Last call for Magdeburg

There are six of us in our little research group – three postdocs, two Phds and one professor – whose professional relationship has developed more into sweet domestic family life.

Highest in our rather flat hierarchy is our hippie professor. He is a vegetarian, rather takes a 29 hour train than a two hour flight due to environmental concern, organic-food-kind-of-guy (love that!) and an excellent salsa dancer (love that even more!). Once in a while he pops in his head into our office to invite us for lunch – always soup. Like a caring grandpa (without being nearly old enough) he asks us how we are doing on our research, how the latest conference was and so on without actually seeming to understand what we are doing (I can not really blame him for that, I hardly know what I am doing myself!).   

Us Phds are like night and day. My fellow i├Źndian Phd is super-duper tiny, adorable, loves cars, machines, big fat monster computers and Transformers. My computer is slim, portable and multi-functional, I am not into machines or Transformers and I weigh literally twice as much as she does (without being particularly large I am still not exaggerating…). Yet despite our differences we are very close, in fact I call her “my wife”. This insider joke is a consequence of how she constantly speak of “us” when she means “herself”, like so: “Me and Maria cannot eat that” or “We must go to the bus now” even though we lead very different lifestyles and I might very well eat “that” and most likely will go by bike anyhow. Chatting, bickering, eating cakes and not being nearly as productive as we should, our marriage is a rather fun thing to witness. 

The family’s crazy uncle is unfortunately not nearly crazy as the title presuppose, but he will just have to do as every family needs at least one. Mostly he is working on things that I have no idea about, which makes him at least in my ignorant eyes a bit of a mad scientist. Brilliant, hardworking and with a love of nature is perhaps a more fitting description for him but that is not nearly as fun as the crazy stereotype.

Left of our family is mommy and daddy. One is my official supervisor, the other is the supervisor’s right hand. Being both male their constant battle is who gets to be daddy. It is safe to say that the case can be made for both. Now these two individual are another example of two people in one office that are each others opposites. One rationality itself, the other the hopeless dreamer. One says “no”, the other “hmm”. One somewhat better at times, organization and never orders anything else than apfelschorle (or tea), the other has a passion for pretty and expensive things, and loves beer, wine and other spirits.

Now while me and my fellow Phds marriage is still in its honeymoon phase with passionate fun and unhappy fights, the interactions between mommy and daddy resembles an old married couple. Sitting in their office they bicker about nonsense like pink salt, who should write the report or who did not write most of it, that mommy does not show she love daddy enough and so on and so forth. 

Just before I was leaving for Brazil mommy and daddy invited us kids (me and my wife) out for fancy free-pizza-night. (Free-pizza-night was invented when we Phds did not get paid properly and could not afford to buy food. Now slightly richer the tradition lives on as a fun and relaxing evening among our group.) Strangely not noticing the implications that “fancy” might include we eat our food without any suspicion about the oncoming avalanche. Big daddy preps with a few glasses of wine and the following happens:

“So Honey… maybe it’s time to tell them?” Little daddy (or mommy) says.
“Well kids… Mommy and daddy have some really good news.” Big daddy smiling way more than is usually natural and nodding encouragingly at our skeptical faces. “Daddy has got a new job offer.” Voice increase in pitch. “In Italy.”

Jaws drop… Silence. 

“Now… this is good news” big daddy continues persuasively. Little daddy nods but looks grumpy. “For my career, but also for you guys.”

Staring.

“Now you have more freedom. You can come with me to Italy, which is a much better university in our field, or you can stay here with mommy and nothing changes.”

Staring. Mommy and daddy looks at each other uncomfortably. 

“You’re getting a divorce?!” I burst out as my little ideal family picture is falling apart. “…and now we have to decide which parent we love the most and want to live with!”

Okay, I admit it did not happen exactly like that. But this is the closest recollection I can make. True that the chock I felt was a bit exaggerated – I already knew that “daddy” was looking for another job. I guess I was just not expecting it so soon. Now a while later I am actually very pleased about the development. The sadness in splitting up this amazing group is somehow alright as I once again can feed my never-ending hunger for new adventure. 

So my point and the title of this post: This is the last call for visitors to Magdeburg – the unpolished crown jewel of East Germany. Soon (if nothing unforeseen happens) I will be safely tucked in somewhere in the Italian Alps – eating Parmesan, hiking in the hills and vigorously attempting to add that sexy Italian accent to my verbal repertoire.

This is the last call for Magdeburg!

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