Sunday, January 28, 2007

And now for something completely different

Today started in Berlin. Early. But at the same time, moments too late. Our visitor, Mattias, had to catch an 8AM train from Berlin Hbf, but we woke up in the Mennoheim (our free hostel connection in Berlin) at 7:20 perplexed at why the alarm hadn’t sounded. That remains a mystery. It was an odd wake up, very subtle, as it was just Mattias’ voice saying „We should probably get up now, it’s 7:20.“ We didn’t rush because the subway station was only a 5 minute walk from where we were. As we approached it, we saw a train leaving. It was the subway line we should have taken. The next one came 20 minutes later, so we found a RE train heading to the Hbf at 7:50, which was pushing it, but it was our only option. Unfortunatly Mattias still missed his train, but being himself, just boarded a different one heading to the same place. After that Gary and I spend an hour waiting for the train home in McDonalds, where I drank a pretty week cafe au lait (called Milchkaffee in German) and Gary ate breakfast. I wasn’t eating because my stomach was in a rebellion, and I wasn’t sure McDonalds would end up stamping it out. Upon arriving home, my Handy (I have a cell phone now, but it is a business one) rang. It was our friend Walde (but it can be used for personal calls too) wondering where I was. Walde came over and we went on a mission to get the van from the Garage and then pick up some kids from Altes Lager and take them to a lunch meeting. This is when I started speaking in German, it was 11AM, I stopped speaking German for English around 8PM. The meeting turned out to be short and followed by about 5 hours of playing sports. We played soccer, volleyball, table tennis, basketball and even a little American football. We ate lunch and then played more sports, until finally Gary was ready to pass out. (Though we were both tired from Adventures in Berlin, physical activity and meeting new people tend to wake me up a bit). After that Walde, who recently got his driver’s liscense drove me into Jüterbog. I talked in German and he talked in English, and he was generally excited about driving. He loves it. After that we got Gary and went on an almost surreal mission which involved a delapedated house, some of the sixth graders (who haven’t been making fun of me after all, so I feel like a jerk for thinking that) a crate of beer and of course, Walde driving. It is hard to explain. Basically Walde said, I want to deliver this crate of beer to Altes Lager (which I thought we were in, but we actually live in Flugplatz) but I need someone to help carry it. So we get in the car and drive a little ways, then suddenly stop. Walde says, I’ll be right back, I’m getting help, and he comes back with a band of 6th graders who he says are going to gaurd the beer for him. Then we drive to an beat up old house and climb up 4 flights of dark, rikity stairs, me traging a crate of beer) We finally come upon a room which is obviously used for parties as it has posters on the walls, candles and couches in it. Walde and the kids banter in Russian a bit and then we head out. That was pretty much it. Then as we are heading up to the room, I run into a group of German and Russian men on the porch of my building. One shakes my hand, asks Wie Geht’s then out of no where gives a huge tug on my beard (which hurt) and said „Was ist mit das schieße?“ (What is that crap? Is the clean version, and also what I happened to be thinking at the time). It was weird.

PS On the way to my room, having just typed this, I ran into the guys on the porch again, and we talked in German about how I liked Germany (I think they wanted me to say USA was better, but I didn’t) and then about the few Russian words I have learned. It was pretty fun

Other postscripts: One, to Deutchmaedchen (though I feel compelled to correct to Deutsch) I thank you for reading and enjoying my somewhat random stories, hope you learn something from them.
Two, to Dan: The children, of course, remember you. They ask me if I know you pretty much everyday, and some of them even call me Dan on occaision (which I permit, as the general consensious was that you were pretty dang cool)

