IWE 2013 Duisburg
You visited Hungary. You visited Poland. Now, finally, it was time to come back to drizzly, dreary Duisburg to complete your welding course. Four more weeks of lectures and exams... yay.
You'd been spending a lot of time preparing for course over the past few months. You'd actually been asked to reduce your flexi-time balance, so had been working only 80% and studying in the afternoons.
the course notes and materials were pretty good, but the lecturers were woeful. During week one we had a guy who struggled with English and had a stutter, which started every time he needed to say the word materials. You weren't sure whether to be supportive or annoyed.
In the second week you had a lecturer who read his notes robotically, and was unable to process human interaction. When someone asked a question he'd look up, wait a moment and then continue reading. He also liked using the expression "on the other hand" three to four times in a row (how many hands?). Special fellow.
Your first exam was taken very seriously. You even planned an entire Sunday for studying. Understandably, you were a bit annoyed when so many test questions were ambiguous, vague or just plain wrong. Your mark wasn't super, but one week later improved when they realised they had counted wrong, adding 14%. The test is in review, further mark adjustments pending.
Your second exam was equally poorly written. It wouldn't have bothered you as much, but during the test the examiner didn't understand the questions either. He must have felt so desperate being unable to explain the question he ended up eluding to the answers. This didn't sit well with you at all.
Beginning in the third week the lecturers really picked up their game, some even caring if you stayed awake. One bloke, probably a physicist, even made beta-decay interesting and relevant to welding. Why couldn't more have been like him? One Romanian dude managed to teach for a day and a half without actually talking about his topic. He just talked about blind pilots and Spanish traffic economics. He was fun.
Most of the institute's in-house lecturers were disappointing, but an equal number of great external experts made regular appearances. You got into a heated debate with one bloke over stress concentration factors, which led him to offer you a job there (not the expected outcome). Live in Duisburg to audit in China and India? No thank you. Overall there was a lot of information to take in, most of which you'll forget immediately at the end.
German Swimming Etiquette
If you give it a chance, Duisburg isn't really so bad. If you can see past the enduring bad weather there are a few entertaining things to do; for example: go swimming. It's a bit of a drive but far better than sitting in your hotel room alone all night.
Germany, in general, has some courtesy issues. Many people seem humourless and confronting, which isn't necessarily meant in a mean way but usually comes off as such. They're also not an aquatic nation, and so swimming etiquette is non-existent. By swimming etiquette I mean keeping in your lane of appropriate speed, and taking care not be get in swimmers' way. No one in Duisburg has swimming etiquette, especially old people. Bloody old people.
You made it to the pool most days for about a kilometer of laps. You kept to the side, out of the way and was mindful of other swimmers, but then came the old ladies. The silly old bags would swim a slow breaststroke in parallel, taking up two whole lanes while holding a conversation. No problem - there was room for everyone, so you moved to the side. Then came the old men. The silly old pricks did the same, taking up two more lanes, also chatting. There was no more room to swim!
First you tried swimming around them, weaving and ducking between their laps. It worked for a short time until a few more dopey bastards began swimming diagonally and randomly across the pool. A fellow sporty lap-swimming joined (finally, some support) who decided diving under oncoming old people was the path of least resistance. Gaaaah! Get your shit together and out of my lane!! You shall reserve comment on the overweight aqua aerobics group on Thursdays.
Back on dry land not everyone got in your way. For example: there was a really nice bloke in the supermarket checkout line who let you go before him. He was, however, as black as the night and only spoke English, so he may not represent the average Duisburger.
After class each day you wandered through the station to Starbucks. Karl, who recently visited you in Zürich, had ruined it when he likened their coffee to "sex in jail", explaining "you get what you're looking for but it'll be rough". Thanks Karl. One evening the station announcers seemed to be having an announcement war. Bong! "The next train on platform..." Bong! "ICE to Düssel..." Bong! "Passengers traveling to..." Bong! "Please watch..." Bong! "Can.." Bong! "Sh..." Bong! They were probably trying to avoid announcing the next ICE train was 200 minutes late.
