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.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"shoene tag!" "nein, danke"

The language barrier is still ever-present here. It's really funny to observe the different reactions you get from salespeople. Some people just start off in English and continue in it the entire time. Some, when they hear you speak German, switch to English (kiiinda a low blow, haha) and then some reel off some super fast German until they realize your eyes are glazed over and you have no idea what they just said. I suppose it will get better as interactions in German feel more comfortable for me. Until then, it will be an adventure! Before I got here, I heard totally mixed reviews ("People in Berlin don't speak any English! like the train operators and the food salespeople"-- man at Bloomingdales. "Everyone speaks English, so don't worry"-- my aunt Sara.) I am finding somewhere in between. I have mainly been interacting with waiters or waitresses, bartenders, and ticket takers. Perhaps my sample is a bit skewed, but I haven't had any big misunderstandings yet. The title of this post comes from when Dan, Krystal and I were at a cafe and the waitress took our cash and quickly said "schoene Tag!" ("good day!") and Krystal replied "nein, danke" ("No, thank you"), thinking the waitress had asked if we wanted any change...ooooh well. It was a good laugh afterwards.
I survived the first week! We had "IntensivKursen" aka 4 hours of German class every weekday morning from 9 am until 1pm. Due to my bare minimum level of German (5 semesters was required for this trip, and i finished my 5th semester right before coming here.) I was placed in the lowest level and I'm okay with that. Our teacher is named Jacek and his family is Polish but he grew up here. He makes class really fun! It feels a little like what German in middle school would be like had Parker offered German in middle school. He comes very prepared in the morning for an "Ubung" (the first "u" has an umlaut over it), which is an excercise. So we play fun games in order to review and actively use the themes we go over. On Thursday he had us split into 3 groups and gave us each a part of a song to act out. Our part was about walking home from a club at 6 am, and all the crazy things you see on the streets of Berlin (aka dead pidgeons, fights, passed out people, etc.) I thought that the song sounded too cool to be some random folk song. Nope! It was a rap song! It's called "Schwarz zu blau" (black to blue. discribing the color of the sky.) We also watched a funny fake documentary that had african journalists go into Austria and study the Austrian in order to parody the usual way of things-- white man goes in and interrupts African village, then completely misinterprets their behaviors. I couldn't understand all of the words, but I got the jist of it-- it was funny.
Thursday night, Annie and I joined some of our fellow IES people at this bar called the "Berliner Republik." It is arranged so that beer prices are similar to a stock market. The more people want Hefferweizen, the higher the price becomes. While we were there, the "stock market" crashed two times, and we reaped the benefits with super cheap beer, haha. As expected, the crowd there was about 99% men, and most seemed businessy. It was a lot of fun though! And a good way to get a cheap beer.
On Friday we had a "Stadtspiel" aka a "city game" aka a scavenger hunt. Because 4 people decided not to come to class on Friday, Jacek merged my group with another. The two girls spent the ENTIRE time yelling at us and disagreeing with us. I kind of know how those research "participant" dogs felt when the psychologist was studying learned helplessness... Anyway, after recovering from that, I came home and relaxed for a bit. I cooked dinner (pasta with mushrooms and tomatoes...easy and yummy!) and got ready to go out. Krystal, Annie and I pre-gamed at Annie's room (basically a studio apartment with no cooking appliances. She has two tables with 4 chairs each! It's as if it was a living room, and her bed was thrown in, haha.) We met the IES people at this bar/club/thingy called Cafe Zapata. It DEFINITELY had the grungy derelickt-you-dont'-want-to-touch-the-walls-without-Purell-nearby kind of look. It was kind of empty but the two DJs were wearing fantastic blonde wigs and Adidas track jackets. The music was a mix of techno and old school hip hop (both German and American.) It was really fun! the place filled up quickly, and we danced until about 2:30 am. Unlike Dane Cook says, when he's like "guys never go to a club just to dance", German guys DO! My GOD! It's a relief to not have to avoid predatory guys, but at the same time, they're in the dance zone! I will soon figure out how to meet them without interrupting them from their zone, haha. That is my next mission: meet some Germans!
Yesterday, Annie, Krystal and I were super touristy and enjoyed the 50 degree day by walking around West Berlin and taking photos of all the "must-see" places. I was happy to be able to use my nice camera and wear my leather jacket without the worry of them both getting soaked! (It's been cold, damp, and rainy almost every single day since I've gotten here....) I will post those soon!

Today's plan: review vocabulary, upload photos, clean my room, do my laundry (most people don't have dryers, so it will be airdry city for my clothes!)


