European Diary

actually, sap is a business software firm which is very successful in germany and gaining prominence in europe and even in the us. the headquarters is in walldorf (just south of heidelberg) which is where i work. it is here where the only development happens. other offices are for marketing and (sap software) consulting--mostly on our 4th generation language called ABAP which is to sap software as lisp is to gnuemacs (ie. it allows customers to write their own applications).

our user interface (that i work on) speaks german, english, french, spanish, japanese and a few others. it's really pretty cool. displays include plain ascii, presentation manager on os2, and motif on a variety of unix workstations. programming is in c (or abap). other job possibilities (here) include translation and documentation.

the us offices are in philidelphia, pa and redwood city, ca. phone numbers are 215-521-4500 and 415-637-1655 respectively. if you're interested in working in another country, chances are there's an sap office there. send me mail if you want specific telephone numbers. the number here is +49-6221-340--the receptionist doesn't speak much english, so just ask for personnel: "personal buero, bitte!"


i was working for sri international in menlo park (near stanford--sri used to be called stanford research institute) and starting working on a project in heidelberg--my first visit was in feb. 88. i would spend a month here, a month there, and finally moved over in jun. 89. in apr. 90, sri wanted me back in california, so i quit and fortunately had a connection with this german firm, sap, and i've been here since may 90.

at the moment, i still want to go back some time in the future, but it will be another couple of years i think. i want to learn german thoroughly and see most of europe while i have this opportunity.

Summer 1990

after quitting sri at the beginning of april, i made arrangements to start with another american company (techdyn) at the beginning of may. in the meantime, i started talking with this german company called SAP (Systeme, Andwendungen, und Produkte in der Datenverarbeitung), but they hadn't made an offer before i was supposed to start at techdyn. but two weeks later they did, and i've been here ever since.

it's been an excellent opportunity. my german is finally improving, just about all my friends now are germans, and i've been doing a lot more travelling. the work is developing portable user interfaces for SAP's business applications that run with motif on dec, siemens, ibm and hp workstations; pm (presentation manager) on ibm ps2's running os2; and even curses. people mostly code in english, although there are still a lot of german comments.

my current stats are:

Bill Wohler
Gaisbergstr. 21
6900 Heidelberg
ph: 011-49-6221-163255 (replace 011-49 with 0 from within germany)
wk: 011-49-6227-341658

Pink Floyd Concert, Berlin, July 1990

berlin was really, really cool. bob, a new friend that i met through a friend of mine (hesh), originally from england who has been living in california the last 11 years and is now at the end of a 6 month motorcycle trip through europe, met us there. it was strange to be a group of 300,000 people in potzdamer platz where only a few months ago, there were walls, barbed wire, concealed bombs and armed guards. there weren't any guards present when i was there--you could just waltz into east berlin at your leisure.

friday night we hit the town and danced until 6. the sun was already well up in the sky.

on saturday, we met up with dan heller who was doing business in berlin for a couple of weeks and we did a little sightseeing. the brandenburg gate is completely covered with scaffolding now. the reichstag (hitler's capital) is really magnificent. there were pictures inside the building showing what it looked like after the war. it was a mess, but still standing. they fully restored all but the glass dome. one picture showed a lot of fresh graffiti on the ruin--in russian!!

we then walked to alexander platz in east berlin for coffee and cake. we walked into the courtyard of a library. outside you could see bullet holes that were patched up, but inside the walls were really munged, as if they were just mutilating the people coming in through the gate from the windows. there are still many signs of war in berlin. you don't really see any signs in heidelberg--it was spared during the war, and you certainly don't see any in san francisco. it was a very sobering weekend.

the concert was interesting. there were too many people, not enough bathrooms, diamond-vision screens, or beverage stands. we stood in line for coke for an hour and a half--each time we made it to the front of one line, they ran out of coke. so we went without. we also went without going to the bathroom also. we couldn't really see the concert itself either. finally, during the beginning of the concert, the sound cut out twice and the music wasn't loud enough. but despite all that, it was still an excellent experience and the best concert i've been to in my life.

