Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Bielefeld

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Today we went to Bielefeld where my boss was giving a talk in a seminar. As quite a few people from our department recently moved to work there, it almost felt like home. If it hadn’t been for the location change, which meant a car ride of almost two hours. We got a car from a local car sharing company to go there.

They have quite new cars. For me anyway. As I don’t care for cars and my parents don’t buy new cars all the time, I tend to think that a car with a CD player is quite ‘modern’… But many other things in the car were quite clever as well. Such as the radio which seemed to have two tuners and could play one station without traffic information and switch to another station with traffic information as those were broadcast. It was also able to just display the names of the next and previous stations when trying to tune into a new one… making that annoying effort as simple as you’d always wished it to be. (Radio is still crap, though).

Other details looked quite good to me as well. Like a very clean general design (although I keep wondering whether it really is a good idea to not label the on/off button of the radio at all for the better looks – or contrarily whether the on/off button of my camera shouldn’t have such a label) or the fact that they solved the problem of having the potentially important service manual for the car in the likely messy glove box by simply putting a dedicated holder at the top of the glove box in there – meaning you get all the space for your mess without ruining the manual.

Similarly I was surprised that a basic car like a Golf has air conditioning. Air conditioning that can be separately controlled for both sides of the car even. What really annoyed me about it was the fact that its default state is on. Indeed the button for it is labeled Off and the little light in the button goes on when the air condition system is turned off. That just seems wrong. It also seems to encourage people to unnecessarily use the air conditioning. In middle European climate the occasions when you really need it are rare and the extra waste of fuel is rather non-trivial. (I figure the cooling of the car is done converting the chemical energy in fossil fuel into and explosion, heat, and mechanical energy and then converting that into electrical energy which in turn – I assume – is converted to some mechanical form again before any air is cooled… not too efficient, particularly for an energy-intensive process.)

Anyway, we made it to Bielefeld which is said to be not too pretty and have one of the ugliest universities in the country. The university was built in the 1960s when the country was still rich and ambitious. And it looks like they wanted to create something great. Which back then meant a single massive block of concrete where all of the university is shuffled in. This means you have endless corridors which always seem to be a bit too narrow to feel comfortable and just walking along the hundreds of metres of each you’ll pass through several departments.

Corridor in Bielefeld university

All the parts of the building are joined together at the bottom where there is a giant atrium for people to meet and walk around in. I guess all these are things which sound like great ideas when you read them, but which just don’t work out as nicely. Long corridors are monotonous and depressing. Sixties architecture means loads of concrete which look worn out today. Underfunded universities mean that things haven’t been painted for years. And that they’re smelly.

Staircase in the university building. Rotten concrete a red handlebar and a blue peace dove sprayed to the wall

If anything, visiting that building made me think that while our department may not be perfectly maintained, we’re still in a much more stylish position. Strangely, most of the photos I took don’t look too bad. It seems to be hard to capture the impression the building leaves on you – and even harder to catch the smell.

Check things out in Google Maps. And then tell me how I can easily get the map to display right here. All the Google instructions seem to require you to fiddle with the page’s body tag which I don’t want to do.

Additional photo on flickr.

May 16, 2006, 1:15

Tagged as uni.

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