Saturday, June 13, 2009

Some food for thought

At this stage in the program, I feel like I am floating. I have two academic weeks left, and a lot of work, but am finally settled and happy and enjoying life. Instead of stressing out about work (2 papers, an art project, and 4 exams...) I have instead chosen to prioritize in the order that makes me happy-- in which, sometimes, social life comes first. (That included going to an indoor water park last Sunday-- how cool is that??) I am happy with my decision because I like my friends here and who knows when I will see them again, and also because my grades here don't count back at Brandeis towards my GPA (Thaaank goodness.) I have, however, received really good grades despite the fact that everything is in German!! (On my midterms: 2 A's, 1 A-, and 1 B+. Not bad, right?)
My feelings about Germany and the German culture vary all the time. I can respect their ability to keep order and maintain little spheres of privacy, but I resent how uptight that makes them. I can respect their chicness but then that means all the clothes are expensive. I can respect the pride of the German language, but it makes it hard to not be talked down to as someone who is just learning it. Everything hangs in a balance, which is true everywhere, I suppose.
Within the last couple of weeks, I have become more immersed in the art culture, thanks to my two really cool classes (Modern Theater and Art and Architecture.) On Wednesday, my drama class saw a production of a play entitled "Mein Kampf" written by George Tabori. The play is a farce that creates a situation of "what was Hitler like in Vienna? Before he was Hitler? As a failed artist?" and it takes place in a hostel for the homeless where he encounters two men who sort of baby him and help him out-- he is painted as spastic, on edge, vulnerable, and weak. The audience has no choice but to laugh at him. Tabori, however, weaves in foreshadowing extremely skillfully, to create an REALLY EERIE feeling and sensation for the audience-- we, who know what is to come. In one sense, I believed that the show exhibited modernity; sort of a "look how far we've come, we can poke fun at one of the scariest people who ever lived" but it somehow balanced against the feeling of "how in the world can we make this horrible horrible person seem so trivial?" either way, it was extremely provocotive and well done. I would recommend it to anyone.
For Art and Architecture we went to an exhibit yesterday entitled 60 Jahre Deutschland (60 Years Germany) of works from 1945 until 2005. Apparently the exhibit, which was arranged in Cologne, is extremely West-Germany leaning, and a lot of East German artists aren't represented. Regardless, it was a really cool experience to come at an exhibit having already seen a few of the works and have learned about the artists beforehand. Thanks to my German History class, I was able to provide (in my mind) some context for the paintings. The paintings, and time periods, so much matched the mood of the time, that it was a really interesting experience. It ranged from artists who wanted to start new in the late 40s, and create something far far away from the war, to artists who would push the boundaries of the abstract, to artists that skillfully blended what we knew with the possibilities of other types of thought. All in all, it was a really interesting exhibit. There is definitely a severity to German art (and hey, all of German culture) that was captured in the art. Some of the pieces, I couldnt look away from. Some of them, I couldn't really understand. But the ones that were 'figurlich" enough for me to "get", I was mesmerized.
Another example of academics influencing real life-- I am writing a paper about "Jewish People In Germany Today" for my Multikulti class (I know, tiny topic, right???) and it is making me realize just how small and separated the Jewish population in Germany is. I have seen ONE kosher store in my 3 months here. I rarely ever see Hebrew or even a Jewish star (except for the jewish cemetaries, I suppose. We went to one on a field trip that was built in the 1800s, it is such a beautiful, calm and peaceful place. It is the one thing we've learned about Jewish people here that came BEFORE and had nothign to do with the Holocaust. It was a really different experience than I was expecting.) It really made me miss being around other Jewish people-- there is a personality that is attached to the religion and the lifestyle. I believe that I have always taken it for granted. I feel like I am sort of dampening that part of myself (unintentionally, of course) because I can't find counterparts in anyone here. Honestly, I didn't think I'd "notice" or " be bothered" that I was one of only 3 Jewish students on our program. (The other two students are both of German descent, so they have a connection to this country that is different from mine.) We did a passover seder, which was fun. It didn't feel not genuine, but it didn't feel fully realized either. I am excited to get back to being around Jewish people-- family and friends. I am pretty sure I've taken that aspect of my life far too much for granted.
While I am on the subject of what I miss-- I miss horseback riding more than I ever thought I would. I don't think I've gone more than 2 months away from horses since I was about 8 years old. I am going through extreme horse withdrawal-- I have taken to watching videos on Youtube of dressage masters doing their Grand Prix Tests and their Freestyles and just watching them in awe. (Recently, I met a girl on our program who rides at home and admitted to doing the same exact thing!!!! One day we might combine forces, watch some videos, and cry together hahah.) But this withdrawal has made me way more motivated for my return!! I am going to the gym in chicago daily and also horseback riding on whoever I can ride (If Wy is sold, great! I'll ride Savannah.) When I get back to Boston, I want to ride daily and work at the barn-- I will have a month to prepare for my show. I will be doing 4th level again, but a higher test (probably 4-2) on Pizzazz. My goal for summer 2010 is to do a PSG test with him. If I play my cards right and get an internship for the spring semester, my goal is to extend it the whole summer so I can continue to ride and compete with him before coming home.

