Saturday, June 16, 2012

Forza: Horizon, Stuck between a Rock and a Hard Place

Here's the most in-depth preview I've found of Forza: Horizon that was shown off at this year's E3. 

Horizon will, for better or worse, make the Forza series annual at least until 2013's expected Forza Motorsport 5. I have a theory that follows most annualized franchises. That is, if Forza: Horizon sees relative success, publisher Microsoft Game Studios will become increasingly greedy year-by-year (an unfortunate trend we're seeing more and more) and not take a year off until sales slow or halt altogether.   

The reception of the comments I've seen below various YouTube videos have been generally very positive. Here's another game publisher taking advantage of the mainstream fans. I say that meaning, the more "hardcore" fans will not find an incremental release like this worth their time or money and therefore, spend their time in more worthwhile simulation games. 

Hearing Playground Games' Ralph Fulton say that Horizon will have the "same simulation that underpins Forza 4" and that they've "made changes to car set ups, suspension set ups, to make that kind of maneuvering [weaving in and out of traffic] easier" made me tremendously disappointed. It appears Playground Games is after the same action that open-world Burnout and Need for Speed series games have already perfected. 

Omitting the "Motorsport"from the game title presumably means fans will not be able to drive on tracks, limiting this game to public roads. What will set this apart as a true Need for Speed Most Wanted contender, or another paper-thin copycat will be the road design. If the public roads featured in the game can prove varied, infinitely replayable and fun in both directions, Playground Games will have a true winner on their hands.  

After watching this Need for Speed Most Wanted gameplay footage for the first time, I found myself asking, "Why would anyone want to play an open-world Forza when this is coming out?" An appropriate analogy would be, do you want a game that happened to throw in short cuts and jumps, or do you want a game that was deliberately designed from the onset with jumps, boost, ramps, police chases, takedowns and more? 

The main problem I see with Forza: Horizon is that it's straddling a middle ground so much. Even to a greater extent than Project Gotham ever did. At a certain point, I just really want Playground Games to just decide what direction they're going to head. If Playground Games did so, the game would be less of a compromise between simulation and arcade worlds and rather than seeing a toned-down arcade game with a simulation back-end, we could see a totally in-your-face, ridiculously-fun arcade game.

How can you have "Forza 4 underpinnings," yet what sounds like nerf the car control for noobs vis-à-vis "car set ups" and "suspension set ups"? The two just don't go together and it sounds like a surefire recipe for disaster.

From my perspective, Forza is all about the difficulty and how that translates to a real car. I play Forza 4 for example, with all the assists turned off and everything to the highest difficulty. I enjoy fighting for grip with the car, and barely winning a Forza race can be of the most thrilling game experiences I've had. So there's my nerd card. 

Forza 4 was a great improvement in terms of tire dynamics and car physics, although I find Turn 10 Studios dropped the ball when it comes to front-wheel drive cars and mid-engined cars. It's as if Turn 10 explicitly picked favorites and made all FR (front-engine, rear-wheel drive) cars handle like a dream, while all other cars don't quite hit the mark. It's great from my perspective because my favorite real-world cars are all FR. But let's not forget that Forza is supposed to be a simulation, right?

On that point about it being a simulation, Forza 4's AI is anything but. The AI opponents are overly aggressive, bumper cars that will run you off the road at any cost. The starting grid is a mess, good luck getting through. I find that if I want to beat the game, I'll have no choice but to lower the difficulty to medium. Ugh, the horror!

Unlike the "Motorsport" Forza games, it appears Forza: Horizon's main emphasis will be on car festivals, for which drivers will meet up and race. (Honestly, they look like higher res Need for Speed: Underground 2 races). 

New to the series, Forza: Horizon will feature dynamic day-night cycles, something that was sorely missing in the past two Forza games. Yet, I imagine Horizon will not include dynamic weather, which means another +1 for Gran Turismo fans. 

I've become jaded expecting the unexpected with Forza games, and unfortunately, I don't think Horizon will be much different. With Forza 4, I was expecting to be wowed with new courses, weather, day-night cycles, new terrain, and cars, but really, none of those things came to pass. Forza 4 was really just a better looking and handling Forza 3, with three or four new courses thrown in, in case a 2009 game didn't warrant a $60 pricetag in 2011.  

Don't expect many surprises with this title, which is why I'm lowering my expectations. I'm expecting Horizon to be a Forza 4 dropped into a new setting and that's about it. Sadly, game developers seem to be willing to give their titles less development time and attention for ultimately fewer, but more yearly sales. It seems like this is a temptation fewer and fewer developers can resist these days, what with pirating and illegal torrenting of their hard work. Maybe having a big title every two years isn't a big enough splash to keep dinner on Dan Greenawalt's table?

At this point, Playground Games still has yet to prove themselves. According to their own website,, Forza Horizon is their "debut title." However, just as with any developer I'm equally as skeptical and questioning just as much how close Playground Games will get tot their vision of Forza: Horizon. 

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 11

One word that could summarize this day would be: aftermath.

I barely emerged from my bed with a headache, (what felt like a) fever, a cold (hence, shivers) and a stomach ache. Not once did I vomit, for which I thank my enormous apetite and generously-sized dinner before going out on that faithful Wednesday night.  

I woke up at about six or seven in the afternoon following a 6AM bedtime. Sensible.

I didn't really wake up myself, actually. I was woken up to the voice of my host mother calling me for dinner. DINNER?! But I just woke up! 

I complied and came downstairs with my still-dirty-from-the-night-before-but-not-really-dirty-but-just-smelly shorts and the plain white t-shirt I wore underneath my Abercrombie button down that helped me blend into the German public's very American taste in clothing. (Not very difficult)

I felt like crap. Neglected to put my contacts in and felt sick all over. I could barely comprehend the course of the conversation led by my host mother and her daughter. 

