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September 13, 2003

Europe Part 1: Germany

Talk about planes, trains, and automobiles. This is how I got to the ISAES (International Society for Antarctic Earth Science) meeting in Potsdam, Germany, starting at 5:20 AM: I drove Steve’s car, which I’d been borrowing, to Steve’s house. I took a taxi to the bus station in Boulder. I took a bus to the airport. I flew to Chicago, then to Frankfurt, then to Berlin. I took a bus from the airport to the train station. I took a train to Potsdam. I walked straight to the meeting. Arrived 11 AM local, 3 AM Boulder time. I would have arrived earlier, had I not: 1) just missed a train at the train station due to general confusion (mine), and 2) missed my stop in Potsdam due to general confusion (mine). I heard the station announced, thought it sounded like mine, hesitated, then got up to go downstairs, found a door, realized I didn’t know how to open it, pressed the green button. I could see by the station name on the platform that the station was indeed the one I wanted, and I tried pushing the green button again. I hurriedly walked to another door and pushed the green button. The train started to pull away. I watched the station name grow farther away. Shoot. So, I got off at the next stop, and waited for a train coming back the other way.

At the meeting, I couldn’t stay awake, so I walked back to the train station. I found a cab and took it to my hotel. They weren’t ready for me to check in. I went to wait outside, at their restaurant on the river. Ah, how nice, to have a drink outside and relax and let the work mentality from the previous week ebb away into the river and let the feel of Germany take over. I figured I’d order a beer. I’m in Germany, after all, I figured. As though I wouldn’t have any other opportunity to drink one during the week. I don’t know German. I pointed to something. The something had “Berliner” in it, which I figured meant it was from Berlin, which was pretty close to being local. The bartender gave two sub-choices. I chose one. She mixed two things in a glass. The liquid was pink. Pink? And I thought I ordered beer. But I’m up for adventure, so that’s okay. I paid and found my table by the river. Took my journal out, kicked up my feet, took a sip of the drink which tasted vaguely of beer—beer mixed with raspberry seltzer?—and thought about how good life was, how nice it was to be sipping a drink (beer or not) by a river in Germany with nothing to do but kick up my feet and relax and watch the river and dammit why isn’t my room ready? I’m just about falling asleep over here, I don’t think I can stand this river anymore, this drink was obviously a bad idea, and if I don’t hit a bed soon I might prove a disgrace to the hotel and its guests and the meeting and …

I hit a bed soon. Take a nap, get up, go to the reception for the pre-meeting I had skipped out on that morning, then go to the general meeting-wide reception. It was a good plan, a responsible plan even. And, it worked, except for the part where I slept through the pre-meeting reception. You can’t win them all.

The rest of the week consisted of general meeting shenanigans, with a German twist. Talks during the day, poster sessions in the evenings. ‘The poster sessions start at 5?’ I exclaimed. ‘Who’s going to go at 5? That’s dinner time!’ ‘We’re in Europe,’ my new friend reminded me. Oh, yes, dinner is later. Plus, there was free beer at the poster sessions, every night. This was a very good move—the poster sessions were very well attended and, I must say, productive.

The meeting was mostly hard-rock (what rocks are where, and why) and not so much geodetic (what’s moving where, and why). Still, it was interesting to see what’s going on in general in the international Antarctic Earth science world. As you may know or remember, McMurdo Station, where I work in Antarctica, is a U.S. base, so I meet mostly scientist from American programs down there. This meeting was a good introduction to the international nature of Antarctic research—a German program, Australian, Argentine, Italian, Spanish, etc. Although jet lag and sleep dep. kept me from appreciating most the talks, I did gain a new interest in understanding Antarctic tectonics.