on sunday, we met up with my cousin from boston who was just starting a vacation with a friend of hers. it was funny how all these people met in berlin from all over the world! anyway, my friend and collegue uwe went on vacation last week to bavaria and took bob, maggie and jean with him! i caught up with them for the weekend, but unfortunately, maggie and jean had already left for italy, but we met up with them again the next weekend in switzerland at the vierwaldstaettersee.

on saturday at the lake we (uwe, bob, maggie, marianne, and myself) made like the swiss and took a trek up a mountain; jean wimped out. it was about 1700 meters and it was hot! i brought along 4 liters of water for 5 people but it was not enough. most of us suffered from some form of heat prostration after the 3.5 hour hike to the top so it was good that there was a restaurant at the top and a bergbahn to take us back down. by the evening, after a little lying in the sun and swimming, everyone was fine. we lazed around all of sunday.

recently, we've been taking it easy and have been making hikes in the local mountains, lying out by the lakes and hitting the fests.

10th Annual Ultimate Frisbee Championship, Berlin. 7 October - 9 October 1990

i drove to berlin this past weekend on friday (after arriving from a two week vacation in kos, greece on thursday) for the 10th annual german ultimate frisbee championships. the border crossings between east and west are already being ripped up in the first week of reunification. didn't even need a passport to travel through a country with soviet troops where previously i would have needed prior permission.

there was lots of wind. we could have used those 175g frisbees that dave was talking about, but we used the legal whammo 165g frisbees. it was played in east berlin: the bright colors of people's clothing contrasted sharply with the drab, grey, mottled buildings of the city. fascinated onlookers peered out their windows the entire weekend, gazing upon 300 people playing a sport they had perhaps never seen before.

activities included a drunken pickup game at the brandenburg gate at midnight and visiting local punk kneipers (pubs). outside one, a mural was drawn on the wall and in large spray painted letters "AMIS (german slang for americans), GO HOME". the people inside were amazed that someone from california was visiting their bar. some of the people inside hadn't had jobs in two years and were living in condemned buildings with no running water or electricity. the beer was very cheap. the music excellent.

the heidelberg "red barons" came in 12th out of 25 or so. the first two teams came from essen and karlsruhe. even east germany sported a team from leipzig. there were also about 8 women teams, but women also played on the men's teams.

Dresden, 1 - 4 November 1990

last weekend martin and uwe (the dudes i went to greece with) and i went to dresden to visit some colleagues for a four day weekend. it really is a beautiful city, although it is partially hidden by the thick smoke from the coal-burning industry and fireplaces and those cute little two-stroke trabbis. we stayed in a little campground (with warm, dry huts and beds!) just outside town next to where our colleagues live: a drab, unlandscaped apartment complex that houses 45,000 people.

the sight that impressed me the most about dresden was the frauenkirche (church of our lady) in the middle of town: it remains as the americans and british left it after the war--a pile of rubble. the palace of kings and electors is still largely a ruin, but they are working on renovating it.

we managed to get tickets to the world renowned semper opera and saw the barber of seville. the opera was rebuilt basically from the ground up after the war and has excellent acoustics as well as a ceiling that could have been out of the sistine chapel.

we visited the gruene woelbe, a museum with jewelry, porcelain, coins and other pieces of art and treasure. martin and i missed the alte meister painting museum upstairs; we'll have to go back again since it has the best art collection in either all of europe or in northern europe. we also visited the precious small town of meissen, and besides buying a couple of presents for mom and the sis, we saw the meissen museum with wonderful meissen porcelain pieces from the 18th century and were able to watch artists performing the manufacturing process. finally, we saw the geschichtes (history) museum where we saw photographs of the happy, joyous, people from the 20s and 30s and the glum, empty faces of the people after the war. there were also old newspapers, weimar marks and other momentos. it was a very cultural weekend.

of course you can't visit a town in europe without seeing the buildings of excess and fortification. augustus the strong (so named because he fathered 365 children) had his palace in a place called the zwinger, and when he needed to get away from his kids, he went to a place up the river called the pillnitz schloss (castle). this was a place where you could imagine their having concerts, boat rides, and romantic walks through the gardens. on the way back, we saw the moritzburg schloss, a beautiful, bright orange building perched in the middle of a lake. we also visited koenigstein where there is a fortress perched on the top of a mountain--the walls are basically extensions of the mountain itself and i can't imagine anyone breaking in. from the top we were able to view the sachsen schweitz (saxon switzerland) with its vertical sandstone cliffs.

