. I initially wanted to go to Eagle’s Nest just over in Austria. Unfortunately, Eagle’s Nest is closed for the winter. So, with few options I felt like I would probably end up staying in Munich and waste the day away. I found out that Neuschwanstein was going to be open, so I hopped on the first train to Fussen.

Neuschwanstein is a Bavarian castle, known by many Americans as the Disney castle. Now, Disney did not make his castle first. Ludwig II of Bavaria built Neuschwanstein before Disney built Disney castle. I digress. On the train ride I met a Philippino guy who is a nurse in San Francisco. He took a five-week vacation to go to Madrid to learn Spanish. He was a nice guy, curious to hear my life story. The two of us spent most of the day touring the grounds of the castle, including hopping over a number of do not enter signs to get the best view of the castle. To my surprise, Neuschwanstein has a really bad history involving the king that built it. Ludwig II was the fourth king of Bavaria, who was given the throne at the rightful age of eighteen. He was raised in the Fussen area by hired hands, and barely knew his parents. Ludwig II had a hard life. He never had a social life, and hid himself in his castle near the Bavarian Alps throughout his rule of Bavaria. He never got married and died at 40 years young. Neuschwanstein was Ludwig’s fantasy escape, where the king would bury himself away from the harsh reality he lived in. The only comparison I could think of is Michael Jackson and his Neverland ranch. Aside from the mysterious past, the castle itself is a spectacle perched above the quintessential Bavarian town. It is one of the most captivating buildings placed directly into a post card setting.

Last Day

With only a few hours to spare before leaving Bavaria and Munich to return to Brussels, I decided to travel north to Olympia Park and the BMW museum. It had started to rain when I was on the U-bahn, so I was unpleasantly surprised to see that my morning was not going to be picturesque. Nonetheless, I managed to climb up to the top of the highest hill and capture a few pictures. The BMW museum is right across the street from the park, so it seemed like a no brainer to go inside and check out some amazing cars. I can’t really put to words what it was like to be in the museum. The only way I can describe how I felt inside the museum is like being at the Detroit auto show, but being in the good car company windows staring a feats of engineering and design for three hours. As you would expect I read every little sign and note there was in the museum. But, for those who still don’t understand how amazing the museum was, look at my pictures.

Pictures from Munich

What I recommend for the traveling student:

Stay at one of the hostels off of Munich Central Station, like Wombats, Euro Youth Hostel, or Jaeger’s Hostel. I would recommend Euro Youth Hostel.

Talk with the receptionist about free tours provided by the hostel. Some of the hostels provide their own tours.

Walk everywhere! The city has some hidden gems nestled into small alleys and side streets. Plus, it is good exercise.

Eat at Augustiner Braumunchen. It is off the beaten path, but serves some amazing Bavarian dishes for a lot cheaper than Hofbrauhaus and the other tourist traps.

You have to get jager schnitzel, curry wurst, goulash, Bavarian roast pork, or just experiment with some of the other Bavarian dishes. They are a mix of meat and a lot of potatoes…very filling.

Go to Hofbrauhaus for a ma├č (mass). There are all a lot of beer halls, but the right experience is at the Hofbrauhaus. The prices are the same, but Hofbrauhaus has a better history. Visit it to learn about it!

Meet some locals. Bavarians are the nicest locals I have met so far, even the homeless people are nicer. You might get lucky to see them in typical Bavarian wear.

Do not try to be funny with your friends and do any gestures or hand signals from the Nazi Party. It is illegal and they take it very seriously. I saw a man get arrested because a waiter saw him flash a Nazi hand gesture. I learned later that the law states you either receive 5 years in jail and a 5,000 euro fine or deportation and banishment from the country for 8 years.

See Neuschwanstein, especially from Mary’s Bridge. You will have to jump over a couple of fences if you go during the winter months, but what is life without a few thrills?

To learn more about beer in munich visit this site: http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/munipubs.htm

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