All entries for July 2005

July 08, 2005

Watermelon and Feta Cheese, yummy!

I've had panicky phone calls and worried e-mail regarding my entry about Berlin-Wedding-ghetto.
Don't worry people, I'm still alive. As long as I keep updating my blog you know that I haven't been attacked.

Besides, I do consider myself lucky for being in Berlin now. I can't believe what happened in London yesterday and feel sorry for the innocent victims of the terrorist attack. What does al-Qaeda gain by doing that? Sick.

Tuesday 05.07.2005

Yesterday I got a chance to try this obscure combination which is apparently also a popular Jordanian national dish. It tastes actually better than sounds. I found myself in this very bizarre situation:
I sat on a sofa next to a Jordanian student who was wearing a Suomi-Finland T-shirt. I was eating watermelon with feta cheese, watching an overdramatic non-subtitled Arabian soap opera from the 80’s and wondering if the burning coal on the table was a great idea in terms of fire safety. Window decorations (or similar, not entirely sure about their function) were original: windows were covered with kitchen foil. Beautiful.

Berlin is full of interesting characters. Last Saturday me, Erika, Laura and Annika went to explore Berlin night life and bumped into a guy asking for a cigarette. He promised he and his friends would sing to us in return. Cheerful singing for the tiny expense of one cigarette sounded good so they started singing “Ich bin ein echtes Countryboy…” that was absolutely hilarious and they were really great! They actually perform as well and we were invited to a concert. I need to ask Laura if I can get hold of the video she shot that night because it possibly can’t be described how funny they were!

Other than random situations like this, my days are filled with work. My work experience is really demanding and just today I spent 10 and half hours in the lab. It’s exhausting but also fun because of our team. I work mainly with Carlos, the PhD student from Cuba who is really crazy. Carlos calls me constantly Barbara and sings this Cuban song “Oh, Barbara…”. Also apparently I’m also “Seine Grosse” and today I was also called Sandra. In return I call him Kalle, the Finnish version of his name and I have a repertoire of Finnish songs I sing to him and to the reagent tubes. Realistically, apart from this audience no one else could probably put up with my performance. Also I have discovered that it is possible to speak German, Spanish, English and Finnish in the same sentence and it still makes sense!
Yesterday I thought he is going to explode of anger as I made so many mistakes and didn’t have a clue what was going on. He even stopped singing the “Oh, Barbara” – song and that’s a really concerning sign!
Uli is a German girl who also does an internship in the lab. She was very creative today when trying to build some equipment and made a tripod-looking supportive element by bending metallic paper clips. In my opinion it looked like a halo, and I tried to explain this association in German. Tired as I was and my German is what it is, I called the little thing The Angel Circle. When the others looked a bit confused I called it a Holy Sign instead. At this point they concluded that I must have inhaled too many evaporative chemicals.
Even if the lab work in this mad team is fun, I have also learned something. I can now do protein SDS-electrophoresis by myself from scratch. I should be able to do Western Blot as well which is good for recognizing different proteins according to antibody specificity. And today we did protein isolation and purification.

Wednesday 6.7.05

Launderette is the ultimate place for socializing! Everyone who lived in Claycroft this year knows how obsessed I am with launderettes.
I had survived 13 days without doing laundry so I was dying to wash my clothes. Interestingly I had to buy a washing card + credit in our Bierkeller. Does it maybe tell something about the German culture that all the activities are focused around the Bierkeller…?
Eventually managed to find the launderette and even got some laundry done. Whilst waiting for the cycle to run I was chatting to an Italian student and met an Indian student. Can you believe the Italian guy used hand soap instead of washing powder? I learned there’s more to Milan than just fashion (apparently a beautiful city, high buildings and the roads located in the middle of the tiny gaps between the buildings) and that in Delhi there are 12 million people and no-one knows how many holy cows.

