Portrait of a year in Bonn

Crazy to believe. Our one-year anniversary of arriving in Bonn was on Friday. I’m trying to run through a mental list of all of the things that we’ve done, seen, eaten, traveled to, and people we’ve met since we first set foot in Bonn on March 25, 2010. (Reviewing my Twitter posts helps too.)

Departed Oakland. Arrived, bags in hand. First stayed: Hotel Ibis. First dinner: Mediterraneo. Bonn puns. First apartment (danke, Thomas and Couchsurfing!) in the Bonn Altstadt. Cherry blossoms on Heerstrasse. First outdoor beer of the spring. I start jamming with the Rheinbläser. Eislabor. A weekend in Hamburg. Bonn Capitals baseball games. Rheinaue Flohmarkt. Made American, German (and heck, Danish!) friends. Funnybone Club im Kellar.

Started a German “intensivekurs” at IFS. Global Voices in Santiago. World Cup in Bonn (‘Schland!). Spargelzeit. Our first wedding anniversary! Spent a day biking to Koblenz. Started hosting Spectrum!

Biked into the Netherlands just to watch a World Cup game. Fettes Brot show in Cologne. House-sat in Niederdollendorf. Hiking in the Ahrtal. A weekend in Mainz. Road trip to Luxembourg. Said goodbye to some Bonn friends who left for the US, but made new ones.

New (and totally sweet!) Bad Godesberg apartment. Baking bread. Spiel (we met Klaus!) Berlin. Snow. Maastricht. Liège. Brussels. December in France (and more snow). New Year’s in the UK. Flooded Rhine. Bonn Tweetup. Two weeks back in the 510! Karneval! (Alaaf!) Budapest.

What’s next for the rest of 2011?

Bike trip into Belgium with Nate to check out Val-Dieu. Re:publica in Berlin. Alex visits? My book drops! Readings in NYC. Paris, Geneva, Lyon. Rebecca’s book drops! Nena visits! Amsterdam. Croatia via Kosovo to Greece! Brussels, London. Copenhagen? Xmas back in the 510.

New theme! New photos!

Bonn at Dawn

Since earlier this year I’ve wanted to change the theme of this blog.

I felt that it was time for a change — after all I’ve had this blog on WordPress for around five years, and mucked around with Moveable Type before that. Way back in the day I started blogging on LiveJournal — heck, I didn’t even hear the word blog for the first time until Fall 2000.

And so now, with major help from Chirag Desai I managed to get this new theme up and running and customized exactly as I want it. He helped me to understand how the theme works, so I can make changes to it myself, as well as provided timely answers to my questions by email and Skype chat. I highly recommend his services!

With Chirag’s help, I selected the Arras Theme, a very easy-to-use theme that has a nice picture rotation system up top and plays nice with Twitter and Facebook as well, adding those handy-dandy buttons up in the top right. Plus, this allows me to move the list of my radio and print pieces to WordPress pages, rather than having to edit them manually in HTML each time I want to add something.

Also, I’ve added two new photos in the upper right rotation, including the first sketch as drawn by my brother Alex and a portrait of me taken by none other than David Sasaki.

In other news, I start my new job on July 1!

Photo credit (shot from the top of the Bonn Stadthaus, very near our apartment): Matthias Zepper

Hallo, welt. Mein name ist Cyrus.

“Hallo, mein name ist Cyrus. Ich komme aus den USA, aus Kalifornien. Ich spreche Englisch, Französisch und ein bisschen Persische.”

And so began our first day of German class yesterday at the Institut für Sprachvermittlung und internationalen Kulturaustausch, just next to the Deutsche Post Tower and Deutsche Welle.

Our class is small — just five students, including Rebecca and I. This is a very beginners German class, and is conducted 100 percent in German. The first lesson? Introductions. (“Mein name ist Utta. Ich komme aus Deutschland, aus Bonn.”)

For Rebecca and I, after having taken about 30 hours of coursework with Marion at the Gerlind Institute (Danke, Marion!), this was pretty basic stuff, but we played along.

