I Köln’t Believe I Bonn There

Posted on October 30th, 2011 by

So beautiful it looks fake. No, not my jaw line silly.

This week starts back at the World Health Summit for two more days of conferencing. There’s enough going on that the program is a 150 page behemoth (if a murder would’ve happened at the conference, my money would’ve been on Colonel Mustard in the forum with the Summit program). As amazing as some of the speakers were, there were definitely some that made me realize that being important doesn’t necessarily make you profound. It also surprised me how biased even some of these top level scientists and researchers were. This became especially apparent when I went to a panel debate on austerity measures and health care. A lot of this focused on the cost of pharmaceuticals and whether it’s legitimate or not to pay the vast quantities of money that drugs cost these days. One of the panelists was a professor at Columbia University, and his data showed that the money we spend on new pharmaceuticals is completely appropriate when you take into account the increased life expectancy obtained. As he was explaining everything, there was one piece of info I felt like he was intentionally leaving out. The cost accrued due to the side effects of drugs and drug recalls. Luckily, I put on my big boy pants that day, so when they asked for questions from the audience, I raised my hand. I don’t get nervous particularly easily, but at that moment, my heart was beating hard. Real hard. I pointed out what I felt the professor was overlooking. He was caught a bit off guard, but recovered quickly to say that when looking at those costs over the years they stay virtually the same. So essentially they can be ignored. Even if I were to assume his answer was completely true, then based on that same logic, one of the benefits he had touted earlier was complete crap. In the end, it felt pretty good to stand up to a Columbia professor and came out the other side. And surprisingly, quite the adrenaline rush.

There were a few reasons I knew this week would be incredible, and one of them was that the new Coldplay CD, Mylo Xyloto, was coming out. It didn’t disappoint.

Magic in the form of sound waves

On Thursday I had to head to Bonn for a DAAD (my scholarship provider) orientation session. The last time I had heard anything from them about this was a couple months earlier, so part of me was a bit worried that it wasn’t actually happening. I e-mailed the head person asking her a couple questions and her uber-friendly e-mail response consisted of, “This information was written in our email dated August 4, 2011.” Well, these people are doling out the money, so I guess I can’t complain about the terse response. Well, my train leaves bright and early, so once I get on I’m instantly asleep. A couple hours later, I wake up and there’s now a person sitting next to me. But at that point, my only thought was, “My bladder is about to give way.” So yes, I head to the bathroom. In my lifetime, I’ve hit some pretty sub-par (a definite understatement) toilets, so my pre-reqs aren’t exactly extensive. But surprisingly, thanks to Deutsche Bahn’s futuristic ways, one of these was incomplete. I had no idea whether my bathroom was locked or not. A slight issue. After slipping in once the previous person was done, I realized I had stepped into the future. To close the door, you just held down a button and it shut. Then a button with a key on it started flashing. I hit it assuming it would then lock the door, but nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. It kept flashing and it started to feel like a countdown to the inevitable (someone else having to go to the bathroom). With this blinking red indicator of possible embarrassment flashing next to me, I took care of business as quickly as possible. I never expected taking a leak to be so nerve racking.

Score one for Lutheranism

Anyway, between sleeping and being entranced by the gorgeous German countryside, it wasn’t until the end of the journey that I realize the guy sitting next to me is also an American who’s heading to the DAAD orientation. To add to it, he ends up being my roommate for the night (whether that’s pure chance or they were simply doling out keys as people walked in, I have no idea). Anyway, throughout the day we do various orientation and team building exercises (like deep listening; brought me back to the glory that is Gustie Greeters). At dinner that night, I received some helpful hints on finding a place to live from a few of the people at my table (like not mentioning that my German is subpar, bring wine, and finally start looking at more expensive places because the DAAD is fairly generous with their extra rent subsidy). Then we got into some good ol’ fashioned, spirited intellectual debates (obviously the natural progression when you throw a bunch of grad students into a room together). After a few hours of this, nothing looked better than my bed.


The spoils from the climb of the 19th Century stair-stepper.

The next day we went to the Haus der Geschichte (Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany). The museum was set up to take you through post-war Germany and really see what development was like after the devastation wrecked by Hitler. It was a bit heavy at times, but luckily, we had a 70 year old tour guide who was quite the jokester. After this we watched a documentary about the last days of the Berlin Wall. It was dubbed into English, which made it quite entertaining (unintentionally hilarious). I swear the creators of MXC (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge; the dubbed into English Japanese game show where contestants have to complete ridiculous tasks) must have had a hand in the making of that video. One other cool thing about the orientation was that I actually met a girl from my hometown of Fargo and another from the Cities. What a small world. With the orientation finished, I wandered Bonn for a bit but realized quite quickly that I had bigger fish to fry. Cologne (or Köln as the Deutschers call it). After a half hour train ride, I had a few hours to burn before I had to catch my Zug nach Berlin. The first thing you notice after leaving the train station is the absolutely gorgeous cathedral. The second thing you notice as you’re cruising around its back side is the stank of a homeless man. I have virtually no sense of smell (surprising considering the nose to face ratio I have going on), but he popped out from behind a crate and my nose was caught by surprise. After going inside the cathedral, I decided to climb to the top. 533 spiraling stairs of sheer fun (with traffic running in both directions; if this was America, a) two people wouldn’t be able to fit past each other and b) this wouldn’t matter because no one would believe in climbing that high by foot and insist on an elevator). Once complete though, you get a great view of the city. After this I explored what I had just seen from above and worked up a mighty hunger. I stumbled across a Mexican restaurant and thought that sounded fantastic. It wasn’t. I probably should’ve seen that coming. Apart from the fact that I’m in Germany, there couldn’t have been more than six people in the restaurant when I arrived, the menu was confused as to whether it wanted to be Mexican or Italian, and the kicker was that the first three songs played in the background were acoustic versions of “Tears in Heaven” (a Clapton classic), “Con Te Partiro” (without Andre Bocelli’s rousing and thoroughly un-Mexican restaurant lyrics), and “We are the World” (MJ and friends, anyone?). Great songs but you’d never hear them at El Agave or even Chipotle for that matter. Anyway, the food was atrocious. My old roommate Brian, who struggled with Mac and Cheese, could have done better. The only response I could give when asked by the waitress whether the food tasted good was a non-committal shake of the head. Luckily, it was enough to keep from being asked again. Even the salad was more of a ranch dressing soup with a sprinkling of lettuce. Just horrendous. After the long journey home, I instantaneously fell asleep upon arrival.

Lots of words. That’s what you get when all I have is a notepad and a pen on a five hour train ride home. Glad to see you made it to the end. Hope you all enjoyed/are enjoying Halloween.

Hugs and hand pounds,


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