I love the internationality of the place. In my floor there is a group of Greeks, Italians, a few Chinese students, a Mongolian, a Russian, 2 from Cameroon, a Swiss and a Britton.
I just enjoyed Cameroonian dinner tonight when Christopher made me some gorgeous chicken-peanut sauce. It reminded a little bit of the Chinese Satay-sauce. I must get the recipe!
It was funny at work experience today as I spotted the BBC news about how unbearable Finnish food is. Apparently Jacques Chirac, Vladimir Putin, Gerhard Schröder and a Finnish euro-representative had enjoyed some Finnish delicacies. Or in fact our friend Jacques hadn’t enjoyed the dishes but slated the Finnish food culture and this caused a massive uproar in the self-conscious Finland. The article was written in such a funny way that I couldn’t stop laughing. I sounded like we were living on a different planet or at least in the Stone Age. Of course Finnish people live out in the sticks in a place called Pöpelikkö, surrounded by bears and lakes and eat nothing but fish, reindeer and elk meet and pick fresh mushrooms and berries from the forest every day. That’s how it goes!
Having read the article I should be even more motivated to learn the Cameroonian recipe but honestly there’s also some really great food in Finland. You can’t beat muurinpohjalettu, a pan cake made on open fire and eaten with cream and berries (fresh, picked from the forest every day!) And Karelian stew with potato mash is also really good!

I met some Christian people today as they came to our floor to discuss faith and religious issues. One of the girls, Sharon is moving to Warwick in a month and doing a Christian mission also in England and is going to be involved in the Warwick Christian Union! It’s a small world: Sharon is from Northern Ireland, we met now in Berlin and I’ll see her later this year at Warwick!

Also at the same table sat Nick, the British student, Afrodite from Greece and Christopher. Nick doesn’t know German and Christopher and Afrodite don’t speak much English. So I would interpret most of the things from English to German or vice versa. It’s so cool being able to speak different languages! My German vocabulary is not as good as my English one but I compensate this by speaking at least as much as I do in other languages. Considering the fact that I never shut up anyway you can imagine how much the others get to talk…

In theory I learned to count to hundred in Spanish today – I and Carlos got bored during some incubations. In practice, I’ve forgotten all about it now. Finnish numbers are so hard to remember that Carlos didn’t learn them despite our efforts. Also I learned quite a few lines from the “Oh, Barbara”-song, don’t have a slightest idea what I’m singing though.

I was buzzing around Berlin by U-Bahn for 2 hours trying to find a cheap and quick place to get my photos developed. For my disappointment no place would do the photos today so I decided I might as well wait 2 days to get them done and pay a really low rate for them. So on Friday I’ll finally get my pics from Salzburg, Munich and Berlin.

July 04, 2005

The many sides of Berlin

I've just discovered a completely new side of Berlin.

Earlier I was somehow too busy worrying about my accommodation and being robbed and raped on the dodgy roads of Wedding. Now I've seen more of Berlin and its history and my worries seem so tiny in comparison.
The history is everywhere. In the centre is Gedächtniskirche, a church with half a roof and smashed windows because it was left that way after the war. I went to the Brandenburger Tor on Saturday and they had a "timeline" with photos explaining the events of the war and the building and the fall of the Berlin Wall. When the Wall still separated the 2 halves, West- and East-Berlin, people on the west side would have to go through Brandenburger Tor to visit the east.
In this timeline they also had a picture of the ruins if Coventry Cathedral. It looked different but was still recognisable.
I can't possibly imagine, that the Wall still separated the 2 worlds just 16 years ago.

Berlin is really green. I live now near Tiergarten, the Berlin Zoo and within a walking distance to the centre. In fact I can walk through beautiful woods to Siegessäule and Brandenburger Tor. I'm getting to know my way around though it's taking a long time. On Friday I tried to walk from Berlin Zoo the Brandenburger Tor and conveniently I had no map on me. I thought I would know the way, but got completely lost. The walk should have taken maybe 30 mins at the most, but I was wandering around for an hour and a half…at least I saw some beautiful scenery.