All I remember is going to bed almost as soon as we finished dinner and not much else happened that day.

I thought with agony about the next day of school I'd have to go to. 

Nicht mein stolzsten Tag während dieser Trip! 

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 10

After a truly long hiatus (yes, I realize this) I'm here to tell you about my experiences in Germany! Homework, sleeping, food, friends and working out (usually in that order) come before this blog! 

I began this day like I did any day at 7:30 and went to class. During our 30-minute break splitting our 4-hour class, a number of my classmates asked me if I wanted to go out that night with then given there was a holiday going on the following day. I complied, thinking "Hey, of course, I'd love to socialize and get to know more people!"

After returning from class, I took my daily nap. (And I swear, there's something thoroughly screwed up with my sleep schedule because I always seem to need to nap to offset my nightly sleep: whether it's at home, college or Germany!)

I was invited by my friends to come to the Altstadt with them at 8:00pm. I prioritized extra nap time and a large, improvised dinner, assuming it was going to be a long and "fun" night. I was very right on both accounts. 

Instead, I met them outside the Heinrich-Heine McDonald's at 10pm. There, I was introduced to a couple of Erasmus University students from France. 

Only some of the great people I hung out with that night. 
More shenanigans ensues.

From there, we went straight to a nearby art museum to mingle. My friend Hendra, was steadfast in filling Marlon and my cups with vomit-inducing 13€ vodka as soon as we took even the slightest of sips. Predictably, good times ensued and disgusting flavors overwhelmed our taste buds. 

Time passed, and we were soon on our way to a club. The enormous line surrounding the outside of the club served to separate our massive party as Jooho and I went to the famous black wall to drain our bladders. 

As we went back to the line, our friends were no where to be found. Jooho tried to call them, but it was no use. 

We waited patiently in the line leading to the strobe-lit club for about an hour or two. While in line I met an array of people from Germany and one from France. After a brief conversation with a fat, drunken man who when he discovered I was from the 'States said roughly, "Hitler is dead. Tell everyone you know." He also suggested I don't go to the club. I took everything he said with the tiniest grain of salt, yet played off everything he said as plausible and continued to nod. 

By the time he had finished elaborating on his wily ideas to me, it was about time to get into the club. Then finally, after all that anticipation and waiting, the bouncer looks at my legs for a millisecond and tells me I can't go because I'm wearing shorts. A girl in line next to me about my age convinces the burly, bald dude and I get in! (A middle-aged couple notice my jacket and the woman starts talking to me about BMWs! It's crazy how friendly Germans are during the weekend!)

I walk in with the girl who got me in and her friends and one of them asks me to take their picture. I do so and after that, cluelessly look around for my friends. It was to no avail, and I tell the four girls my situation. One of them asked me if I wanted to come dance with them. I comply and I dance with them in a circle. Careless whether I embarrass myself, I pull off all the moves I could think of. 

More pictures are taken, and I'm even asked to take a picture with two of the girls! I told them "Ich fühle mich so einschließend!" (I feel so included) as a hand wrapped around my neck and we posed for Facebook. 
The exact "I feel so included" picture. Marle and Juliette, thank you!

During the course of our dancing, I am reluctant to trust my German (even though I should have) because of the volume of the music. One of the girls, Marle did her best to communicate with me in English over the pounding beats. She asks me where my friends are, and I tell her "I'm having more fun with you guys, can I stay?" She says yes, but still urges me to look for my friends. They're no where to be found and I return to the group. 

Sometime after the three girls leave, there's just one of the girls, Juliette and myself. We retreat to the entrance of the club so we can talk more clearly. She orders a water from the bar for [imaginably] some absurd price and offers me half of it. I was as gracious as I was parched and said, "Für mich? Aber ich bin ein unbekannte Person!" (For me? But I'm a stranger to you!) I was astounded at her generosity to reach out to someone she may never meet again and offer half of her water that I'm sure she'd otherwise gladly slurp down alone!

I turn on the 3G and Roaming settings on my phone, aware of how much they cost and of the potential "emergency" situation I could find myself. I opt to use my phone, log onto Facebook and find my friend Hendra sent me a message saying, "my turkish and arabisch friends is not allowed inside man...that;s fucked up..i'm fed up...I am allowed inside but i cannot just leave them out.. I am gonna accompany them... freakin' racist man the bouncer."

I show Juliette the message and we head out. We walk outside, looking for her bike speaking Germanish, as she's trying to accomodate me by speaking in English and I'm trying to do the same in German. 

We find her bike and I ask her where the train station is. She points right down the street, I thank her for everything, we hug and we're off in our separate directions. Oh and it's 5AM. 

As I'm walking to the Heinrich-Heine McDonald's (which surprisingly are supremely popular meet-up spots and lunch places in Germany) that's right next to the U-Bahn station, a man stops me. Again, asking me about my jacket. We start a conversation, and like all my conversations, we ultimately get on the topic that I'm from the USA. He tells me of relatives he has and experiences he has about and in the land of the free. We exchange Facebook information, and I embark on the first leg of my trip home. 

After the U-Bahn and later, S-Bahn rides home, I stumble the dirt path that circumvents a horse ranch I walk every day to school in an eerily-lit sky. As I reach my guest family's door, my guest mother greets me at the door, who has come home equally late. At this hour, it's roughly 5:40 and I brush my teeth as quietly and as briskly as I can image. 

I lie in bed for only moments before I fell asleep. But before I fell fast asleep, I recollected all the incredible people I met that day.