A Walk on the Wildschwein

The presence of Mattias inspired a few tramps through the area we have always refered to as The Boarlands, an ironic title as we had never seen a boar in them, though we had seen a few shopping carts (lacking, of course, the 1 Euro coin needed to unlock them). On the first walk we took, Mattias found himself a nice stick (christened Excaliboar, because Mattias carved it into a fine point, should we encounter any boars on our travels) and we made ourselves a nice camp fire. On the way to the fire, and finding of Excaliboar, we encountered at least 3 boars. They were far from the path, but snorted at us anyway, and we were generally creeped out by this. A few more wanderings passed without event, but a few days later found me and Mattias wandering in an increasingly dark wilderness. We had set out to find boars, but had pretty much given up and decided to build a fire. We found a good spot, but not any good fuel for the fire. After what we later realized was about 2 hours, we gave up and decided to look for a new location. As we progressed towards this new location, the skies begain to grow dark and heavy with storm clouds. I expressed my concern, but noted the lack of wind was a good sign, so we continued onward. We had gotten farther down the path when I noticed a cool, sharp breeze, which is usually associated with a drop in pressure and a sure sign of a storm coming. I told this to Mattias, and after a few minutes diliberation we decided to head back, somewhat defeated with the fact that we had not only not seen a boar, but had also failed to start a fire. We had just gotten going on a rousing conversation when we heard a noise in the not so distant woods. We slowed down and ceased talking in order to ascertain what had made the noise. It was then, when everything had just gotten to its quietest, that a group of boars bounded from the woods and onto the path we were walking on, only a few feet in front of us. They crossed to the other side and bounded in the woods. We were sufficiently excited. We waited a few moments in case more came, and then continued walking, only to have our walking interupted as something else bounded from the woods at the same spot where the boars once were. Streaking across the path in tow or in pursuit (we were unsure of what the animal(s) was(were)) of the aformentioned boars. We ceased walking once more and watched as yet another group of boars bounded across the path. We waited a few moments and then very slowly inched forwards, me watching one side of the path, clutching my headlamp, and Mattias, gripping Excaliboar tightly, watching the other. We made it out with our lives and bodies still in tact, though it was quite an adrenal experience. The rest of the walk passed with no event.

Ein Schlaufen Brauchen (Ich)

It has been an odd week in good old Altes Lager (even though technically I live in Flugplatz). This is because our fellow Intermennonite came to visit. He had left a few of his vacation days up till the last minute, and decided to come visit us and maybe Berlin with it. It is odd how guests interupt the feeling of a place, we have had a couple of guests now and while one brought a good chill attitude with an air or adventure, the other brought an adventerous attitude which limited my hours slept this week to a bare minimum of 25 hours. That is including naps. Breaks down to 5 hours a night, and that is being generous. 6AM feels even earlier after going to bed around 2AM. I ended up feeling tired and a little sick the whole week, but in those hours between 12 and 2AM when we’d commence jamming on Guitars, I found it hard to drag myself away, even for precious and most nessisary sleep. The result was me falling asleep on the bus, which got various reactions from the kids. (As if being on a school bus at 6:50 in the morning is normal...oh right, in Germany, it is) Ranging from shock („Was machst denn du?“) to pity („Hast du nicht wohl geschlafen?“). The strangest though was my newly found seat buddy, Pascal. Generally kids avoid sitting with him as he has a habit of hitting or kicking people, and making the bus driver upset. Being an adult (and him being only in 2nd grade) at least earns me his resepect, insofar as he doesn’t hit or kick me and somtimes even sits down when I suggest he should. Though I like to think that talking to him has won him over. Trotzdem, (German lesson for you, Trotzdem is a good way to say anyway or in any case, or various variations on that theme, i enjoy the word, in this case I would’ve used: The point is) Pascal decided to become a crusader for my sleep. If I opened my eyes, he would scowl at anyone around who happened to have said anything in the last five minutes and say „Halt die mund, Keith (Kies, as the kids often say it) schlaft.“ Or, a little nicer „LEI-SE“ (the first one is Shut up, Keith is sleeping, the second one is QUI-ET). (I pretty much spent the whole day speaking German, but that is a different story.) Then he would turn to me and say „Schlaf weiter Keith, wir sind noch nicht da.“ (Keep sleeping, we aren’t there yet, but in the imperative). Those of you that only speak English may be quite annoyed at my over abundance of German, but I am having a good German day, so feel glad for me, they only come along every so often.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Road Trip Version 1