Erika came to Berlin from Poland on Friday night. We had some dinner with her aunt Elli and her Polish relative(not grandma, but grandma's cousin or something…). It's so nice to see Warwick people here!
We had a wander around the western side of the centre, Kurfürstendamm etc.
Also Erika kindly gave me some bed sheets, a pillow and a cover, which were more than welcome. At the moment it's so hot here in Berlin that I don't actually need a bed cover so I use it as curtains instead. There's a road behind my window and before that I had no curtains so that was interesting…

On Saturday me and Erika went to the Live8-demonstration concert, which is part of the "Make Poverty History"-campaign. Concerts also took place in Philadelphia, London and Paris simultaneously and just in Berlin there were 200,000 people who participated.
That was really amazing especially considering that there are only half a million people in Helsinki which is the biggest city in Finland by far.

July 01, 2005

Goodbye Altenheim, welcome ERASMUS people!

Tuesday 28.06.05

Berlin, Iranische Strasse 6, Paul-Fleishmann-Haus 4, Obergeschoss, Zimmer 413

Right, Berlin is completely different from what I expected.
Having lived now in this care-home surrounded by ancient people I’m not only fed up but also scared. So far I have been here for 3 days and haven’t met a single young person in this building. Even the cleaning ladies are pretty old – and also the only women in this house apart from me. What on Earth happens to the old ladies? Do they just kick the bucket earlier than their husbands or have they been hijacked by the aliens?! I can’t think of any sensible explanation for why the house is crowded with old dudes.
I’m also getting sick of walking 50 yards to go to the loo. Besides, the toilets are esthetically nowhere near satisfactory with their poor painting work, horrible lighting and the lack of toilet paper. And the corridor along which I have to walk to the toilet is well scary! Have you ever seen the film The Grudge? Ok, imagine the bureau house in that film with the stair case, the empty long echoing corridors and cold white lights. That’s where I live now! Even the lift is identical apart from the lack of the window. I haven’t seen any dodgy-looking girls with black tangled hair yet and no-one’s tried to pull me into the water sink and drown me but apart from that everything is identical.
I felt so paranoid when coming back to my room tonight that I didn’t dare to look down the stair case in case there was a load of black hair rapidly approaching me!

I prefer spending most of my time locked up in my room because it’s safe at least. Today however, I felt I have to get out since am not used to this sort of oddities such as constantly being alone. So I headed to the gym which is included in my obscenely high rent. The Germans love their A4s! Apparently it wasn’t enough that I had my ID on me but I’d also have to get an additional paper slip proving that I actually live in this Altenheim. Kinda of makes sense though because you don’t get many 20-year-old girls living with a bunch of old blokes…

That’s about exercise then, I was already heading back to my room when felt a sudden urge to use the Internet. There are these Ahmed Tele/Internet places in every corner, so popped in and surfed for about an hour. At some point started to feel a bit uncomfortable when realized I’m not just the only female in the room but also the only white person.
On the top of that some random Turkish guy next to me was trying to chat me up and I decided it’s time to leave. I felt terrified walking on the dark streets surrounded by these horrible guys. One started to follow me with his car, opened the window and shouted: “Lecker!”=”Tasty!” and was blowing kisses at me. It was horrible, I felt really intimidated and tried to ignore him the best I could.

I’m going to talk to the accommodation people in the morning as cannot possibly handle a whole month in this mental house! I had a very abrupt reply to my query today as rang the people and got maybe half way through explaining what the problem was when they said there are no other rooms available. German efficiency…that was the quickest reply ever!

The area around the house is really funny actually. I would estimate 90% of the people on the street are of Turkish, Arabian or African origin and this is no exaggeration. Then the remaining tenth are older hippy-style people often with grayish long hair. There are really interesting people out there!

The work experience is really good anyhow. The people there are fun and normal, a few of them a bit more reserved but at least not scary. And the general atmosphere is much more relaxed than I expected. There is a Cuban PhD student Carlos in our research group who is always explaining how they make The Real Havana cigars. Then a Turkish woman who is also fun and complains how she doesn’t want to live in Germany and she’s been here for 35 years now. The German Praktikants, the students who are doing their work experience, are nice as well. Then there is me, a crazy Finn, who explains about ice-swimming world championship which takes place in her beautiful home country.

