Sunday, August 8, 2010
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Sorry I missed a day, friends! I meant to write a little something last night before I went to bed, but I'm afraid the Kölner Party Spirit still had quite a hold on me when I got home last night.
I went for my first run in this new neighborhood yesterday afternoon. There has been a lot of American belly-aching about the weather here (60s in the morning, lots of rain), but honestly I like a climate where I can go running at 3 PM in August and not die of heat stroke. I tend to overestimate my navigating abilities when I go for a run in a new locale, so when I saw a little path leading into a forest, I thought, Hey! Why not! At one point, I was starting to get a little nervous about getting lost forever in this deep wilderness, but then I noticed that all the trees were planted in straight, diagonal lines. Maybe not so wild. And then I noticed the Autobahn off in the distance. I guess I was not in danger of finding a giant house of gingerbread anywhere in that forest.
I went into my evening plans with great uncertainty. The activity had only been described as, "Well, it's this giant bar that you pedal around the streets of Cologne. BYOB, no glass bottles, see you at six!" I had a lot of questions. Which is the main reason I decided to lay down 20 Euros-I just had to see this thing in action. After experiencing the Party Bike (as it is called), I admit that it is hard to describe. One of the best moments of the night (or maybe Germany so far?) was pedaling down a crowded river walkway, singing along to electrocized John Denver, and attracting lots of perplexed looks from older Germans. I guess Party Biking is a growing craze in Europe, thanks to the open container laws, but we were still not a commonplace sight. We were a fairly rowdy road hazard once we moved from the river walkway to the streets, but I was impressed by how understanding most of the drivers were. Check out the website if you are still confused/intrigued.
I still have not taken any pictures, except for one of Congressman Jim McDermott, another guy from Seattle, and me in Washington DC, so sorry for all the text! I will try to make a bigger effort to snap some shots this afternoon!
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I can't find a coffee maker within my kitchenette, so I have resorted to mixing up a few shots of instant every morning. I also haven't dedicated much time to seeking out nice coffee shops, so whenever I buy coffee out, I think I pretty much end up with instant also. Actually, whenever I travel I can usually only find instant or mediocre coffee. Good coffee reminds me of home, but terrible coffee reminds me of adventure and freedom! So I drink my morning swill with gusto!
I woke up early today to head to the German version of the DMV to anmelden, or register. I guess every time a foreigner or a German changes addresses they need to go into a specific government office and register their new address. You take a number, fill out a form, answer some questions, the Beamtin enters some stuff in a computer, no big deal, right? Wrong! Apparently my English handwriting is totally illegible for certain German civil servants. Something to work on I guess. She had me written down as being from in Deattle, living currently with the Kneusers, and I think she tried to ask me where I was born about six different ways since apparently the seven different places I wrote it on the form weren't clear. I guess I need to work on my accent also. All in all though, my lady was very patient and now I'm legal! A satisfying morning.
Day 2 of language school progressed smoothly. We discussed "Denglish", or "Engleutsch". I guess it's pretty hip to pepper German sentences with a lot of English words and it's a source of much hand-wringing for the German purists and older generation. My thoughts on the subject are that sure, the young people are pretty Amerika crazy right now, but who knows what things are going to be like in thirty years. Maybe there will be a cultural resurgence! Maybe we will all be speaking Swahili! No need to mourn the death of German culture just yet. But I have only been here five days. Not exactly a reliable source yet.
I was going to try to do some sort of cultural activity tonight, but I got a little exhausted. Instead I compromised and watched some of my very first German TV! I watched German comedy central so that I could at least be a little familiar with the premises of the shows, but everything was dubbed so I had a little listening comprehension practice. Mostly I failed at the translating, but I caught some words and the gist of the episode (Americans are overweight, emotional, irrational, etc. Great PR for the US, Comedy Central). I also saw advertisements for King of the Hill! Who knew they played that in Germany! Some guys I met in the Boonies of Australia had also seen King of the Hill. That show must have such a great international marketing team!
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I wish everyone in Germany spoke like my new German teacher. Life would be made in the shade! She enunciates everything and uses such a nice, accessible vocabulary! I like it. My little class is made up of all Americans from our program, which is unusual, but at least we all know each other. We got a lot done today--played an introduce yourself/riddle game, practiced a little reading comprehension about homesickness, dug our teeth into a little grammar, and finished up with a German board game. I hope we get to watch poorly produced German Textbook dramas also! But maybe it is too much to wish to return to the golden days at BBHS.
I met up with some other Americans tonight to see Inception at a theater known for showing movies in their original languages with German subtitles. I was impressed; they had salty AND sweet popcorn at the snack stand, and they had big crates to put your empty soda bottles into after the film! Germans have things figured out. I really liked the movie but was worried by the end. Like everyone probably.