and we partied. one night we hit a student dance club that was fairly large. the music they played was a bit on the slow side though, and then they played about 5 or 6 slow songs until we left. there were lots of very attractive east german girls there that need to be met, but we were tired and hadn't met anyone that we could slow dance with, so we'll have to save them for next time. the next night we saw live jazz in the basement of another bombed out building. afterwards we went to the zwinger baeren (that student hangout), but it was too crowded to get in (being a saturday night). while we were standing around outside, we met some folks from australia and we had a couple of beers with them at a small cafe.

let's see, schloss, ruins, culture, nightclubs... what's left? oh yeah, i got to drive a trabbi! you know, those cute little german cars that you can barely get into and your knees hit the windshield. loud, rough, poor brakes and steering. and everybody drives one. everyone also lives in the same type of apartment. everybody is the same. but the western influence is already arriving and people are trying to keep up with the joneses.

on sunday night we drove home. sort of. the radio reported long staus (traffic jams) on the autobahns so we ended up driving the entire way from dresden to the border for five hours on backroads. (we heard that there was a 95km stau in frankfurt; several weeks ago there was a 200km stau the whole way from nuerenburg to berlin.) it took forever. actually though, some of the backroads were better than the autobahn! they sometimes had two lanes in one direction, where the autobahn for the most part was cobblestone and one lane! one can understand this for it used to be a road to nowhere since it was not previously connected to any roads in the west (there were only two or three crossings before last year). by the time we had hit the border it was snowing hard and had already snowed about 5 or 6 centimeters. good thing i just put new wipers and tires on my car! we stopped for dinner and talked ourselves into drinking beer and spending the night. after more staus and snow the next morning, we arrived at work at 2:30! it seemed as if we were driving forever!

Verbier, 14 - 16 December 1990

for the benefit of those who may be heading to europe this winter...

i spent the weekend in verbier, a small ski resort town in southwest switzerland where they speak french and eat raclette (melted cheese on potatoes) and fondue. one ticket (50 SFr) gains admission to four ski areas--the possibilities are enormous. 50 SFr is expensive by european standards, but it would be like spending $45 to ski squaw, alpine and heavenly in one day (no stopping for lunch). the hotels (single 80 SFr/$75) and food (meals 28-33 SFr/$20-25 not including wine) were filling on the stomach but emptying on the wallet.

unfortunately, the snow was not as deep as i was expecting. rocks were showing near the the bottom (1500m). but at the top (3300m), the snow was soft and plentiful, the best in two years! since we're having a really good winter, it should get better. we had a high temperature of -8 C, so the snow isn't going anywhere.

the view from the top, typical for the alps, was spectacular. one run in particular was served by the "verbier airline", a tram that holds 150 people. i would guess that the run dropped about 1000 vertical meters and was several kilometers long and took almost half and hour to complete (okay, so we were out of shape). one, long, ungroomed, powder run. mmmm!

all the locals we talked to said that verbier was by far the best area in the area, and i would also have to recommend it. they also mentioned that the area also gets really good weather; although we had one afternoon of fog, sunday was totally clear the whole day. that, coupled with the especially cold winter we are having so far this year would make it worth the trip. since last week's snowfall in heidelberg, it has snowed a little almost every day, and it looks like we're in for a significant snowfall again today. this is on top of the 10-20cm of snow that has not melted since last week. this only happens every 10 years or more.