After circling the small classroom and saying our names, we moved to our textbook. The first few pages, meant to drive home this structure, outlined in comic strip form, an introductory scenario of almost Ionesco-esque dimensions involving three characters. While we looked over this series of eight photographs, and listened along to the CD that Utta played for us, we were introduced to our language learning partners in our textbook.

First up: Timo. He’s our intrepid Finnish student coming to live, move, study, work (it’s unclear what his motivations are) at an undisclosed location in Germany. His German friend, companion, host, (again unexplained), is Anton. However, as soon as Anton brings Timo into the apartment, he gets a phone call, and excuses himself to the other room. Timo is then introduced to Koko, Anton’s German-speaking parrot (WTF?). Koko and Timo then proceed to have a conversation that goes something like:

“Hallo. Sprichst du Deutsch?”
“Hallo! Sprichst du Deutsch?”
“Ja, ich spreche Deutsch. Ich bin Timo.”
“Ich bin Timo! Hallo! Ich bin Timo!”
“Nein, ich bin Timo. Teee-mo.”
“Teee-mo! Teee-mo!”

As Maude Lebowski might say: “The story is ludicrous. You can imagine where it goes from here.”

I guess one could make some sort of analysis about post-colonial German guilt for that whole Namibia thing, or maybe something about the idea of foreign language learners parroting what they hear. Regardless, it was fairly amusing.

Within a few minutes, I’d learned the names of my classmates: Javier from Madrid, Divianshu from Delhi and Alarbi from Tripoli.

We discovered quickly that while this is a German class, and that our teacher, Utta, is only supposed to speak German to us, we all speak English — as I discovered during our 15 minute break outside. After chatting a few minutes with Divianshu (he’s trying to study immunology here), I called over to Javier:

“¡Señor Madrid!”

He was standing just a few feet away, in a patch of sunlight, wearing a black coat, sunglasses and starting up into the sun, smoking a cigarette.

“I don’t know why you are there in the darkness. The sun is better!”

I laughed. Indeed, we were in the shady part of the courtyard outside our classroom. That day was the warmest it’s been so far since we’ve been here and the afternoon sun (I hadn’t bothered to bring my jacket outside) did feel good. Javier explained to us that his German wife works at Deutsche Welle Swahili and that he’s here to find a new job in media production, television publicity and the like.

We told him that we’d spent a week in Madrid last year and were surprised that so far, we’d seen around 10 tapas places in Bonn. The Germans, or at least the Bonners, seem to love their tapas.

“Yeah, but it’s not the same!”
“I hope it’s not the same!”

Bex and I confirmed this later, where we were excited to order patatas bravas as the Alte Zoll café overlooking the Rhine — which turned out to be German potatoes sprinkled with paprika and served with a side of aioli mayo. Not quite the same, indeed.

Once he got off his cell phone, Alarbi came over and told us that he was a doctor of internal medicine back home and that he was here to pass his boards and presumably get licensed as a doctor in Germany. He also expressed frustration that Germans he meets on the street won’t speak English with him, “even if he can.”

We basically all figured out that we needed to learn German so that we could work/study here. Herzlich wilkommen in Deutschland!

* * *

Discovered so far in Bonn, the Hauptdorf, or capital village:

There’s a possibly crazy woman with a pink cowboy hat that hangs out by the Rhine.

Turkish bread is delicious and cheap! 0,60€ gets you a large round bread (“fladenbrot“).

Ice cream season is upon us. There are lots and lots of cafés that not only serve ice cream cones, but also elaborate ice cream dishes — including “Eis spaghetti.”

90 percent of Bonner bicyclists don’t have helmets. 90 percent of rollerbladers wear knee/elbow/wrist guards. Go figure.

Beer is plentiful, cheap and delicious! (Yay, Kölsch!) Even the Internet cafés sell beer.

WiFi, on the other hand, is not. Courtney told us that this is because apparently in Germany, if you have an open WiFi network and someone does something bad on that network, then you’re liable. Also, T-Mobile dominates the paid WiFi market. Boo.