That is all for now!
Your motivated, homesick, artistic friend Maia :-)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Entering and exiting the slump

I suppose its similar to the sophomore slump. But shorter and more intense, and (thank God) easier to end. It all began with my weekend (Last Wednesday, May 20th) that included being stood up, playing third wheel, and lots of mopey time. The week that followed wasnt much better: I couldn´t sleep more than 5 hours a night, and the night I finally did, my alarm NEVER went off and I slept through the ONLY class on this program that I am NOT allowed to miss. It was frustrating.
This weekend, however was much more successful. It was another long weekend (no class on Monday.) It included one night of clubbing, a couple of low key days, dinner with my host family and a former student of theirs, and lots of trashy tv. I bought a beautiful dress that is family appropriate (read: no cleavage) and it super summery and old fashioned. It is true what they say, that whole "retail therapy" concept. It is healing. This week is starting off well--the weather is shining and I have a lot of plans with new fun people to look forward too.

One little "this only happens in Germany" tidbit: my host mother has electric handheld pepper and salt grinder/server things. Not only are they super over the top, but when you start to grind salt or pepper onto a salad or a plate, a LIGHT turns on. There is a LIGHT at the end of these things! So nuts. Gotta love German technology.

A couple things I miss: my family, free water at restaurants, Potbellies Subs, grilled cheese sandwiches, my horse, going to the barn everyday, seeing familiar faces.

That`s all for now,

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In the interim...

Hello everyone!
Sorry for my lack of posting frequency. I will do my best to sum up the last month or so. Big things that happened: Midterms, visit from Laura and Kate and Adrian, and beautiful weather!!!
Midterms were a challenge-- some classes had powerpoints to review, others had readings, others had purely the notes I had taken from the extremely difficult lectures (ahem HISTORY.) The added element of it all being in German was another challenge. Luckily my schedule worked out so that I had one midterm each day Monday-Thursday. Drama was my first one and it was pretty straightforward: four questions, 2 about each play. Art and Architecture was next. It included 7 questions and a comparison/analysis of two paintings or buildings of our choice. (Oh yes, the time allotted for these two tests was the same...only an hour an a half.) Multikulturelle Berlin was on Wednesday and it was 3 questions out of six, but she made us answer two of them. (One of which was a multiple choice-- woohooo!) So that wasn't sooo bad. I definitely used the power of the, how do I say, exaggeration and lots and lots of examples? on that one. Thursday was History, the one I was dreading. The man is brilliant and has been teaching history for...well, forever. But he comes in with no notes, no Powerpoint, no nothing and just lectures for an hour and a half straight. All I had to study from were my notes that I furiously wrote down while looking up words in his lectures. Gooood times. The questions were openended enough that it allowed room for you to put as much or as little as you knew on a given topic.

Results: Drama- A! History-B+. Not bad. I think they are fair.

Laura came to visit! (I think this was before midterms, forgive me.) And it was really fun. We went to the zoo (yay for spending 12 euros and then 2 hours in the petting zoo!) and to the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichtag and the touristy stuff but then we went to a club called Weekend from midnight until 6am (That is what people do here! I need to start adjusting my going out schedule.) While there I danced with and smooched a frenchie haha. Good times.

