Erlangen is beautiful - full of straight, tree-lined roads and is very quiet. The sky was blue, the birds were singing and it was so cold... Maybe I should have bought a thicker suit.
I returned to the University in due time and was guided to the Institut fuer Medizinische Physik (http://www.imp.uni-erlangen.de) - a strange route that involved you going through the building I expected it to be in and out onto the road that my hotel was actually on. If only I'd known. Fortunately a man I met whilst looking lost (me, not him) did know and so I arrived at Prof. Kalendar's office. To find he already had someone with him. Between appointments we did manage to meet and arrange for me to return the next morning at 9am. I also made a mental note to establish meeting times for all my future contacts, so as not to waste a day on each of my next six visits.
Contact established, I went shopping for the odd few things I already knew I should have packed, in downtown Erlangen. With its busy, pedestrianised main shopping street, takeaways on every corner, locals you can't understand and cyclists who ride on the pavement, you could almost be in Hull. (I must stop saying that).
I ate at the hotel restaurant which had a nice selection of pizzas - which quickly resolved itself into a repeated list - the second lot with sheep's cheese. I didn't feel quite that adventurous just yet.
Day two was really day one, but was so intense I'm glad I'd not done it after travelling. After a brief meeting with Prof. Kalendar & a few students I was introduced to what felt like the whole department, being looked after very well by Kaiss Shanneik and Dirk-Alexander Sennst. The Institute is mainly research-driven with a particular focus on Computed Tomography (CT) (they also have a strong link to Siemens with whom they are in partnership for some projects). There is a very relaxed feel to the place - no-one wears a suit or tie (hurrah!) and all office doors (which open outwards to catch the unwary) are open. Despite (or because of) this there is a very definite working "hum" to the place. Just about everyone is writing software (bingo!) in VC++6 (bonus bingo!) based often around the ROT (Reconstruction Oriented Team - the acronym is the same in German) library that was developed here. Everyone is using the same documentation tool, making shared code easier to use and maintain (although I did find a few exceptions who didn't document at all). Most of the projects are self-generated being problems that they see and wish to solve "that the radiologists often aren't aware exist". There is some work going on in "hot topic" areas of CT, being image co-registration (in their case with PET) and dose reduction. Despite having a couple of spin-off companies (a common event in German academia) there appears to be no commercial-driven software development.
The rest of the week was less intense yet no less rewarding.
Despite being largely full of PhD students, no-one is focused on only one project (although they all - even the post-docs - have one that takes up a minimum of 60% of their time). Other projects include helping students with practicals, maintaining existing software, looking after visitors (like me) and keeping up with areas of interest closely allied to their major projects. The ethos of the institute is to use what's available commercially, primarily building add-ons for existing CT scanners based on PC architecture. The advent of DICOM has made this easier in one sense, unless the raw data is required. The micro-CT is a notable exception to the "No hardware" rule.
The institute largely recruits non-programmers, not because of a policy (such as "programming is easier to learn than the physics") but because software engineers are scarce and expensive.
Erlangen proved to be a friendly place - when I gave in and asked if they spoke English, the person I was speaking to was happy to do so or would go and find an English-speaker. The French (not part of this trip but a previous experience) just sneer at you, whether they speak English or not. One notable delight was a Tex-Mex restaurant that served the wine in a little ceramic jug which you then poured into a ceramic cup. The lack of glass just made it more authentic (are you listening, Chiquito's?).
Leaving the IMP was weird - the expression "see you again sometime" didnít seem appropriate as weíre unlikely to cross paths again. Iíll probably get used to this, though. Regardless, I noted a few e-mail addresses for some future professional discussions.
I joined the Prof. and a few friends at a country "pub" that evening, where I (possibly foolishly) allowed him to order my meal & drinks. Fried carp with potato salad is, apparently, a local delicacy - although the Prof. later admitted that he hated his first one and it took him ten years to get round to another one. The carp was exactly as described: one carp, deep fried, complete with head, skin, fins et al. The only discernible preparation (aside from, presumably, killing it first) was a very salty skin, so I assume theyíd rubbed salt into it. Of course, that might just have been what they were packed in prior to frying.... The carp I found fine (if a little more fleshy than I like my fish), the cognac that followed it very welcome. I wasnít so sure about the "dark beer", though. It tasted to me like some Durham Ale I was given once at a conference. Probably an acquired taste. I doubt if Iíll be here long enough to acquire it.
I awoke the next day with a slight headache - hopefully the result of hard work and not enough sleep, but you never know. So I decided to visit Nurnberg for the day. It is with a slight dispelling of myths that I have to report that the train was late...
Nurnberg is big. And old. And resides on about the only hill Iíd seen so far (although as Bavaria borders the Alps, I presume thereís a few others around). Itís very pretty in places but, I have to report, not as pretty as Prague. Still, it was a pleasant way to pass my last day in Bavaria.
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