Bonn is more international that I thought it would be. Walking around the city I’ve heard: Persian, Arabic, Turkish, French, English, Spanish and Russian. Within a 10 minute walk from our apartment, there’s a small Vietnamese grocer, and a block away, a little Persian shop.

Practically every café offers Sunday brunch: Sonntagbrunch. Some are “all-you-can-eat,” some not.

On the weekends, especially now in the springtime, everyone is hanging out in the Rheinaue, the big free park down by the river. Cyclists, walkers, joggers, rollerbladers — there’s even FOUR baseball fields. (Opening day of the Bonn Capitals is this Sunday!)

! عید شما مبارک

Given that we’re moving to Germany in five days, and didn’t set one up this year, I thought I’d share a photo of my 2007 haft-seen.

I’m lucky to be spending Nowruz, the Persian New Year holiday with my brother, father, extended family and other longtime family friends down here in Los Angeles this year.

That said, I extend my wishes along with President Obama, Sen. John Kerry, and the U.S. House of Representatives in wishing everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

Headed to Bonn in late February 2010 (Updated)

As I alluded to earlier, after much discussion between Bex and I, we’ve decide to bump our move to Bonn up by about three months, which means we’re leaving our beloved Bay Area in about four weeks. The reason? Largely so that we can take part in intensive German classes prior to our starting work — me at Deutsche Welle English and her, hopefully at the University of Bonn. Since mid-December we’ve been taking private courses with Frau Dr. Marion Gerlind at the Gerlind Institute here in Oakland, which has been a true pleasure to learn from someone who has such a passion and a high-level of talent for teaching her native language.

In Bonn, we’ll likely take classes at the Institut für Sprachvermittlung und internationalen Kulturaustausch, which begins at the beginning of every month, and we plan on starting on March 1, 2010. Then I’d begin my job as the new host and producer of Spectrum beginning in June 2010.

While we’re thrilled to be going back to Europe again as we have many friends scattered across the continent, (we’ve already got travel plans for a May weekend in Amsterdam!) we’re sad to be away from our families and friends back home. Fortunately this is 2010, where connections are just a Facebook message or a Skype call away. That said, we can’t wait to welcome our friends and family to Bonn once we’re set up!

So, if anyone has any contacts or connections for leads on apartments, cell phone providers, Internet providers, activities, and the like in the Bonn region, do let me know!

Also, I’ll be periodically writing in German on this blog as a way to practice my learning this new language. Feel free to leave comments, corrections, and ask questions — but keep in mind that I’ve just started, so: Schreiben Sie in einfachen Deutsch, bitte!


Update (28 Jan 2010): This has now been pushed back to late March.

New Year, New Job

So it’s a new year, another birthday, and vacation is sadly over — time to get back to a regular working schedule and real life.

But this year is different, given that five months from now, my wife and I will be moving to the birthplace of Ludwig von Beethoven and the former capital of West Germany: Bonn, Germany.

Late last month, I accepted a position as the new host and producer of Spectrum, a weekly 30 minute, international English-language radio show broadcast by Deutsche Welle English, the English language service of Deutsche Welle, the German public radio network. You can think of it like the German BBC — 100 percent publicly funded, and broadcasting in various languages over shortwave, FM re-broadcasts and Internet. I hope to use the skills that I’ve learned working with PRI’s The World, NPR, CBC’s Spark, TVO’s Search Engine, and BBC’s Digital Planet to take Spectrum to the next level. My focus will be especially on Germany and more largely, other science and technology innovations in Europe. (Tere, Eestlased!)

In case you saw some of my tweets a few weeks ago referencing Bonn, I was over there in December to meet the rest of the DW English crew (including the head of DW English, Kristin Zeier), do a little work, and generally see if I’d be a good fit. In the end, I decided to take the position because I think it will be a professionally engaging, and ultimately, a fun job.

In the meantime, Rebecca and I have been taking German lessons at the Gerlind Institute here in Oakland, which has been great so far. I hope to have at least an advanced beginner level by the time that we arrive in Bonn. (Ich hoffe!)

