Thursday, December 18, 2008


As an addendum to my previous post about how much I love the way Germans celebrate Christmas:

(Note: All Germans speaking in this post are actually speaking in German. I just didn't want to translate all of it.)

Yesterday was the Steinmann-Institut für Geologie, Mineralogie and Paläontologie's Christmas party. Vincent (my French Lab-mate) and I didn't receive invitations because we aren't on the department listserv. Instead, Dr. Martin came around the day before and said, "There is a Christmas Party tomorrow at three. There will be Glühwein and beer. Everyone is welcome to attend." Vincent and I were pretty excited about the free alcohol and the chance to hang with the department, but we forgot to ask where the festivities were going down. "Oh, and you need to go downstairs and have your picture taken."

There are posters hanging around the Institut with pictures of all the current graduate students, professors and post-docs, so we knew picture day must be coming soon. We got our head shots, the process felt like grade school all over again (put your chin a little higher...good. Hold that...), then we went about our work.

Yesterday I was typing away when Vincent says, "Machew, we are late!" It was 3:07. The party had started to roll, but where? We didn't hear anyone in the hallway. The museum was decked out with evergreen, but no one was there. We climbed the stairs to the lecture hall and heard a single loud voice. We found the place. The problem was things had already started and the only door into the lecture hall is in the front of the room so, I put my ear to the door, listening to the German murmuring on the other side, waiting for a pause in the action or applause to slip in (Note: Germans do not actually applaud by clapping their hands together. Instead they knock their desks or the table in approval. At the end of every lecture or presentation, there is always a storm of knocking. You know class is over when it sounds like a stampede has just swept through the building).

As I crouched at the key-hole and Vincent waited expectantly, a German graduate student walked up. "You can just go in. They won't kill you. They don't even know who you are." True, I hadn't met much of the department outside the paleontology people, so I opened the door and ushered Vincent in right as Dr. Martin, who was standing in front of the room giving a presentation on the paleontology department's accomplishments for the year, said "...and Matthew Borths is a Fulbright Fellow from the United States, he is working with me on Jurassic mammals." I looked up at the screen and saw the pictures Vincent and I had taken the day before smiling down on us. The entire Steinmann Institut laughed as we sheepishly searched for a place along the wall. Now, they do know who we are.

Each research division (Geophysics, Sedimentology, Geochemistry etc.) gave similar presentations on new graduate students, faculty and research. Each talk was peppered with embarrassing photographs. It's Christmas and everyone wants to have a good time. After learning that they're trying to figure out how plate tectonics works, everyone trooped out of the packed lecture hall and cued up by a staircase, leading into the basement. Again, Vincent and I had no idea where to go, or what to do, so, like dutiful lemmings, we got in line, too. As we got farther down the steps we could smell the mixed aromas of Glühwein and waffles wafting up the twisting staircase.

At the bottom were two cauldrons of mulled wine, one spiked with spiced rum, the other just hot wine, served by the grounds keeper who was really pushing the rum. The waffles were accompanied by powdered sugar, applied by Dr. Martin and there was a grill set up with wurst and brochen. I talked with the grad students, discovering one of them had done fieldwork in Wyoming. Of course, stories of the Badlands and fossil collecting had to come out. After the waffles were finished off, everyone filed up to the museum to have Goulash Soup and Lebkuchen, washed down with Kölsch, Pilsner or Coffee. Needless to say, after all of this, I didn't need dinner. I talked to Dr. Wighart v. Koenigswald, a legend of German paleontology, about the best beer and wine regions in Germany and my struggles to learn German. His recommendation: find a German girlfriend. I said there were two problems: All German women already speak English and I should probably discuss the idea with my current girlfriend. To the first point, he said I should lower my standards and find someone who didn't do well in English class, and to the second, he said she would understand.

The party went on until at least 8:30 when I decided it was time to leave. But first I had to take some pictures of the museum's decor:

Santasaurus (actually a Pleisiosaurus with real mistletoe in his jaws)

Roast, suckling Ichtyosaur, a German Christmas delicacy.

Frohe Weihnachten!

1 comment:

Michael J said...

That ichthyosaur is a little too bony for my taste ;)

It's a good thing Carolyn and Co. are visiting before you can take Dr. WvK's advice, eh?

Hope yall have a Happy Christmas-we miss you back here!