7th Annual German Ultimate Frisbee Indoor Championship, Aachen. 23 - 24 March 1991

the last indoor ultimate frisbee tournament was played in aachen, germany. the heidelberg red barons were up to their usual tricks, losing several games 12-13 (ie. should have won, but didn't). on saturday night, we saw the small, picturesque town and played some american football and baseball in front of the rathaus with a hacky sack. we drew a puzzled crowd. after several people got hurt from being tackled on the cobblestone, we went back to the small party at the gym. music, beer and dancing were abundant. one of the players even sung a few songs--she was quite good--the audience was receptive. folks even got involved in a bit of harmless slam dancing, that is until a teammate and i went for a mid-air collision and i, being smaller, took the worst of it, getting airborne until i landed face first on the floor. elbow bleeding, knee swollen, i retired happily to my sleeping bag on the floor of the gym. the worst injuries never happen on the playing field...

on sunday, the television station tele 5 televised one of our games. they even captured one of my dives to knock down a pass. but unfortunely, it was for a local magazine and thus was not televised down in heidelberg.

International Ultimate Frisbee Tournament, Geneva 29 - 31 March 1991

the first outdoor tournament of the year brought us to geneva. on the night before the tournament begun, we managed to find our sleeping quarters in an atomic bomb shelter in the basement of a school. there were several iron doors over 30cm thick to keep out the radiation. it was a surprisingly comfortable place for over 200 players.

on the first day, friday, the wind blew very strong and cold so all teams were basically equalized by the weather. we played on artificial turf, but this was more like indoor-outdoor carpet mounted on top of concrete. it was hard when you hit it, and it tore up your skin. i came home with some impressive raspberries. fortunately i got points each time i lost skin!

there was better playing on saturday and sunday because the wind died down. one didn't even need gloves on sunday!

on saturday night, our hosts, the geneva flying disc wizards, threw a party on a boat on the lake with a live band. dancing continued until four (this makes for better playing early the next morning). it turns out that this annual event is actually somewhat of a costume party--and there were many costumes there. it looked like there was a rule that you couldn't bring any special costumes, but rather make do with what you happened to have. it was entertaining.

the news reporters were here as well and televised the playoffs on sunday. my picture even appeared in a local paper!

Rijen, Holland, 5 - 7 April 1991

i cruised up to holland to visit tim ehrhart for the weekend. his children, mark now four and kristine now seven recognized me after two years. we're not sure if mark really did though... marieke is wearing her hair a bit shorter and mark has a very cool haircut--short and spiked on top and long in the back.

on saturday we cruised to some town with lots of windmills to catch the holland experience. the windmills were actually operating and pumping water through the streams. they really move--one would be killed instantly if he got in the way of the 15 meter diameter blades.

that night we met up with one of tim's colleagues and went partying in the town of breda. there were very many people in the street and the air was noisy with the sound of music from all the pubs. it reminded me a bit of austin or new orleans. the age was quite young though. by two o'clock, after visiting several pubs and throwing darts, we were ready for some dancing. in the main square we found ourselves in the middle of a small riot! some students were yelling and throwing bottles and cans at the police, who were arming themselves with billy clubs and shields. fortunately we were pressed up against a wall when the police made their charge into the crowd and we escaped injury. we saw several people get clubbed though. weird. anyway, the dance hall was packed. one didn't move, but rather was moved by the flow of people into the hall. fortunately the dance floor was surprisingly free considering. the music was excellent and kept us boogying until after four. afterwards, because of a dearth of taxis, we drove home with a "black" taxi.

on sunday, we took a drive to the beach near den haag. it was very windy and a bit cool, so sunbathing was definitely out. windsurfing was definitely in, but we only watched while we ate dinner. it was nice to see the ocean again. there were waves, and lots and lots of sand. i didn't think northern europe had anything like it.

Utsunomiya, Japan 13 - 25 August 1992

here are some of the highlights of the week at the World Flying Disk Federation's '92 Ultimate and Guts Championships in Utsunomiya, Japan. it's long, but i hope you enjoy it anyway. you should read it as you would the "red badge of courage" by reading the first sentence of every paragraph, but unlike the "red badge of courage", you can read the whole paragraph if you find it interesting. ;-)

it was a long flight with a short layover in seoul. i arrived in tokyo and stood in long customs lines, and then waited forever to pick up my rail pass. because of this i missed the train i wanted into tokyo city and as a result had to make many more connections, so that it became so late that the trains stopped running before i got to my destination, the hatsudai train station, so i had to take a taxi the rest of the way.