Mein Gott!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The All-New Mercedes A45 AMG

The all-new Mercedes A45 AMG. Commence drooling.

It's quite good looking, but in typical Mercedes fashion, it does everything wrong for me: it's heavy, it's expensive and it features some new goofy transmission that rules your gear selection more than Terminator would with a gun to your head.

It will supposedly weigh less than 1,500kg. But 1,500kg is a lot! Certainly light for a Mercedes, but I'm tired of making these qualifiers! This is the precise reason Mercedes owners' clubs take trips to the golf course rather than the race track.

In the back of virtually every Mercedes engineer's head is the desire to put a higher emphasis on luxury over performance. And when they want performance, luxury is the last thing they'll sacrifice, after fuel economy, the stereo and a quiet exhaust note have all been thrown out the window.

For me, a "real" car fan (argue what you will what that entails), but in short, I love lightweight, manual-transmission sports cars with rear-wheel drive. This car is none of those. Nor is it expected to be cheap. It's estimated to cost anywhere from $55,009.50 to $62,868.00. However it's worth noting these figures were achieved after a Pound-to-Dollars conversion. I'm even skeptical this thing's even going to come to the 'States.

All that means one less douchebag with an undeserved sense of self-fulfillment for owning a car well above his own driving ability and despite this, thinks he's an F1 driver thanks to the car he drives. In our country, anyway.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Germany vs. USA: Lifestyle Differences

Today, I'll be taking a detour from my normally scheduled programming to inform you what German life is like and how it compares to the US of A. I'll be comparing everything I can think of, including: fashion, laws, transportation, language, school, leisure, environment, people, media, sport and (hopefully) more!

USA: Compared to Germany at least, anything goes. One could conceivably walk outside wearing garbage bags and not be looked at twice. Americans have virtually no expectations for clothing in public and are increasingly becoming used to the wildest trends, both for better and for worse. I suppose in that regard, then, Europe is only following America's rebellion-like willingness to be different. In American, we really are used to seeing clothing of all shapes, sizes and colors. So everything in Europe is quite tame in comparison!

Germany: People in Germany like to stare. A LOT. It's normal to exchange glances with a pretty girl or a business man. It's then to be expected if one walks in public wearing pajamas (which is culturally acceptable in America) to be stared at as if one's hair is on fire! I wore a shirt to a soccer club in a different town where I'm living at the moment. I was looked at with such obsession only exemplified by the paparazzi. For a mere day I was famous. But not in a good way. I was looked upon with scorn and [seeming] hatred for my anti-Düsseldorf shirt, which may as well be considered sacrilege.

An accidental photo, but it illustrates how any one of these people could well pass off as Americans by the way the dress.

USA: One of my favorite parts of the US is that it has no official language. Theoretically, (however it really doesn't thanks to naturalization) this should contribute to a more accepting, tolerant society that respects all languages and cultures. Rather, we have indignant people who demand immigrants learn English because this is 'Merica. Not having an official language has had the reverse effect in the States.  However, people do tolerate all sorts of accents from every coast and continent. People rarely, if ever, pretentiously correct each other. People really speak whatever they want however they want and I suppose it's this laissez-faire attitude that carries through our language that makes out the US to be stupid abroad.

Germany: Perhaps it's not only until now that Germans are experiencing immigration on a scale comparable to the United States. I've noticed a sense of pride when it comes to properly speaking German. Even thought I've been complimented many times over for my authentic accent, there have still been times when my grammar rubbed some native speakers the wrong way into asking me where I'm from. I sense a degree of xenophobia in Germany when it comes to foreigners. They always need to know where you're from. So they can label you and distance themselves or something else, I know not.

USA: In the United States, it's a good thing to be noticed. Good qualities to have are to dress well, look good, drive your convertible, blasting your Lady-Ke$ha-Perry mishmash mainstream (bullshit) music, all the while wearing your Ray Bans and looking like we Americans fancy, a "badass." It's quite normal for there to be people who (seem to) exist solely for attention. In Germany, things are again, rather different.
Germany: Unlike this extroverted, douchebag trend to notice and be noticed in the US, Germans are a milder sort. Germans dress largely very, very similar from one person to the next. They don't take many chances when it comes to clothing, behavior, etc. Of course, I'm generalizing, but at the same time I've seen this all first-hand.

Women's Rights: 
USA: Perhaps "Women's Rights" isn't the most appropriate name for this entry, but it's the closest name I could think of. In any case, in the US, women are downtrodden, underrated and underplayed, making men out to be the only possible breadwinners. It's really sad how often the potential of women is not achieved thanks to our cultural norms. If there is a family driving in the US, maybe as a point of male arrogance or tradition, the father always drives. There is a sense that women are not capable of focusing as they drive, and this has been the source of countless misogynistic jokes that highlight absurd women-caused crashes (but how many have men caused? More.)

Politically, it seems with regard to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, both have been perceived as afterthoughts. There is a deep-seated belief in most Americans that women are not capable of leading a nation. Sarah Palin, the closest woman candidate in recent memory, was a laughing stock for being a republican, a woman or (perhaps actually) dumb, I don't know. Whatever it was, she was by no means given the respect she deserved.

Germany: In Germany, it is not unusual to see a middle-aged woman driving a car full of kids, with an equally-middle-aged man. Only, this time, sitting in the passenger seat. Call me crazy, but in Germany, where overwhelmingly the cars have manual transmissions people are more likely to pay attention to the bloody road! You know, 'cuz if you don't move that lever, your car won't go much faster than 40mph... In the US, people get away with reading books, eating, apply makeup, doing all sorts of useless crap on their phones and even having sex while driving I think in part because of our love with the automatic transmission. Without it, how on earth could Americans chow their Big Macs down while driving?!