We are studying the Borna virus and I find the research really interesting. Borna virus infects the blood stream and the brain and causes behavioural changes such as depression. At the moment we are working on the genome and specifically so-called M-protein encoded by a gene in the viral genome. The gene was copied to a plasmid which then was transformed into a bacterial cell and today we were studying the expression of the gene in E.coli Rosetta strain. It’s well cool, but something went wrong and the bacteria didn’t start growing until 5 hours later than they were supposed to and it was therefore a long day.

Tomorrow is going to be a fun day. Josh from Denmark is coming to visit me. I can’t wait to get some sensible company! Warwick power!

Wednesday 29.06.05

This morning was interesting. I went to the Stiftung(the building association which let me the room) bureau. Conveniently they were supposed to be closed today but luckily they were open. Knowing my luck, I had to talk to this miserable bitch who would even listen to me. So I started shouting and going on about WHAT LIARS THEY ARE and how unimpressed I am and that I WANT MY MONEY BACK! At this point the other 2 customers in the bureau had gone quiet as well as the 2 ladies advising them and I had 5 sets of eyes staring at me. The older lady behind the near desk jumped at me and said she’s able to sort something out for me. After a few phone calls they were ready offer me a room in another house which was supposed to be full according to my query yesterday + what the bitch had said to me 5 minutes before. I love the German language though, it’s brilliant for arguing and sounds so aggressive!
The room they offered is stupidly expensive so I decided to make a few more phone calls at work and managed to find something more promising where I’ll be able to move tomorrow.
I explained everything at my work experience and those people are so fantastic and encouraging. We have this Turkish lady in my research group who was really happy to help and said she has a spare room in her house. So off we went as soon as we had a lunch break. Really funny, because I don’t even remember her name and she didn’t know mine until we went to the apartment and she had to introduce me to her husband. So I’ll call her Günsl here. Günsl’s place was really nice actually in a beautiful area. The room I could have got was massive, maybe 4 times the size of the room I’m now in. I also met Günsl’s daughter, husband and some Turkish guy, probably a family member as well. It was really interesting because we had said we’ll go really quick and rush back but then we had time to drink some coffee and talk in Turkish(well, I just listened and Günsl translated)about how cars get dirty so quick and where Günsl and her husband will travel on the holiday. Then I got a little sight-seeing tour in Günsl’s car and she showed me KaDeWe and Gedächtniscirche and Kurfürstendamm.
We went back to the lab and I felt bad for leaving my Cuban friend alone with all the work. Candy also was really helpful with the housing situation and tried to call a girl who had done work experience with her again because she was supposed to know about housing. Tonight I’m going out with the German Laura and her friends and if I don’t stop writing now I’ll be very late!

Friday 1.7.05

After some confusion and many events I've managed to move to halls and am surrounded now with ERASMUS-students! It feels like Warwick and I'm really happy I moved.
Yesterday morning Miss Bitch was already waiting in the office and told me to get out before I had even said anything. Amazingly, I managed to get a refund for the "carehome-room" I had paid for and realised I'm actually saving 105 euros when I'm living in this new accommodation.
The timing to move out was perfect as the neighbours on Iranische Strasse were getting a bit too friendly. Just when I had signed the contract yesterday and returned to pack my stuff, a 60-year old bloke next door started talking to me and suggested he would make me a cup of coffee and we could get to know each other better…no thanks!
Then I dragged my stuff to Siegmunds Hof(my new accommodation) accompanied by a random guy who started talking to me on the U-Bahn Station and eagerly wanted to help me with my luggage.
I live with really cool people now. Last night I went out Italian, Belgian and Greek ERASMUS students and they are really friendly. Apparently there are also 2 Finns living in my building! ERASMUS parties are exactly the same as in Warwick, apart from the lack of German exchange students.
I slept better than in a long time even if I had no linen, pillow or cover. But I had my dear LIPSOC-hoodie under my head and all the fun students around me, so I couldn't wish for more!!

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