Feb 252012


Picture this: The large, tiered conference hall is filled with several hundred of the nerdiest Germans you will ever see.  These are the High Schoolers competing in this year’s Youth Research (Jugend Forscht) competition, their parents, teachers and the corporate sponsors putting on the event.  An enthusiastic announcer voice gently encourages the crowd to “Please welcome, all the way from England, that fuuuunky band… Put your hands together in a polite round of applause for THE FUNKY DEVILS!”  That’s right, a polite round of applause you all.  Let’s not get carried away!

A low murmur of growling brass seeps in as what appears to be a high school marching band + Synth and electric bass makes their way to the stand.  They are dressed in red, like devils I suppose. But, I am detecting no funk.  They start with something vaguely recognizable with lots of-
               -terrible solos.  Then they move to a repetitive composition written by someone in their village… It is about a sleeping giant who comes out to play at night.  I rather like it, but the Devils are not playing well this night.  They seem to have one OK sax, a good drummer, 3 alright-but-weak girl singers, one bodacious blond who I am sure would love to be Adele, and possibly the worst brass section I have heard in several decades.  Mistakes are uncomfortably glaring, and those of us with any appreciation for pitch squirm in our seats.  Actually, in that room, that may have just been me.  Still, it is painfully obvious to all that the band sucks.  The crowd applauds politely.

3 hours later….

The crowd has been worn down.  We have just sat through a very German awards ceremony.  More on that later.

The devils are called back to the stage.  They are not smiling.  Clearly they had their rumps handed to them during their 1/2 time talk.  But, they start to play and.. –Hey, They are a LOT better.  Apparently they also had time for a round of practice and several music lessons. Or, maybe the songs are just more familiar.  Whatever the case, this set is much easier to listen to!  They start with ‘We Are the World’.  Mini-Adele has to reign herself in constantly to blend with her cohorts, but they make it through.  At some point she encourages the audience to clap along.  The crowd complies- politely.

And I instantly understand why people claim that  members of certain pale-colored racial designations may not possess great quantities of things such as “rhythm” or “soul”.  I believe the rumors were started by anyone who happened to watch German scientists trying to clap.  These folks cannot feel the beat!  Nor do they seem willing to move a single muscle more than what is required for the action they are completing.  No one sways.  No one is nodding their head to the music.  They are all sitting stone silent, unmoving, politely clapping when it is the socially necessary thing to do.  No more.  No less.  At this point, I start to crack up.

Mini-Adele starts in on “I Will Survive”.  The contrast between her voice and those of her song-mates is impossible to disguise on this one.  But, the rest of the band has relaxed and is finally holding its own.  Soon, one of the braver factions of the audience, I think a group of teachers in the back, starts clapping along again.  But, they are way too slow.  It is like a death clap!  They are only clapping on the first note of the measure, and the song is building to its crescendo!  I try a little experiment and start clapping double time.  Several folks around me immediately switch to my rhythm. But- they just can’t hold it.  The poor woman two rows ahead of me hasn’t successful clapped on an actual beat throughout any of the songs.  People get confused.  There is clapping all around me, but none of it is synchronized.  I decided to cut my losses and stop.  I think the other clappers are grateful.  No more pressure!

I look around again.  I am surrounded by statues with very bad haircuts.  Now, please understand, I am a geek, and proud of it.  But, this crowd would make the guys on Big Bang Theory look like the Blues Brothers.  Eff-it, It has been a long day, I am going to let loose a little.  I start to sway.  I let my shoulders roll in time to the music.  I nod my head.  David is aghast!  Compared to the room, my minimalistic movement looks downright wild.  He can’t understand how someone who is often so shy can simply not care what attention is upon her as soon as music starts playing!  But, I am having too much fun.  By now, the absurdity has enveloped me like a warm, giggly blanket and I am insulated.  I feel no pain from social sanction.  I start to bop a bit more.  David says he thought I was about to jump up and dance in the aisle- and I might have if I hadn’t thought it would mortify DS in front of his peers.  Social sanction on myself is one thing, on my kids it’s another.

Luckily, Mini-Adele quickly finishes up her solo, and polite applause follows.  I use the momentary mild-loudness of the room as cover for the unbidden peels of laughter that overwhelm me.  I love Germans.  I love geeks.  I love nerds.  I love scientist.  But, Good Golly people.  Music is mathematical.  Learn to Clap!!!

Jugend Forscht

As you may have guessed from that last anecdote, we spent the day today at Jugend Forscht.  Actually, DS spent the last three days there.  We all just joined up with him today.  Basically, the event he went to is a regional science fair competition.  Winners receive modest cash prizes with first place winners going on to the next level of competition in May.  From what we can tell, it is a way for science firms to keep an eye out for future talent.  All the while encouraging careers in science, and the idea that science can be both fun and profitable.