But enough about the science. On Tuesday, I blew the talks off (there was little of research interest to me that day) to go to Berlin. I saw the Berliner Dome, took a nap on a park bench, walked through the medieval sector of town. Ate a brat bought from a street vendor. Being a responsible person, I took the train back to Potsdam in plenty of time to make it to the poster session, since mine would be up that evening. I arrived to the hotel about 3, laid down to take a short nap, and awoke at 5:15. 5:15? But the poster sessions start at 5! Hurry, hurry, run downstairs, call a taxi, arrive to the poster session at 5:45. My new friends, who already know me too well, are shaking their heads. Asleep? they ask. Yes, I say. Luckily, Phil had already told me he would cover for me if I arrived late, and he was happily chatting away with someone by the poster.

Several of the Ozzies I’d been hanging out with had given talks that day, and with them done with their talks and with me done with my poster, we were ready for a big night out. Dinner and then drinks, which paved the way for some absolutely hilarious conversation that I can’t tell you about. What I can tell you about is my prophet.

I met a prophet on Tuesday night. Can prophets be stumbling drunk German men who walk around town with big picnic-table umbrellas? I think they can. This one came into the pub with another man, and leaned over to me and began talking immediately. We were seated by the door. By this point, I was the only woman in our group. His English was good, but his ability to communicate was not. (Sometimes, we must have patience with our prophets.) ‘Your voice,’ he said. ‘I heard it from outside. It is a radio voice, the voice on the radio in California you know? Eh, it’s sunny and 30 degrees, and welcome to California. I heard it and I knew.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to be so loud.’ I didn’t remember talking recently in our conversation, but I must have been, and I can certainly get a little hyper. ‘Like in California,’ he went on. ‘On the radio, you know? You understand me?’ Are you kidding me? ‘Yes,’ I said, warmly, ‘I think so.’

He came back again later, maybe twice even, and clarified. Again leaning over me, again with all the guys at the table waiting and wondering whether to break in, whether to fish me out or to let him go on. ‘Your soul is your voice,’ he said. ‘You understand me? I heard it, and I knew. You have to use it. You are a speaker. You understand me?’ I’m glad we left the California analogy. Yes, you may be crazy and you may not know what you’re saying, but I understand you now.

We left the bar the same time he did. His companion had left while he was in the bathroom. The prophet, on his way out, picked up a closed umbrella of the type used to shelter tables outside, and carried it down the street while singing “My Way.” I’m not quite sure what his way is, but it’s certainly different from that of most people I know.

Wednesday, the meeting coordinators had planned a boat trip along the river. The meeting ended early for the day, and we all loaded onto a big boat, where we lounged in the sun and drank free beer.

Thursday, we were treated to a conference dinner in a lovely pub. More food and wine and beer and general merriment. Then, we went to a club. It seemed like a good idea until the next morning. Okay, even then it seemed like a good idea. Friday, four of us went up to Berlin for a quiet night. We bought a five-person metro pass rather than four individual passes, because it was cheaper, and decided the fifth would be our imaginary dog, Funfi. I named Funfi because I think funf is a hilarious word and had asked Florian (German) how he could say it with a straight face, ever. Florian taught me to count in German. Funf is five. I could not keep a straight face while saying it. Or was our fifth our imaginary child? I can’t remember. Our dog had a name; our child didn’t. Mark was charged with the responsibility of taking care of Funfi while he stayed on after the meeting to work with one of his committee members. Mark? Funfi?

Our quiet night in Berlin consisted of a nice, authentic German Mexican restaurant with margaritas and a team promoting Desperados, our new favorite drink anyway, giving away little Desperado lizard keychains, and afterwards a pub where we could sit facing the street and drink beer and listen to the crowd down the way cheer every time a prostitute got into a car. We returned to the hotel at 2 AM. Florian’s alarm went off at 4 AM. So soon? Pack up the things, say goodbyes—goodbye, Steve, Mark, Florian—and head down to the street. Bus to airport (sleep in bus), wait (sleep in airport), fly to Amsterdam (sleep in plane; man getting off plane kindly wakes me to indicate that we’re at the gate and that the majority of the passengers have already deplaned), wait (sleep… you get the idea), fly to Madrid. Freshen up. Find restroom, wash face, brush teeth, comb hair. Set out into the world to find my host dad.

Posted by beth at September 13, 2003 11:03 PM