The beer really is better. But you have to hike for it.

Belatedly, our last week: We visited T. and K. last weekend in München, where they moved two months or so ago despite our extreme and desperate protests. Their new apartment is lovely, in a quiet neighborhood northeast of the old town, within a (long) walk to the University where T. is beginning his PhD program as a genius political economist.

I hadn’t exactly done my homework. I knew that at some point they set up lots of tables in Sept-Oct and drank enormous beers (the liter-large glass is called a Maß, I now know). I hadn’t realized the town was mostly destroyed in the war, (see: Berlin). Much has been rebuilt, and the town center’s Rathaus looks as gothic as ever, despite having been built largely in the in late 1800s; but the city as a whole has the feeling of modern German, certainly not medieval or quaint Bavarian.

IMG_3943We spent one day hiking out to the Kloster Andechs, a monastary on a hill south of the city that has brewed its own beer and schnapps since the mid-1500s. It was a perfect fall day, the forests strewn with yellow leaves, the Alps jagged and white in the background. The little villages in the hills there are still what I think of when I think Germany, despite having almost never experienced them. Smoke rising from steep, tiled roofs at sunset, onion-dome church steeples in every town, blue-and-white striped maypoles in front of homes or towering over town squares. A few pictures on Flicker here.

We’re legal!

Und so… Yesterday morning at a distinctly not-bright but early 8:00, we show up for one last go at the Ausländerbehörde visa office. Our friend Gülçin bravely met us there, despite the hour, to translate.

In theory this was just supposed to be my visit, while Aimee would return next week. But when we got into Herr Arnold’s office, he had Aimee’s folder on his desk as well. Our files seem to be as attached as we are.

Herr Arnold, a gruff Berliner, had bad news. Apparently none of my new documents, the approvals we had gone to the Senate office to get, had come through. But Aimee’s were there. We protested. There must be some mistake, we said. He shooed us out of the office for a moment, to make some calls.

Ten minutes later, he appeared with a note in his hand: Go pay the office 60 euros, and then everything’s done. No more questions. No need to ask about insurance, bank accounts, any of the other issues we’d gathered documents for.

And oh, he adds… Does Frau Male have her passport with her too? We might as well do you both.

So at last, eight months after arriving, we have a visa. A year more here, and then we have to go back and show them that we actually have supported ourselves. A year seems like a long time out. We’ve started to think two, but now that it’s a potential reality, it’s again receded into the haze.

Aber für uns, endlich Erfolg!

When Hell freezes over

OK, a quick word of explanation. Last week I flew to Geneva to visit the Large Hadron Collider that CERN is building there, which will be the most powerful particle accelerator in the world by a factor of about 10 when it turns on next year. Amazing, inspiring stuff, which I’ll write about for Wired News in a few days.

But a story that won’t make it in: When they were excavating one of the caverns for these massive five or seven story detectors, they hit an underground river. Water started flowing in, clearly a bad sign. Since they were at a collider facility, they naturally turned to supercooled liquid helium to freeze the water and get rid of it, before fixing the leak. The resulting ambient temperature drop was so extreme that even the surface of the roads, 100 meters up, were iced over on that warm mid-August day.

Naturally, when I looked at the elevator buttons going down into the pit, and see the bottom one labeled “Hell,” it set me thinking…

Three cheers. Now comes the tricky part.

Hoorah for the Dems, two years, or four years, or six years late, depending on how you count. This will mitigate the disasterous policies that Bush is able to pursue. I expect it will make other congressional Republicans extraordinarily wary of agreeing with him in public.

The next two years will be positioning for 2008. Much of the GOP will wind up repudiating Bush and seeking someone (McCain’s an obvious choice) who can plausibly be distinguished from this administration.
The Dems meanwhile have to find their soul. They’ve been elected as the not-GOP party. Next time people will have to vote for them instead of against the Reps. Pelosi as Speaker is a fascinating idea, the first woman, a liberal from the bubble-land of SF. Like Willie Brown before her, she’ll have some proving to do, and much media (the Economist in particular) has been openly skeptical. My bet is she’s going to follow Brown’s model, be savvy, a dealmaker, with eyes on future elections as well as current policy. But they need to rally around ideas.
It’s fascinating to me to watch how closely this is being watched overseas. This is being covered practically like a local election here in Germany, in the UK. We’ve left such a deep, ugly footprint on the world, that everyone is paying attention even to the details. Der Spiegel’s “Lonely little party” color piece on the GOP’s lack of election-night celebration is particularly funny, even more insidery than most US papers.