America has been notorious for giving women rights at a less-than-brisk pace and that continues to be the case.

My theory then is that women gained the right to drive so late relative to the car's existence, that there were few women drivers, and the few who dared to drive weren't very good for the pressure that rested on their shoulders. And it's an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy when women hear that women "make the worst drivers" garbage, and then they're not disappointed when they don't pass their driving exam or get into a fender bender. And when they tell their friends about it, it's normal! While all that may have been theory, this is true: society sets our expectations for ourselves. Hence why men are more likely when their driving is insulted than women. Don't ask me though, I'm just a guy, what do I know? You don't need to tell me! I digress.

USA: In the US, either public transportation is so inefficient and slow or the public is so arrogant or lazy that it neglects its usefulness in favor of something infinitely more direct: the car. Americans' love for the car and over-sized ones at that is undeniable. It is nearly impossible to ask all Americans to shift their long-held cultural corner stone to now all of a sudden rely on a different means of transportation. Likely a result of money being easier to acquire, almost everyone has a car. If more Germans had the means (and means for storage as well!) I image more would own them. Americans need not think twice if their Dinali will fit in a parking lot or if they'll be able to parallel park it in a centuries-old German town with cobblestone streets lining its historic center. No, Americans bus their kids to and from school, perform errands and go out to lunch all the while achieving 12 mpg in their SUVs that do anything but go off-road.

Germany: Unlike in America, where what kind of car you have is a status symbol, having a car period in Germany is one. If in Germany, one is so affluent so as to be able to bypass the high taxes (in a variety of forms) imposed on citizens, high food costs, high utility costs (Germans have to pay for how much water they use and drain, if you're an American reading, can you imagine?!), let alone high education costs you are probably still paying off (But education is certainly worth it, because it got you your cushy desk job today. And even though you may not be enjoying the luxuries Americans do, you have dinner on your plate each night), and yet you still have enough "leftover" to afford an SUV, you have a lot of money.

As if having an automobile period in Germany is a big deal, incredibly, BMWs, Mercedes and Audis are sold as economy cars in Germany. Contrast to the 'States, where they are heralded as only premium "products," they are complete with hubcaps, low-displacement motors (anywhere from 1.0-2.0 liters) and tacky plastic exterior parts that keep costs relatively low. In the US the current generation BMW 3 Series for example, wouldn't be caught dead with any engine smaller than a 2.8 liter engine. About two times the average European engine!

In Germany, hatchbacks are the equivalent to sedans in the US. But instead of Chevy, Ford and so on, it's more common to see Seat, Citroën and VW. Also contributing to cost-savings is the low price for diesel. Diesel is the cheapest kind of fuel in fact. Standard unleaded 95 petroleum costs €1.73, while diesel is €1.54. With the small European hatchbacks exceeding 60 mpg ratings without breaking a sweat, Germans take every opportunity they can to save money in everywhere possible.

German S-Bahn train station. Notice anything in the background?
An example of hatchbacks lining a German street.
People crowd into an U-Bahn car after Japantag (Japan day) festivities.

USA: When I say "laws," I imply law enforcement primarily and the public's adherence to said enforcement. In the US, the police try to hold a vice grip to the people. Ever-imposing, ever-oppressing and never allowing any fun or freedom to be had. They do not trust the public, which is why the public behaves irresponsibly in the first place. If the police would allow the public some breathing room, then I believe they would act with more maturity. Of course, if whenever you come home from school and your parents do nothing but beat you and yell at you, you're going to either 1) run away from home, or 2) become rebellious and disrespect and disobey them. It should be clear that at this point, I'm not referring to murder, vandalism, arson, drug-vending or gang activity. Rather, traffic-related law enforcement. The police show no respect to the public (who pay their salaries) so why would the public to the police. It feels as though the police are constantly out to get people.

Traffic law enforcement is only the tip of the iceberg in the United States. A great deal of the laws Congress puts into practice are remedial for a problem that already has arisen and inadequately addresses said problem because Congress is so horribly inefficient and at this point the problem has morphed and gone on to hurt the lives of others in more terrible ways.

Germany: Compared with Germany, laws have immensely more foresight and fewer problems are likely to arise. This is illustrated by the absence of a violent relationship between police officer and citizen in Germany as seen in the United States. In my opinion, a smarter way to do things. (Also in Germany, people actually wait for the cue to cross the road! In the 'States, they may as well be props!)

USA: Environmental issues are a huge concern of mine. I cringed when I saw the enormous amount of trash from my peers at my college, Marquette University and the university's general reluctance and ignorance of the concept of recycling.

Such ideas of recycling and conservation may as well be thousands of miles away from the American psyche.

By in large, Americans don't seem to realize the real impact of wasting recyclable materials and really don't seem to want to care either. Out of sheer comfort, they just throw away and forget. This is evidenced by the unstoppable hunger to tear down forests and establish schools, houses and businesses. American urban sprawl is money-driven and will stop at virtually nothing, let alone natural habitats and risking the little fresh air there is left to breath.

Perhaps it's the unrestrictive economy that inspires free enterprise and million-dollar homes, which have come to represent success in the land of the free. I'm by no means against financial prosperity and luxury homes, but American society's desire to expand at the expense of nature is insatiable and nothing - not even this blog! - can do anything to stop it. The Man is too greedy to not want his third lakehouse and his seventh Porsche. Because of this, I'm disgusted and constantly fearful that in 20 year's time, the only nature that will be left will be the few forest preserves that are around today.