The word of the day: "Rotkohl" = "red cabbage" as in "Ein Doenner ohne Rotkohl, bitte!" (Doenners are the turkish version of Gyros, and there are stands and restaurants for them everywhere!)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Meine erste Wochenende

So...I survived my first weekend here. Friday started off good, with a health and safety lecture (full of "don't do this" and "avoid these people" and "make sure you never do this"es) and ice-breaker games (much lets-put-people-and-their-German-skills-on-the-spot! action during those.) It was fun in a corny cheesy way having everyone together. I also received my neues Handy ("new cell phone") and SIM card so now I am reachable in Deutschland!
Friday night I (and I thought everyone else...) was pumped to go out, so Clara (from LA, goes to USC, very cool girl), Josh (Goes to Colby, quiet, long distance runner) and James (goes to Grinell, super out-going) went to dinner. We tried African food. The Dju Dju fruit beers were really tasty (I had passion fruit) but I am pretty sure peanuts were involved in some part of the food process, so I ate very little and left with an itchy mouth. So that should have been my first red flag. The night continued with the four of us rushing to a hookah bar that apparently no one came to meet us at, and no one wanted to smoke at. (The crowd was very gelled, plucked and tanned. and I don't mean the girls.) A few other people from our program met us, and we returned to EXACTLY the same stop that that African restaurant was. Steadily throughout the night, morale shrank and then shrank some more. After wandering to a few bars, aquiring 3 friendly french men of questionable age to our group, and most likely disturbing the peace, I headed back to my apartment. I heard the next morning that the hard core members of our dinner group had continued to a club called "Weekend" until around 4am.
Saturday was my first opportunity since arriving here to sleep in! w00t! I slept in...until 11am. I met up with Dan and Krystal and attempted to go to a museum. Because of the freezing rain and our large appetites, a long lunch took priority. (Another first-- salad in Germany! Apparently... not so common.) When we finally made it to Museuminsel (museum island), the Altes Museum's Egyptian wing/gallery was closed for remodeling (until late March) and the line for the Neues Museum was super long. We stumbled upon a street fair and stopped briefly to watch some 15 old men (plus one token woman and one token young guy) play these crazy wind instruments that looked like HUGE tobacco pipes. The bottom of each pipe/flute/wind instrument stood on its own little wooden stand. They were arranged by tone-- some played higher notes and some lower. I am not sure if the actual instrument differed in size, like for example a saxophone, or if the players were manipulating the thing with their mouths or breath. Anyway, I found my new life dream-- I will be joining their band, apprenticing, traveling, and my album drops next year :-)
Dan and I grabbed a cup of coffee then I returned to my apartment to relax and dry off. That night, Annie and I had a dinner date at an Italian restaurant (finally, food for cheaper than 10 euros!) and then we met the group to ride the S-Bahn (the elevated train) around the ring of the entire city. Everyone met at the Greifswalderstrasse (yes, many of the street names are that long) station with beer or drink in hand. After a nice round of the city in the dark, having only achieved the passage of time and a little more drunkenness, we arrived at Club Soda. (haha get it? I didn't. For a while.) It was only 11 and we were super early, but girls got in free and got free drink tickets (woohoo!) So after dancing to Destiny's Child and other songs that are old in the states, the place started to fill up. As my host brother had warned me, it was indeed a club for the gelled, plucked and tan (and I'm STILL not talking about the girls.) So yeah, no love interests there, but it was fun to dance with everyone from the program, and the cheeseburger stand right outside was the PERFECT way to end the night at 3 am.
Today (Sunday) was a lazy day consisting of a bus tour of Berlin, a frozen drizzle, a long lunch, and pasta with my host brother. Sorry I skimmed over that but it's time for bed. I will post more later!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Meine neue Wohnung

Today we met the other kids on our program--- everyone seems really nice. There are a lot of people from Minnesota for some reason, but the rest are from all over the states. After our tour, we hung out and chatted while waiting for our host families to pick us up. I felt like a cross between a pet in a pet shop and a kindergartener waiting for my mom to come pick me up.
My host brother Paul picked me up. He's 19 and super nice and speaks a lot of English. That really eased my nerves a bit. Of course, before he showed up, I had images flashing of him only speaking German, and only speaking super super fast. But no, he speaks both English and German and is as sarcastic as I am, which is always good. After we took our taxi and lugged my huge bags up 3 flights of stairs, I settled into the apartment. My room is nice and big with a huge wardrobe, bookshelf, desk, and futon for guest to sleep on. After unpacking ("aufpacken" in German) my host mother came home. Her name is Ines and she is super cute-- very short and blonde. She doesn't speak any English so this will definitely be my chance to improve my German!
The neighborhood is really nice-- full of restaurants and cafes. There is a park right near my apartment, and I think the streetcar that I will take to school stops nearby as well. Paul was telling me about their new neighbors and how the area is becoming filled with young couples with a lot of money who only eat organic food and are super snobs. It kind of reminded me of the yuppies in Lincoln Park. He said they all have babies, but not as many small dogs as the yuppies. I guess you have to be thankful for the small things, haha.

All is well. I am going to get ready for bed now!
Guten Nacht.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I am here

I have finally made it to Berlin. My first flight sat me in the middle seat, in between a scholarly man who slept the whole way and a nice woman who kept getting cramped by the seat in front of her. The flight attendants looked very well kept and severe, in a way that only Germans can look. The seats were funky and cutting edge looking, but very very small. I passed on the German movie selections and instead chose Vicky Christina Barcelona (not the greatest. kind of a random movie to have a narrator. Penelope Cruz was awesome though.)
After connecting through Munich, and hearing the Bavarian dialect, I flew to Berlin and took a taxi to the hostel. The city is so full of life, yet the buildings have so much history and personality. There is a lot of concrete, a lot of grafitti, and a lot of cool looking things (from statues to art to shapes of buildings.) I am looking forward to exploring this city a lot.
I am spending my first night in the hostel with Dan (who goes to Brandeis) and two girls we have already met, Erin and Sarah. I will be well rested and ready to meet my host family tomorrow :-)

Guten Nacht,