Mostly, it was about what you might expect.  Lots of smart kids showing off projects they had developed.  DS’s group was the youngest one at the event.  Most folks were in the 12-16 range.  I think the oldest kid was 19 and the youngest, in DS’s group, was 9.

DS manning the booth

Molding stuff.  Ick

This was competing (and won) in the Math category. 
But, we didn’t really understand it.  It had to do with the degrees
of travel an axe blade went when its handle was moved around.

Still, what could be wrong with Axe Math, right?
The teacher was showing DS how it worked.
This guy was predicting weather by observing the behavior of a frog
You GOTTA love Der Wetter Frosch!!!
Bennet won first place in the Chemistry category by making tape

There were two winning algae projects, this one from DS’ school was
about which algae made for the best biofuel

This one was all about how best to grow algae

DS’s teacher, Frau Wirtner trying to convince students to
do a more challenging display with their Sails for Cargo Ships

This young lady was DS’s chaperone through most of the event- smart, kind and friendly!
Her project was about the balance between nitrogen in the soil,
the bacteria that help plants and the sugar plants make.

Here are a few interesting tidbits in no particular order:

“SICK likes what you have in your head.”  
Just looking for a few SICK minds?
So many puns present themselves, but I should mention SICK is the
unfortunate name of the chief sponsor of the event.

The 3 hour Awards ceremony started with- a magic show!  Honestly, the crowd of hyper-intelligent logicians and their mentors seemed rather underimpressed.  Wonder why?

Entertainment for the kids on the second night involved a hip-hop dance show with songs DS found questionable.  He is not fond of swearing, and the repeated use of the F-word and B-word in English shocked him a bit.  But, he liked the dancing itself.

The first night meal was apparently not covered by the organization.  Should have sent him with more cash.  Whoops!  He did have (barely) enough, but had left some in the room, so it made for an awkward moment or two.  He also didn’t bring his jacket (thought they were eating inside at the hostel), so he may have been a wee bit chilly.  From what I can tell, this was largely his only mishap- other than slightly fumbling his speech when the judges were there.

He did manage to buy a bag of American-style marshmallows which he happily shared with his grateful roommates. 

Bowling in Germany is just about the same as bowling in the US.

You can sometimes tell if someone is dull or interesting even if you don’t speak their language well.  That guy who gave the 45 minute speech about coffee makers in the middle of the Awards Ceremony?  Definitely BORING.

On the other hand, watching them announce all the projects and show the kids
on the huge screen was pretty fun!  Nice trio there!

Cute doesn’t win awards in German Science.  This is probably for the best.  But, it means that the 9, 10 and year olds with the adorable American 11 year old, trying to convince the judges that their project on mold vs. plastic was worthy of consideration alongside the teens making biogas out of specially selected algae sort of lost their best secret weapon.  Honestly, I think they all had a ton of fun and learning experiences to foster some serious growth.  Still, who could resist these guys?

Local Germans like the local amusement park Europa Park.  When the host announced that everyone would get a pass to Science Days at Europa Park in November, the crowd (gasp) *responded*!

Young Germans speak pretty decent English.  Almost all the groups we encountered had at least one student with English good enough to respond to our sciency questions in our native language rather than theirs.  We usually gave them the option of speaking German, but mostly when they figured out we were English-speakers, they would just switch over, apologizing for their perceived lack of skill!  Can you imagine Americans doing that?  I can.  But, right now it is just a pleasant dream.

After all the student awards, it was the Teachers’ turn!  I thought that was both smart and cool on the organizer’s part.  DS’s school got two of the teacher/school awards for a total of 500 EU.

Frau Wirtner posing with her award while huge children (who could those be?)
float overhead….

The student awards were a little confusing, with many categories and levels and such. But we got to drive one of the winners home.  So, a brush with greatness!  His project was a chemistry experiment about trying to create tape using household ingredients.  He found that a mixture of sugar, glycerine and corn starch with water worked best.  I think he got a 75 EU award plus a trip to the next event.

Here is Bennet winning his award

Breaking down the conference hall took roughly no time flat!

20 minutes later

Tomorrow look for A Tale of Two Golfs

  2 Responses to “What a Difference a Week Makes, 168 little hours (1 of 2)”

  1. awesome. so what was the conclusion on the best way to grow algae for biofuels….

  2. Well, the group who was examining types of algae showed us that the one that grew on the ground (they had identified the species, but I don’t know it- I know the shape was round)seemed to do the best. The group experimenting with growing the algae felt that their results indicated that using better food was key, but they had not yet found the ideal ration of food/water/light.

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