Germany: Germany appears satisfied with what establishment it already has. That is a quality I love about it. It allows a great deal of greenery to live - in cities, parks, towns and in and around streets - it is not limited to where humans said it could or couldn't be. It's a more liberal approach to the environment.  Whether that word bears a positive or negative connotation for you, it is positive in this case.

A great initiative in Germany is for every glass and plastic bottle, there is a ,25-cent reward. This inspires citizens to not litter and throw things in the trash like their American counterparts, but instead, to recycle. What a concept! Even though my family recycles, I'm sure such a word is shamefully foreign to most American households.

A feature of German society I cannot get past is how rampant smoking remains to be. That is by no means doing any favors for the environment!

The site right outside my window in Germany! By God is it lovely!
Area near my home, how gorgeous!

USA: The United States is the undeniable winner in this comparison. Germans watch our films, listen to our music and sing it in English, watch our television and are obsessed with everything American, because when that word is uttered, "Hollywood," "the music industry" and a number of other cultural touchstones are conjured. When I have told a group of German girls that I was from America, their eyes lit up in tandem.

The American media bears so much influence abroad in fact, that young German boys are beginning to wear American baseball, hockey, basketball and football hats and high school football jackets as  fashion statements. (And with little clue any of those sports are!)

Several months after their initial release, translated American films are shown in Kinos across Germany, CNN and a translated version of the History Channel play on televisions, while MTV dominates youthful ears with their exotic, American lyrics.

Germany: Germany does have a unique take on American media, although it is slight and often seeking to mimic the tried-and-true American methods. They've got rap and hip-hop like us, but in German and comedy like us (I even saw a show last night that was exactly like America's Funniest Home Videos, coincidence, right?).

Also, I'm a fan of house, trance and drum and bass music, and for once, it's not unusual to hear this music on the radio! Something I could never expect to hear in the US.

I find their reporting style and presentation to be more of the English flavor than the American, but you can win everything now can you?

BOTH: While the average American sportsfan is enthralled with basketball, baseball and football, I find these sports downright monotonous to watch. My saving grace (and don't be shocked) is NASCAR. Most northerners find this sport just as monotonous as I described basketball, baseball and football. And I can understand. Yes it is in an oval. And most of the time I myself find it boring. But when I sit down to watch a race it can be some extraordinarily compelling entertainment. 

More than NASCAR (and I really only watch and gave NASCAR a chance because that's all the Speed Channel shows) is road racing. This is racing again, but thankfully not in an oval formation. My favorite racing series include ALMS (American Le Mans Series), Formula 1, WTCC (World Touring Car Championship), BTCC, (British Touring Car Championship), DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

I also am a supporter of Manchester United and the German National Team, so I quite enjoy soccer as well, which means Germany is the right place for me when it comes to soccer and motorsports.


Summer Weather:
BOTH: Here I'll talk about summer weather more than anything else because my only experience in Germany (including my trip with my family in 2009 and this current month-long trip I'm on now for a German language intensive course) have been during summer.

In the Chicago, where I hail, the weather is gorgeous during this time. As of this writing is Chicago a (more) gorgeous (than Germany) 33˚ C (91˚ F), while here in Düsseldorf is a not so great temperature of 18˚ C (64˚ F).

Germany always finds a way to rain, one way or another. It frustrates me so much, but that's probably why there is so much green here. Every day I'm here, while I love the culture and experience speaking German, I'm missing one more day of gorgeous American weather. I love the heat. This is not what I had in mind coming to Germany in the summer. In fact, I only brought one pair of pants because I thought the weather was going to be ten times warmer. Boy was I wrong because it gets frost-like here during the night!

Rain, in Germany? No? You don't say? It never rains here!

In All:
It will prove impossibly difficult deciding whether I should move to Germany when I move on to my profession writing career. There is so much good and bad with both countries. And it's not even a direct comparison, because they are both respectively good and bad in a variety of ways that are in no way reflective of one another.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 9

Day 9 was another one of those good days. The sun was shining, I had the teacher I like and life was good.

As soon as I got home from class, I napped for several hours and that was everything I needed at that point. As I emerged from my slumber at about 7 o' clock, I went downstairs for dinner.


My host mother made Pommes with Rindfleisch (a Turkish delicacy) for dinner. My appetite has been steadily growing over the past few days the more often and intensely I've been running. This meal was no different. I ate seemingly as much as my stomach could accomodate. This was not the best idea.

The Rindfleisch (think: Gyro meat), while it was good, gave off a flavor of cholesterol. In other words, it's not a meat for the faint of stomach or anyone on a diet. (I don't think I want to have that for a long time.) Thankfully I'm a male and young, so I could consume a cow without seeing any noticeable impact to my weight. 

My American upbringing (that perceives food to be the ultimate panacea for all problems in life) instructed me to continue to insert the tender meat shavings into my mouth. I added some salt, and what do you know, the flavor was even better! 

After the meal, I ermm, tried to get rid of the meal before going on my daily run with Sadeq. I did my best, but to no avail. 

I thought I wouldn't have a problem running with all that cow flesh lounging in my stomach. But was I wrong. 

Sadeq had the bright idea to go on a 5K run to our friend, Fadi's house. We left our house at approximately 11 and returned at half-past 2. At first we ran, desperately trying to find our way using Sadeq's iPhone, but the device would frequently mislead us, so that hampered our pace. 

At first, we ran. And as we ran, my stomach made gurgling noises, which gave me the impression that it was inflating like a hot air balloon. I pushed on and as we waited for Sadeq's phone to gain its bearings, we walked. 

We walked and walked and walked. Until we finally arrived at Fadi's house. We stood around his kitchen as Sadeq charged his phone and drank some Apfelschorle

Soon, we were on our way again. It was perhaps the single most tumultuous journey I have ever embarked on. We found ourselves lost a number of times and the path was ever-changing thanks to Apple's brilliant technology. We walked as if we were drunk out of drowsiness for hours and finally made it home. 