We’ll be in Bonn for at least two years (perhaps longer?), and hope to use our vacation exploring new regions in Germany, and the neighboring countries that we didn’t make it to when we were in Europe in 2008 and 2009, like Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and other countries especially in central and eastern Europe. I especially look forward to eating at Peshku in Pristina (Kosovo) with Balkanophile Nate Tabak in Fall 2010 or Spring 2011.

If anyone is interested in renting our 650 square foot, one-bedroom cottage here in Rockridge (North Oakland) starting in June 2010, please contact me directly.

Otherwise, I welcome any and all tips/suggestions for living in Bonn/western Germany, traveling in Europe, and learning German. Also, come visit us in Bonn!

Thanks again so far to Kristin Zeier, Felix Leder, Tillmann Werner, Steve Paine, Tim Wojcik, Kate Bowen, Holly Fox, Courtney Tenz, Mark Mattox, Stephanie Siek, Sean Sinico, Sam Edmonds, Barbara Gruber, Trinity Hartman, Andy Valvur and everyone else that I look forward to working with at DW who will help us make this transition just a little easier.


Pumpkin Scones: Sunday morning baking

Last night, I had the sudden urge to make pumpkin scones, so Bex and I hit the new Berkeley Bowl West for supplies, before getting drinks at Marc 49. By the time we got home, I decided that they were obviously they’re better over breakfast. So I woke up this morning at about 8:30 and went to work. Within an hour, this is what came out of my oven. They were shockingly easy to make.

I used the recipe from the Cheese Board Collective cookbook, page 44.

Pretty flippin’ good, if I do say so myself. However, I just realized I forgot to put in the buttermilk and cream. Good thing I have enough materials for a second batch.

Please help Sarmad Ali’s family

My good friend Sarmad Ali recently left New York to visit his family in Baghdad for the first time since he first arrived in the United States in August 2004.

Since then, his life has been full of astonishing (and sometimes amusing) triumph: he graduated from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with a Master’s in journalism with me in May 2005, got a job as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, and now has a green card and is a permanent resident. He’s well on his way to becoming a US citizen. He’s traveled in Europe and the US, and has been welcomed at the homes of my family in California, Washington DC, and Connecticut, the homes of countless others in New York, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and this summer traveled to the Grand Canyon and explored the American southwest.

However, things have been unimaginably difficult for him too. He’s been unable to travel to Iraq until very recently and can only interact with his family by phone.

Further, his father has disappeared nearly three years ago, and in all likelihood, tragically, has passed away. He wrote a follow-up to that piece in late 2007.

Upon his recent arrival in Baghdad, Sarmad wrote to me, describing that his childhood home had “completely collapsed,” and that there was not adequate access to potable water.

His older sister and mother need medical attention, while his younger brother and sister try to make what’s left of the family survive as best as they can. Sarmad, meanwhile, does what he can from abroad and is now home to try to improve the situation as much as possible.

He wrote to me recently:

Rubble, trash and checkpoints are ubiquitous. The city is covered with dust, and at first glance it sounds as if no one lives here. Everywhere you go you get a sense of absolute hopelessness, helplessness and misery. Driving in this god-forsaken place makes you want to vomit. Everything is ruined and nothing was rebuilt. Everyone you talk to says it’s way better than last year or two years ago when things had fallen apart completely but what I see now is a pretty desperate situation.

Some friends and I are collecting money online — we’re shooting for $10,000 by the end of October. With your help, we can make this goal and can help out his family.

If you’re reading this, chances are that you have it off far better than Sarmad’s family. You probably have a roof over your head and easy access to clean water.

Even in these tough economic times, if you could spare even ten bucks for Sarmad’s family, it would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

And again, thanks.

Cyrus in NYC Aug 13-Sept 3

I’ve announced this in other places, but I don’t think here on the blog. I’ll be teaching a crash course in radio for a few weeks at my alma mater, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism starting next week.

My time there is booking up fast! I arrive in town tomorrow and already have a research day trip to Philadelphia planned as soon as I hit the ground early tomorrow morning, as well as an evening meeting back in Manhattan. I’m also going to visit family two out of the three weekends that I’m there, and hopefully with other friends/colleagues. If you’d like to meet up with me, don’t hesitate to get in touch.