it was about 12:30 at night. i had arranged with david birnbaum, a player on the american open team who had moved to tokyo a few months before, that i would call him when i arrived, about 11:00. he moved that day and had a beeper instead of a telephone, but no matter. unfortunately, his beeper wasn't working and he never showed. later he told me that he had come looking for me at 10:30, 11:00 and 11:30. at 2:00 it was too late to find alternative sleeping arrangements so i rolled up under a tree across the street from the train station with a couple of other homeless people.

i arrived at my hotel in utsunomiya the next day and got breakfast and took a shower. i was then hit by the first onslaught of japanese hospitality. the hotel was run by a family and it was just large enough to accommodate the members of our small team. just about the whole family took me sightseeing in and around utsonomiya over the course of the next two days. they paid for everything.

the hotel owner's daughters introduced me to their english teacher, an american. he showed me a bar called the samarai, and i showed it to my team, the english and the australians and by the end of the week, it was everyone's favorite bar.

they had a great deal--for 1300 yen ($8?), you could drink all the beer you wanted. we found the japanese extremely friendly and could always engage in a conversation with the folks at neighboring tables, mostly with hands and gestures as their english was only marginally better than our japanese. one time we got mixed up with some japanese businessmen and they poured saki down our throats with great gusto. three of the men, who lived in tokyo, attempted to leave, but were blocked by an extremely large member of the american guts team by the name of buck--known to all as bucki-san--who performed the sumo wrestler foot stamping routine and shook his head no, waves of fat on his face shaking side to side. everybody was rolling on the ground in laughter until they raised their glasses of beer and sake and shouted out "kampai!" bucki-san, a good sport despite his intimidating looks, let the businessmen out before they got worried.

there was a dark side--on one night, i heard that some frisbee players got out of control and took bottles of whisky from the bar. these folks were not showing spirit of the game. others wore their shoes in the no-shoes section of the bar and others left without paying. in the latter case, i can imagine that it wasn't so much bad manners as a lack of communication, and a method of paying that broke down with such a large group. as a result, they closed the bar the rest of the time we were in town. that was the only blemish on an otherwise super week.

the japanese, always keen on ceremony, threw a fantastic opening ceremony which was led off by a large elementary school band. they played typical japanese music with drums, bells and organs. it reminded me a lot of kitaro. they played perfectly and with a lot of emotion. everybody simultaneously rose to a standing ovation when the last note died out. during the closing ceremony, they presented the world's largest frisbee (3 meters in diameter) to the hosts of the next worlds in '94 which will be held in colchester, england. the builder threw the frisbee an unremarkable 10 feet. was it discraft or was it wham-o?

the japanese masters team threw a party for the other masters teams at a local disco called the "big apple." the americans and the japanese were clever enough to bring members of their women's teams. we germans didn't have any women so we bought a lot of beer for the others instead. loud music and different languages proved for conversations with toasts, smiles and waving hands. wild dancing ensued. then a local high school band started playing some pretty cool punk music, but they didn't have a bass, so an american on the japanese team grabbed a bass out of the back and joined in. later, the bartender took over on lead guitar and members of the crowd jumped in on vocals. then they played the blues, and i jumped up and sung my version of the frisbee blues. i figured i had to do some version of karaoke (ie. bad singing) while i was there. the full experience. it was not your normal night at the disco.

on saturday, the night before the finals, we experienced the town's annual firework show which had been postponed one week to accomodate the frisbee championships. the players were provided a japanese barbeque and plenty to eat and drink and later entertainment consisted of lasers and fireworks that went on for two hours. upon conclusion we piled into the busses which couldn't move for over an hour on account of the traffic. we were on a bus with the english and we sung loudly to pass the time while the folks from the taiwan team were trying to rock their bus over. they got, by the way, the spirit of the game award, and deserved it. they were a delight!

the spirit in the masters league was also outstanding. i was worried that at such a large and prestigious tournament that competition would dampen some of the spirit, but we all played hard and had a super time together. not a single bad call was made, nor was a call contested the entire week. i learned a lot and enjoyed watching everybody go ho!

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