I had to wake up at 7:30 and played with the thought of not going to class tomorrow. I ultimately did thanks to my strict scruples and the day after was surprisingly good based on how little sleep I received.

More photos of my home away from home.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 8

The video speaks for itself, leider. 

A short rant on America's effect on Germany's media and sense of style: 

In the same way that Americans take pride in the things they enjoy and immediately label them as "American," Germans do the same. Americans, for example, falsely believe that the car is an American invention. It's not. Contrarily, it's German. 

Germans, on the other hand, act as if all the American-sourced music they listen to is their own. 

Additionally, it's funny to see how quite obsessed with America Germans are. Their media is dedicated to Hollywood and anything famous and American. Many a German has responded with lit-up eyes when I tell them I'm from America. Partly impressed with my German accent
and mostly star-struck with thoughts about Hollywood and the music industry. 

Young German men have even taken to American baseball caps (which has been an immense source of frustration for me when they don't even know what baseball is!) and for some reason or another, high school football jackets. What's next, lacrosse pinnies? I think someone could make a killing selling those here...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 7

Yes. I have been in Germany for officially a week. Not much happened this Sunday.

I tried to go to mass, however like most Catholics, had an excuse lined up. No, it wasn't that I didn't have any time, or that I had to drive my kids to soccer practice or had a family function going on. Rather, it was raining. A lot. And in my case, I have to walk everywhere. That is, to the bus stop or the train station.

Yes, pretty poor excuse, I know. But now, I know where the nearest church is and I don't even need a bus or train because it's so close. It would help if I asked my host family more questions...

Sadeq and I went on our [now] usual run and ran a fair distance in the drizzling rain. Along the way, he criticized me for waiting for him. So, on our way back, I decided to continue on based on what he said. I sped off, and without me Sadeq doesn't run. So we got totally separated and I thought he was going to try to keep up. But no. He began to walk. I stopped to stretch and waited for him, but he never showed up. I turned around and ran back and still couldn't find him!

As I turned around yet again, I saw him down the sidewalk. I ran, then walked, then creeped. In a poorly executed attempt to scare him, he found me first.

Again, not much else happened this Sunday. I blame it on the horrible rain that has been down pouring for the past four days! Something like this in America would never happen! If anything, it'll rain for all of a couple of hours. Although, I suppose that's how there's so much Grün (foliage) in Germany. And for that, I love it. But for the viel und oft rain, not so much!


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 6

My sixth day in Düsseldorf, Germany was very much a mixed bag.

For starters, I woke up at the not-so-early time of 11 o' clock, took a shower, got dressed and headed downstairs. Hilariously, my host family and fellow IIK students had been looking through a sports gear catalogue, wherein on the cover, was the same Germany away jersey I happened to pick out moments earlier. I asked, then I begged, Sadeq to come run with me. But to no avail. Despite him promising me the night before that we'd go out and run at 12 the next day, he was busy faulenzen.

So that meant I could go alone, go faster, with few to no Pausen. Fine by me!

I ran to a quite large Volkswagen dealership called Volkswagen Zentrum. One way, the dealership was 3,1 kilometers away (that's roughly 2 miles each way for you Amis back home). The path went from enchanted neighborhood to industrial very quickly. Along my way, I'm sure I confused many a German by wearing a German national team jersey given how expensive an item it is in Germany. (In Germany they cost 80€, while in the US $80, or the equivalent of 64€!) I must have either looked like a very wealthy German or an absolute foreigner.


I ran down Sandträgerweg, which transformed to Königsberger Straße, where I turned right onto Ronsdorfer Straße, which bent and curved until my straight-line American brain was totally befuddled, where I came across Hellweg and somehow, by God's grace, returned home. I had no phone with me, was growing increasingly tired and thirsty and would have had to walk the rest of the way if it was much longer. It would make sense to take two rights to end up where you started, right? The German roads with their tendency to undulate and swivel made me grow to distrust my navigational judgements. But they paid off and the familiar golden wheat fields greeted me yet again and the sun shined on Michael Lenoch that day.

My first mistake of the day then, was wearing the shirt you see below.


That shirt represents a soccer club in Nürnberg. Later from a local, I found out that they're a horribly low-tier team. But I had no idea. To me, it was a German shirt, and Germans would respond to a German shirt with open arms. To my American readers, this was worse than wearing Bears memorabilia in Green Bay or vice versa. I could see the intense anger in the passersby that stared at its white lettering, and soon afterward, deeply into my eyes. Soon I was made well aware I should have never worn that shirt for the deep devotion to Düsseldorf's home-grown club, Fortuna. By the day's end on the S-Bahn ride home, I started a conversation with a guy who glanced at my shirt. I unabashedly asked him "Magst du es?" (Do you like it?) He pulled out one of  his headphones and explained to me why I was getting stared at all day. I explained to him that I got it simply as a souvenir while visiting Germany with my family in 2009 for the first time, not to signify my allegiance. 

I went to a Flohmarkt (flea market) where locals sold their used or unwanted items and there were a few specialty stalls. My host family's daughter, Nicola, and I rode by bike to the location. The scenes were absolutely idyllic! Take a look!


 At the Flohmarkt, there was a band playing, nice weather was upon us and to my chagrin, horrible smoke wafted at every corner. Ich könnte es mich nicht gelitten!

The very German band sang American songs... in German. And crazy people danced as if it was Lollapalooza. 
I was genuinely surprised to see a car from FLORIDA in Germany. Definite WTF moment for me.