Gas Tank Diving
Duisburg Industrial Park - a old steel smelter and its surrounding area - offers scuba diving in a huge 14m deep gas cylinder. It's a big rusty bucket, crusted with peeling dark green paint and filled with murky water. Inside there's a car, a truck, a boat, a light plane and even a fake reef complete with fake crabs. You could understand the novelty appeal, sure, but was it worth freezing for?
Going scuba diving on a rainy Sunday morning after an early flight from Zurich wasn't ideal, but you rocked up and suited up anyway. You pulled on one wet, cold wetsuit (uurrrrrgh) and then a second. You worried about just how cold it was if two wetsuits were necessary.
Dumping all your gear into a wheelbarrow, you plodded over the road to the tower. Some Dutchies come over too, and you all loaded your equipment into a small crane cage and walked up the stairs. It was odd wearing two tight wetsuits - you felt like a penguin.
You had a briefing at the top inside the tank on an AstroTurf covered landing area. You buddied up with two of the four Dutchies (5% of a local diving club apparently) and got wet. The moment the old dude hit water he dropped his fin. You descended with the other guy to find it, but was quickly obvious that wasn't gonna happen: there was no light and even with your big torch you couldn't see more than three meters. After ten minutes searching, it was decided he'd be diving with one fin only.
The dive lasted about fifty minutes. There was lots to see but only after bumping into it first. The ground was covered in big pebbles and had a thick orange layer of sludge. Everything metallic was rusty, quite often jagged and not especially safe looking. Now, when was the last time you had a tetanus shot?
In the middle - or rather probably in the middle, you had no idea - was an upturned drum full of air. Divers were allowed to enter from below, take out their regulators and have a chat. Really odd, being at 14m in a bucket of water in a bucket of air.
Neither you nor any of the Dutchies were up for a second dive. Everyone agreed it was a fun experience once. The tank is open all year round, even during winter where it gets down to 0°C. Whomever finds that enjoyable must be special indeed.
One weekend Meike and Maren came into town by train, and you all drove up to visit their grandmother in Oldenburg. There was a little confusion about the arrival time, causing Meike's phone to ring at midday with the question "where are you?" Her grandmother had made a cherry cake with whipped cream ready for an 11am arrival. Woops.
It was a weekend of nothing but eating. The only pause was for gardening, where you were grateful for the chance to rake leaves and digest. It was relaxing to plod about in gumboots and floppy cloths, even if you didn't put too significant a dent in the garden's leafiness. It's such a beautiful big garden, with more moss than grass.
You all went out for Thai Saturday evening. After the outrageous overfeeding you experienced last time you were here, the group ordered thee meals between four. The curry duck was super tasty but still too much to finish. The total cost was about the same as you'd pay for a single serving in Zürich. Germany sure is different. The dude sitting behind your table had an interesting fluffy jacket; on the back was a huge wolf howling at the moon. Maybe he was going for ironic rather than stylish.
Tasmania Trip Preparation
Big trips require planning. Your first African adventure took your ladyfriend weeks to prepare (she was unemployed at the time). This year's adventure to do the Overland Track through Tasmania with eight people didn't need quite as much planning, but still conscientious coordination. To this end, the Swissland attaché held regular meetings to... drink wine and giggle.
One meeting was particularly amusing. Ania invited everyone over to pitch their tents in her lounge room (literally), unbeknownst to her boyfriend/flatmate Mic. When Andreas casually mentioned to Mic at work that day "see you tonight", he wasn't sure of what to make of strange men having tented sleepover parties in his absence. That evening you tested four tents. Most were sandy and one smelt like feet. No decisions were made, but the company was nice.
Matthieu had the schnapps idea (litteral German translation) that we should all have Tasmania flasks, and toast every evening of the hike. One other evening you all gathered to engrave your flasks. It was all a bit wonky but much cheaper than professional engraving, which cost more than the flasks themselves.