Kate came to visit last weekend! It was officially the quickest visit ever-- she got in late Thursday night (read: midnight or 1am) and then left on Saturday early afternoon (read: her plane was at 2pm) but we made the most of it. We were out both nights until 4 or 5 (now that it's almost summer, it is light by 5! It's so great!!!) and we hung out with her friend Nick from Brown who is studying here. We did a lot of walking and a lot of accidental exploring (screw you, tram system that doesn't quite work when I need it to.) Saturday night was the second time I've had to crumple my leather jacket up under my shirt to save it from early morning drizzle, haha.

Adrian came to Berlin toooooo!!! It was amaazing. No more long Fabio hair, my friends, but unfortunately, the mustache persists. And so does the vanity: "is my mustache crooked?" about every two hours. We ate gelatto, laughed about the family, and walked a lot a lot! It was quite a good visit.

That is all for now, but I shall be back for more info.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A little bit about Poland (only 3 weeks late)

Sorrryyyyy for the lack of posting. I have been some lovely combination of busy and lazy :-)

A few weeks ago, I went to Poland for a week with my program. We went to Gdansk/Danzig (first name is Polish, second is German), Warsaw and Krakow, each for about two days. Now Poland wasn't exactly on my top five list of countries to see, but I thought it'd be a good experience and I'd get to be closer with the people on my program. About 20 or so kids from my program went, so it was a big chunk of them.

We left at 9pm on a Sunday on my first overnight train. After being yelled at in Polish by one conductor dude, then yelled at in German by his co-worker who was translating, my friend Lisa and I finally settled into a room that was more or less supposed to be ours. Thank goodness IES reserved sleeper cars because it was a looong ride. Apparently people were social and hung out in different cars but Lisa and I kind of closed the door and went to sleep, haha. When we arrived, we hear a knock on the door and "3 minutes until the station!" Apparently every other person on our program set an alarm, and our leader wouldn't have even woken us up if my friend Annie hadn't inquired about our whereabouts....great start, eh?

We emerged out of the train onto this gray, damp, kind of depressing platform/view. The first building we see is a McDonalds, and the color in the sign is the only cheer I see. "Shit....why'd I opt for this trip?" I thought, as my head flashed through all my other options of beautiful places to spend a week. We went on a tour with a woman named Bozena that lasted about 15 hours (okay so it was more like 2 1/2, but the cathedral was freezing, the sidewalk was freezing, the dock was get the point.) A German tour is hard enough, but slap on a Polish accent and you have a real doozy, haha. So I managed to catch some of it. What was staggering was how destroyed this city of Danzig (I'll just use the German name) was after WWII. About 90% was destroyed, and they put a looot of money into restoring it. An impression that I got (and would continue to get the entire time in Poland) was "When you come back in SUMMER, it is beaaauuutiful." Thanks, but no thanks. All I could think of was the scene from Eurotrip when they end up in *gasp* Eastern Europe! (They're in Bratislava) and they run into a man who is like "You are lucky you come in summer, because in winter it can get veerrryyy depressing." We had a delicious dinner right on the river (inside, luckily.) and a short stay at a good hotel with a yummy breakfast buffet (yes mom, I am going to mention the food.)

Our stop in between Danzig and Warsaw was this huge castle/cathedral/God only knows what that is supposedly the LARGEST BRICK Castle/cathedral/God only knows what in the world. I swear, if I hear the word "Backstein" ("brick") one more time..... anyway, it was an incredibly long boring tour. Even my friend who is probably the most upbeat person I've ever met began staring off into space and looking defeated.

Warsaw was hands down my favorite. We stayed in a huge hotel called Novotel (which, yes is one of those hotels that could be anywhere, but it was SO NICE to be pampered.) We took a tour of the old city and our guide was Marchin, a very nice polish man who went through Poland with us as sort of a backup tour guide, haha. The city is beautiful, despite it's fucked up relationship with the Nazis. (Marchin: Now when the Nazis occupied Warsaw, they wouldn't let Poles or Jews into this park, and took it over for themselves..") The club experience was a little interesting (read: different colored bracelets depending on if you're single or not, and new hits such as the YMCA...good times!) The old city was absolutely beautiful and we were lucky to have nice weather on that day. That afternoon, Thomas (adorable housing coordinator for our program), Lisa, Annie and I hung out in the park and then went to see the last remaining building of the Jewish ghetto (I think my attempt at spelling "schtettle" is embarassing) as well as the ONLY synogogue in Warsaw. It was so disheartening to see such little Judiasm, or really any sort of heterogeneity among the people of Poland. (the next day I was soon to find out why.) Seeing the Synagogue and explaining some of the traditions to Thomas led to a really interesting discussion about the role of religion or faith in one's upbringing.