After the Flohmarkt, my Gastfamilie and I went to the local Aldi for some groceries. After that, I had to split up from them as they drove and I rode a bike. We were off. 

I tried to re-locate where Nicola had locked up the bike for me, and again, somehow found it. Thank goodness! I unlocked the bike and was on my way... or so I thought.

Like almost every other member of the male species, I refused to ask anyone where to go and was dead-set on a pre-determined path like a broken GPS. And like almost every other male, eventually found himself lost. In fact, I ended up in a very posh area where I saw Range Rovers and elegant, tree-covered sidewalks. I saw a group of girls around my age and swiftly rode my bike to them. I started by saying "Entschuldigung? Weißt ihr wo Gerresheim ist?" After asking where I should go, none of them knew. I then explained that I was from America, Chicago specifically, and all their eyes lit up and said "Cool!" (I should really tell people that I'm from Chicago more often!) I later said I was studying German at IIK and hope I can be a journalist in Germany some day. I'm sure we could have carried the conversation on because (and I kid you not) the girls seemed entranced about how exotisch America is, but I worried (because I knew my host family worried) if or when I would return. I sped off as fast as I approached them wished them farewell with a friendly "Tchüß!' 

While riding my bike on the European sidewalks, I felt my sense of speed multiply from what large, American suburbs I'm used to. Thankfully, no sidewalks in Europe end as abruptly or unexpectedly as they do in suburban America. At a certain point along my journey, I realized I'd better sacrifice whatever absurd phone rate it'll cost to use my phone to find out where I am and where I need to go. I was soon on my way and fork-deep into a leftover bowl of chicken and broccoli which was everything I needed after running four miles and biking even more. 

Later then, I headed with Sadeq and Ahmed, where we headed to the Altstadt, which was extremely crowded thanks to the Japantag celebration that day, where anime and manga fans would cosplay as their favorite characters (or at least the ones they resemble the most). 
Along our way to the Lebanese restaurant, we encountered the most stereotypical German drinking scenes. It was like college on stereoids. It was awesome! A whole table of burly men sang in harmony as they saluted each other with their great, big beer glasses.

At the restaurant, my three Israeli friends felt right at home and ordered Felafel. The place was so crowded. I ordered just pita(?) bread with hummus at first. Little did I know, my friends also ordered a Felafel for me. I received my bread (whatever kind it is!) and hummus and began eating it with my friends who had already received their Felafels. Later, the server came back with a Felafel for me. He asked me if I already paid for it. I knew if I said "no," he would know I was lying. So I took the high road and reluctantly paid for it. The food was great, but extremely salty and called for a drink to go with it. But wait! A tiny glass-bottle coke costs 1,6€. By no means worth it! Even though I was horribly thirsty, I sipped the sweet drink so I could top off the meal with coke rather than a dry, uncomfortable feeling in my mouth. Money is so much more painful to spend when you can hold it, smell it and see it. That's why credit cards are the easiest way to burn money.

The site of the bridge from afar.

Then Sadeq and I headed for the bridge for the fireworks show. Unfortunately we lost Fadi, Veronika, Sorina and Ahmed along the morass of wacky and colorful-costume-clad anime characters. Sadeq and I made it on the bridge alive though.
The bridge while the sun was still out and it was [relatively] warm.
The pros set up shop, with tripods and all.

As we and the masses waiting for the explosive entertainment (see what I did there?) there were a number of ships that swam under the bridge. Some appeared for more geriatric sorts than others, but I had the envy of my life when I saw a boat with a large crowd dancing on the deck with a DJ playing "Welcome to St. Tropez." 

A more geriatric boat.
A rainbow of neon boats! 
God did I have the envy of my life hearing that song and seeing all those people dancing on that ship... Shame of shames! 

The bespoke people dancing on bespoke ship!

After a long hour of waiting in the cold (although Sadeq and Ahmed had told me to bring a jacket, I refused to), the fireworks began. 

A large of Germans photograph the spectacle.
I find that I'm really "over" firework shows. They seem to captivate me less and less than they did when I was younger. Once you see one fireworks show, you've seen them all. 

I quickly grew bored and stopped taking photos as the been-there-done-that-feeling set in. So I asked a girl behind me laughing if she wanted to take my place so she could take some pictures. She said no, that's okay. Then, intriguingly started a conversation with me because I had nothing but a t-shirt and shorts on (maybe I should wear just t-shirts when it's really cold out more often?). Either way, it's really quite comical the way I'm beginning to meet more and more people. 

Our conversation then drifted on to where I'm from and she appeared more interested, so well, we kept talking. With her was her friend who was quite drunk at the time. She was really funny. I asked them where they needed to go and they said to the same train as us so we decided to go together. 

It was hard to stay together thanks to the enormous amount of people trying to go one direction at once, so rather than walking on a [stereotypically] efficient German sidewalk for transporting pedestrians, we walked on a clunky, slow path that consisted of circumventing people more than anything else. 

But we survived. 


We not only survived, but we also boarded the U-Bahn successfully too! As soon as we arrived where our paths diverged at the Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof, Sadeq had the bright idea to go back thanks to a call he received from a friend, inviting us to a club. 

We went back to the Altstadt and braved the drunken people, for what? Not much. We did get to see the absurdly polluted city as a barge, carrying eight American-sized (that tells you they're BIIIG) garbage trucks just to clean up the tornado of a mess that was the Japantag

All those reflective objects you see are BEER BOTTLES. All of them. It looks as if a riot happened there!
A brief video highlighting the vibrant nightlife in Düsseldorf.

However, we did meet a German-Moroccan who asked Sadeq if he's from Düsseldorf, but he said no. Then he approached us again and asked me the same question. Before he could walk away, again dissatisfied, I stopped him asking where he's from. That really got him started. 