The movie ended a little late, so I had my first experience out and about in Germany after hours (Whatever, judgers! I've only been here four days! I like to feel refreshed!) and Cologne's population was taking full advantage of all the open container laws. People were just walking along, chilled beer in hand, or were enjoying a drink on the train on the way to their next Partyzeit. It was all very civilized, except for one unfortunate man who looked a little stumbly. On the whole, though, Germany looked like it could handle its liquor laws.
I spilled salt on my dinner. It was already pretty mediocre (just cooked eggplant and onions and boiled eggs) and this made it a little more disappointing. Better luck next time, I guess.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Today the group spent some time registering with the state and applying for visas, and later on I purchased and activated my very own German Handy. Going through these processes demonstrated two key parts of German culture: first, the Germans' love for paperwork, and their dedication to using much longer words than any poor mortal could ever pronounce.
The registration and visa forms were not so bad because we had a patient German tutor walk us through the process and explain every scary term like "Staatsangehörigkeiten" or "Vertretungskörperschaften". Actually, he did not so much explain the terms as furrow his brow and say, "Maybe you do not need that one." Maybe he did not know their meanings either.
Things got a little more serious this evening when I was trying to "freischalten", or activate my new Pay As You Go phone. I bought the cheapest little thing in the store with a plastic SIM Card. The only step left was online activation, which I was praying would have an English option. No such luck! Instead I was left staring at terms like "einzelverbindungsnachweis" (itemized bill, or course!) and "guthabengrenze" (still undetermined) and wondering just what I was signing up for. After about 45 minutes of trying to be careful, I gave up a little and just started going with my German gut. Aufladebetrag 15 Euros? Sure! Automatische Aufladung? Sounds convenient! But who knows what is really going on in this contract.
In other news, real language class starts tomorrow! Yes!
Monday, August 2, 2010
As it turns out, the host families for the language school portion of the year are more like boarding house situations. My "family" is two parents and a grown daughter who is spending her college summer vacation living in an apartment in downtown Cologne. The parents are vacationing in Indonesia right now so I have the house mostly to myself. Honestly, I am happy for the opportunity to brush up my German a little at language school before they come back so we can have some real-er conversations.
I tried halfheartedly to sprinkle the welcome-dinner conversation with little German phrases and simple sentences, but mostly the daughter and her boyfriend kept things going in English. Starting tomorrow, only German! Even if we only talk about hobbies and going to the park! We ran into a neighbor outside, and any delusions I might have still had about my German ability quickly evaporated. They had a rapid conversation about anyone's guess, while I tried to look a little like I was following the whole thing. I guess it is nice to have so much room for improvement!
I am responsible for my meals (the welcome dinner of waffles and chicken was an exception), so I spent a little time exploring my new kitchenette. The previous Korean student generously left me some kim chee sauce, a box of chocolate covered ginger bitters, and a rather large block of lard. Possibilities!!!
Tomorrow's Adventure: Handy Einkaufen! (Cell phone shopping!)
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Rest easy, dear friends! The entire CBYX team has successfully journeyed across the Atlantic all the way to the little village of of Weilburg. We have another half day of orientation stuff tomorrow, and then we head off to our various language schools.
We arrived in Frankfurt this morning at 7:30 German time, and every adult in sight had been stressing how important it was to stay up all day today so that we can adjust as quickly as possible to the new time zone. I tried to see the wisdom in their words, but when I finally got to my little room at 11am, I thought, "Well, a little baby nap before lunch couldn't hurt!" But of course Elizabeth Ruhl doesn't know how to take baby naps. She only knows how to take delicious four hour naps. So that's what she did. I felt a little bashful coming down all fresh and rested at 3, but I figured it's best Germany becomes acquainted with my napping lifestyle sooner rather than later. As it turns out, I didn't really miss anything besides four hours of delirious conversations complaining about being really, really tired.
I did manage to waltz downstairs just in time to tag along with a walking tour of the city. It's funny how even seemingly tiny little Burgs in Germany have a crazy history and very proud citizens. We visited the famous church, the famous castle, the famous gardens, the famous tunnel, and of course the famous street-pfifer tower! Also, apparently the tower in the main city square was the basis for the original illustration of Sleeping Beauty's Tower. Unfortunately, I was rather unprepared for the afternoon's adventures and didn't bring a camera, so you will just have to take my word for it that it was not probably what you had in mind when you imagined Sleeping Beauty's Tower.
I think today might be the last day of all English. Tomorrow, after I arrive in Cologne, I will be delivered into the hands of a host family who has been instructed to speak only in German! Oh man! So I'm feeling a little apprehensive. But also I am ready to quit treading water and patting myself on the back for being in such a crazy cool program, and instead start into my Culture Shock U-Loop of Euphoria and Despair! Hope you are all excited for this wild ride!