By the way, Another theme of the trip: PIEROGI! Couldn't get enough. In all cities, in all meals, if I don't further specify, just assume I'd eaten pierogis.

Krakow was a downgrade for me. The hotel was not so great and our room reeked of backed up sewage (which they kindly fixed while we were at dinner.) We had a feast at a restaurant that was supposed to be very "Traditional" which translated to wooden benches, more pierogies (woohooo) and HUGE slabs of potato pancakes. So delicious. We ended the night with beers in our friends Greg and Brian's room (which was our backup place to sleep had our sewage stench not been fixed.)

The next day we woke up bright and early to go to....Auschwitz. Yup. Most of the day was spent at Auschwitz. We took a tour in German of Auschwitz 1 which was unbelievably overwhelming. I spent most of it tearing up and not listening to my headset. I had seen the photos before, of the pile of hair, of the glasses, of the shoes, but here they were behind a glass case. Here these BLANKETS were that were MADE OUT OF HAIR. Here in a display case, as our tour guide said, were some TICKETS that the prisoners bought so that the Germans could finance this genocide more "efficiently." What struck me most was the range, the breadth of how many people this affected. Also what struck me was the cold, detatched search for EFFICIENCY. The attention to detail. the manufacturing quality of it. It was so horrible. Standing up looking at the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign, I could feel the weight of thousands and thousands of souls on my body. Here we were on a day that was 70 degrees, there were birds chirping, there were plenty of tourists, but this empty feeling still remained. Like a ghost town. I started to see more and more Jewish Youth group groups and had an urge to join them. Why was I here on a GERMAN tour with 99% non Jews? I felt very alone.
After Auschwitz 1 we continued to Birkenau in order to take in just how huge this "solving of the Jewish problem" was. After standing in a barn that was built for 54 horses but housed 700 people, we walked to the rubble of the crematorium, which the Germans had hastily destroyed once they knew the gig was up. Next to the rubble is a huge memorial with the saying in many languages something along the lines of the fact that it is both a memorial and a warning to the future. Because if you think about it, humans did this. PEOPLE did this. And many many many many got away with it.

We had dinner at a JEwish restaurant then went out to a club. The dinner was fantastic and the Klezmer music was great (melocholy and in a flat key as usual) but the club did not work for me. I spent the whole time sitting with a friend and talking. Which was fine, but it was too much after that morning.

Auschwitz and Poland in general brought my attention to the places and events in Germany and the surrounding areas that are riddled with Nazi and then DDR history. Nothing really was wiped clean and started over. A popular vacation spot, for instance, called the Wannsee, is where the Nazis met to "Solve the Jewish Problem." How terrifying is that??? Yet people continue their lives, and as offensive as that seems, this is a different generation of people. They didn't do it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Das ende der Woche

A great ending to a not so great week:

Thursday: last day of German intensive course with Jacek (our teacher. Adorable. Polish/German.) We played games all day (some similar to scattergories except with topics pertaining to Germany, some racing games, some geography games, some verb conjugation games) Besides a few people being competitive, it was a lot of fun! Our teacher puts a lot of work into making things fun in order for concepts and words to stick. He is big on using active memory through games and role playing excercises and songs. Because this is all review for most of us anyway, it is a good fit. On Thursday he let us out early because we had a special evening planned. At 6pm we met at the Gamälde Gallerie near Potsdamer Platz. It is a huge painting museum, and Thursday evenings are free admission! He split us into groups, had each group find a painting, describe it (using those adjective endings we all love so much!) and explain why we chose it/why it was interesting to us. Then he rearranged the groups so that everyone could see the paintings chosen by the other groups. It was interesting-- there was a lot of rennesaince and religious art. We were only there about 90 minutes so I plan to return at a later date.
After the museum, we went to a "echtes Deutches Restaurant" (a real German restaurant) which had 3 items on the menu: chicken soup, Spätzle (a noodle and cheese dish), Schnitzel. The food was in big portions and the beer was served in ceramic "steins" (think half-liter mugs.) It was really fun to see our class and our teacher in an environment outside of the classroom. Lots of eating and laughing and drinking ensued and the night ended really well! We truly are a really lucky class to have had the teacher we did. All the other students in the other classes complain about boredom during their classes. I can only hope that my German course at Humboldt University will be so interesting and engaging (I am NOT holding my breath, haha.)