Along our fruitless walk looking for our friend who sent us the invite, he talked about the political strife and economic turmoil of Sadeq and my home nations: Israel and the United States. He was fun to talk to, but spoke extraordinarily fast. Again, another very interesting way to meet a person. 

Es gibt viel zu tun in Düsseldorf! Und natürlich, noch viel mehr! 

Bis morgen!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 5

To my surprise, today was even better than yesterday.

However, there is still some unfinished business to attend to before I delve into day 5's activities. So I suppose you could call the first section of this entry "Day 4.5."

A number of classmates and I went to a pub in Düsseldorf's Altstadt (old town/city center) for a Stammtisch (get-together) with other IIK students. There, I met some new people and fun was had by all. My friends slurped their non-alcoholic margaritas (German, right?!) and I had my first Altbier as we watched Israel lose to Germany in a friendly match.

I drank... errm, I mean, sipped that minuscule glass you see below. And for me, who has little to no experience drinking, that was more than plenty. I could feel the effects kicking in after the second sip. I'm sure a beer aficionado would find the taste simply exquisite, but I'm by no means a "beer person." I ordered one partly to say that I did when family members ask me at any given obligatory function and to see, just see, if maybe I could be won over by Germany's [arguably] greatest invention. (Never mind, the car, turbine engine, x-ray technology, toothpaste, aspirin nor airbag). Because America's Miller, Keystone and Pabst Blue Ribbon have been anything but successful in massaging my taste buds.

Day 4 marked my first German (and legal) beer.

On to day 5. After IIK's unsavory decision to plan a night out at a bar on a Thursday night, I was forced to eject from my bed at a brisk 7:30 in the morning. I remembered I didn't complete my homework, for which I received a great deal (thanks to me switching class times and missing the first day of my new class). I quickly completely what I could pull out of thin air as I waited for my friend, Ahmed, to finish his breakfast. 

Along the way to the train this morning, we saw the cutest scene: two horses "kissing" each other. Whatever it was, it was so sweet!

I arrived to class. But today, there wasn't the not-so-nice, incredibly condescending and will-interrupt-you-at-any-cost female teacher with messy, black, witch-like hair I had yesterday. Instead, there was a tall, stern (yet friendly) looking German with the most typical of German faces, all the while wearing a pair of glasses. I immediately felt obliged to pay attention to every last word and syllable he uttered for how earnest he appeared. I felt he truly deserved my attention. He executed every pronunciation with German engineer-like precision. I loved it and I did not once look at the clock. The greatest shame of the day was that he only teaches for Tuesdays and Fridays. Verdammt! 

In our class that day, there was a new Ukrainian girl I met, and most surprisingly of all, an American (?!) girl. She had a remarkably good accent. And it was interesting having two Americans in one class who have said remarkably good accents (and I'm not patting myself on the back here, as I receive any number of compliments for how authentic my German sounds). Our discussion during out Pause eventually boiled down to English on account of words we couldn't express in German, but it soon returned to German as we realized the Greek and Lebanese men around us couldn't understand a word we said. 

Of all places, she was from Texas! And yet when she spoke English she sounded like anything but. Her name was the highly German Courtney. To be fair, it could be spelled with a "K." She was only the third American I've spoken to thus far, and I've seen other ones (they stand out pretty good), but not dare to speak to them, oh no! (And yes, Americans do bite.) 

Before returning home, I picked up a Turkish kebab. 


And by luck (destiny) ran into a housemate of mine at the train station before I could eat my [then warm] Turkish delight. And she was nice enough to show me where the book store is so that I could finally purchase my textbook for my class. She led me all the way there and all the way back home via three öffentliche Vekehrssmitteln, U-Bahn (underground train), S-Bahn (street train) and Bus. How nice!

Later that day, my friend Sadeq and I went for a run. And along the way, we saw a group of VWs and other assorted tuned European cars like Seats and Mercedes. I asked Sadeq if I should approach the group. He said I should do whatever I want. As I approached the crowd, I saw them all eventually turn their heads and at first, I felt unwelcome. But after I spoke some German to them, they warmed up to me and answered my initial question, which went: "Ihr seid Autofans, nicht?" Their answer was obvious, but that was intentional. I wanted to ask a comfortable question at first, so I could go off the deep end in my second question. "Seid ihr nach der Nürburging gefahren?," I said. None of them have driven on the legendary racetrack open to the public, but they directed me to a man in a smaller circle consisting of three guys and three girls who has. I approached the crowd with immense confidence and began asking my questions using the second-person, formal "Sie" for he appeared older than me. After time, that transformed to an informal "du" and as far as I could tell, the group and I really kicked things off.

I knew if I never approached the group of people surrounding the tuned cars, I would forever regret not engaging in such a totally organic, spontaneous conversation. Besides, I know car fans wherever I go will be fully willing to share their passion wherever I am from. I think my authentic accent helped them welcome me as well. 

An example of one of the tuned VWs. In fact, this is the exact one owned by one of the Jungs I met named [a very American] Chris. 

The conversation alternated between cars when the guys would talk to me and living in America when the girls would ask me questions. I was impressed how capable I was to talk to total strangers at the drop of a hat. I suppose all there really is to it is that you have to be friendly and willing to joke. Speaking of joking, I'm surprised I could pull them off! I could not believe how much fun it was to simply talk to Germans. We talked about street racing (and how it's verboten), American cars (and my distaste for them), what was up with the meet they were all gathered there for and how one of the girl's brother now lived in North Carolina in the US.  

It was positively splendid!

Bitte kommen Sie zurück am morgen!