Friday: Took our German placement test at IES in the morning. I likened to waking up in the morning to a slap in the face. The test included 5 paragraphs, each about a different topic. The first and last sentence of the paragraph was left intact so that we could get a sense of the theme, and all of the middle paragraphs had RANDOM blanks in them. For example, it would say "das Es___" and if you knew the noun "Essen", you were golden. If not, tooooo bad. It had blanks for prepositions, verbs, adjective endings, but there was very little consistancy throughout the paragraphs in terms of where the blanks were. That was a pain in the ass. Anyway, I placed 1 point below the level B1.2 which is slightly higher than I am now. My teacher wrote a recommendation to Humbdolt to let me register for classes in B1.2 rather than B1.1 because he said my German was pretty good. w00hoooo.
After the test, Krystal and I grabbed coffee and talked for a while. It was nice to be finished with things by 11:30 am, haha. I better enjoy it while it lasts. After coffee, we met Annie and a girl from our program named Olga for some Falafels. After discussing where to go, we decided to check out the Salvador Dali museum/exhibit at Potsdamer Platz. We ended up walking the wrong way off the subway stop, getting totally lost, shopping at H&M and grabbing some Dunkin Donuts coffee before finally reaching the exhibit. It was a very big and cool exhibit with mainly lithographs and drawings with a few paintings. It was very different from the work that I saw at his museum in Spain, so I enjoyed it. He was such a straaange painter with such weird visions of the world but you can't help but stop and analyze and look at each detail within the seemingly chaotic scene. My favorite series were his illustrations of the Alice in Wonderland story and Cassanova's Memories which included drawings of various women one can only assume Cassanova slept with.
For dinner, we stopped by my host mother's cafe/deli/store and she spoiled us with fresh spreads, olive salad, prosscuito ham, olives, fresh baked bread, and tiramisu. Needless to say, the words "in heaven" and "so delicious" were uttered by my friends multiple times. We will definitely become regulars. At 11:30 pm, after recovering from our full stomachs, we went to a club called Steinhaus Berlin which plays hip hop and American music (none of that techno stuff.) It was a lot of fun. It's so funny and great to me that German guys will go to a club with their friends simply to dance. It's not a meat market at these clubs-- you do not feel self conscious or like someone is going to just come up behind you and grab you or be creepy. everyone is in their own little world-- that is a lot of fun unless you are trying to meet people. That is my goal for this trip: meet some Germans. No use in being in Germany for 4 months and only having American friends.

Today I lay in bed all day and watched tv online and cleaned my room. I am headed to Poland tomorrow!! More updates after that trip.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Universität Zeit!

Hello all,
I have officially decided not to take a university course this semester. Not only have I never taken a class with more than 120 students, but I have never had to write term papers in German. I am already a little worried about the IES (the program´s) classes being entirely in German, but this is a whole other level. Perhaps next time I am in Germany...haha
I am taking, however: History of Modern Berlin, Multicultural Berlin, Art and Architecture, Modern Drama and a German language course. I think I will have plenty on my plate come April :-)
I am working hard to improve my vocabulary (I bought a little notebook to write words and their definitions in), and I am learning to respond quicker in German in order to expedite daily conversations with my host mother, waitresses, etc. Hopefully before I leave, I will be dreaming in German!
The weather has been extremely gray, which makes us very grateful for our few sunny days. I hear it was 70 degrees in Chicago the other day?? what the hell? haha the day I left Chicago, it was in the snow.

Time to go to my academic orientation!


Monday, March 16, 2009

a few things I've noticed

I appreciate the copious amounts of Parmesan cheese on my pasta more after I have to grate it myself.

I appreciate my clothing more after I have to watch it dry on a hanger in my room for two days.

I am pretty sure nutella tastes good with any food.