On what would have been a lazy saturday here in AL, the presence of our guest. Tim, the brother of Gary, inspired a hastily put together trip to Dresden. Dresden is a two hour drive from here, and is a city that has been on my ‚to go’ list for quite some time. Dresden is featured in Kurt Vonnegut’s most well known book: Slaughterhouse 5. Some of you may know that Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors, which is at least part of my desire to visit the city of Dresden, also it is a city pretty close to where I live. We spent the day walking around the city, seeing the former King’s Palace, and talking. We didn’t really feel like spending money, so entertainment options were limited. Dresden was a pretty cool city, though. One thing we have noticed about German cities is that they don’t seem crowded, at least not the cities here in the East. A city the size of Berlin in USA would have lots of people out and about pretty much all the time. But in Berlin there aren’t alot of people walking around, there are quite a few, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t crowded in the sense of crowded I think of New York City being crowded.
For dinner we decided to drive across the German-Czech Republic border. Going up the Czech hills surround by the haunted Czech forest, we experienced a fog so thick that you could only see three inches in front of you, just enough to stay on the road, but not nessisarly on the correct side. It was spooky. So now I have been to Germany, France, Spain and The Czech Republic. On the way back I drove for about two hours. The clever among you may be wondering, if the total drive is two hours, why I just didn’t say I drove home. The answer is simple, we got lost. Maybe it was the thrill of driving on the Autobahn, where I got to push our version of Edgar to the limits of 140 Km/h. Or perhaps the conversation I was having with Tim. Whatever the reason, I missed the sign and exit for the Berlin Autobahn, and made it about a quarter of the way to Leipzig (which is 1.5 hours from home) before I realized it. I decided to stop at a gas station and ask directions. Wanting to get the directions correct, I decided to ask if they spoke English. They didn’t and tried to explain things, but thinking I was a mere tourist they gave up and a rather attractive cashier lady pushed me towards the back to a group of younger German people. They should speak English, she told me. So I asked them, and they confirmed the bad news that the only way to Berlin was to drive all the way back to Dresden and hit the correct Autobahn. Back in the car we debated and I was finally convinced to try to pull off at the next city, and find the correct road. Gary and Tim were fairly sure that the Autobahn we needed passed through that city. Also, the slower and smaller route 101 also ran through that city and that would take us home. I pulled off and we spent a good hour navigating a giant circle through the city, which served only to make me more nervous and frustrated. Finally I decided that we should just take the Autobahn because at least we knew 100% that that would get us home. So I drove up the giangatic hill for the 4th and final time and started limping back to the Autobahn. I was tired and cranky, so Tim and I tried to talk about other things to calm down. It was dark and foggy and the cars behind me were tailgating. Just when I was starting to think things were looking up, a flash of blinding red light signaled my first German speeding ticket, courtesy of a speed camera. This was particularly upseting becuase I was driving what I consided a safe speed of 50 Km/h which in most places is considered slow. After that I decided to relenquensh driving duties to someone else and try to sleep off the pain in Edgar 2’s back seat.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ohne Furcht und Ardel

For this New Years Season I decided to spent it at a Jugend Freizeit in Berlin. This is sort of like a camp for teenagers and young adults. It cost me 50 €, but was worth every cent. (Euro 1 cent coins aren’t called pennies)

Before my arrival I had what the Germans call an Angsthase (similar, in a way, to a scaredy cat, only, as I have heard it used you say, I have an Angsthase; literally a fear bunny). I wasn’t sure what I was playing at going to a camp full of German teenage kids who I had never met and who might not even speak English, and I sure don’t speak German well enough to be a fun guy. I remember thinking I should have shaved, or maybe packed trendier clothes, or learned more German. I was nervous, and part of me just wanted to stay home. But I went, and even though the first day I was too nervous to even ask for food at the dinner table, I ended up making good friends and really enjoying myself. First I talked to the leader, Dietmar, about how I knew a little German, but that I was nervous using it. So the next meal he practically made me ask for everything, which was really quite helpful. After awhile the kids got used to me and were eager to speak a little English outside of their school lessons, so we spoke a combination of German and English together. We spent alot of time playing card games like Phase 10 (which I lost without getting mad in the least), Elfer Raus, and a new German game (to me at least) called Ohne Furcht und Ardel (Without fear or Aristocracy). At first this game seemed to complicated for me to even dream of playing it, because it was in German and difficult to explain, but then I watched the other kids playing it and translated most of the rules, and finally started playing. It is now my favorite game, and will be brought to America.
For New Years Eve, we went onto a big hill in Berlin and watched as every Berliner there launched a stash of fireworks to rival even Thunder over Louisville. It also turned out to be a little dangerous as some punk kids started throwing fire crackers at crowds of people, and as drunk people began shooting of improperly grounded bottle rockets, which shot towards crowds of people and sometimes exploded a little to close for comfort. It was an interesting experience.
I had many good conversations with Dietmar and his Dutch girlfriend, but at the end of the week I was exhausted from translating German and having to speak simple and slow English. I was also a touch dissapointed that I couldn’t speak German as well as I wanted. But I kept with me the words of wisdom from Dietmar, ‚Self pity is like peeing your pants in the winter, at first you feel nice and warm, but then it gets cold, and you smell bad’ and also, ‚Concentrate more on what you do know, than on what you wish you knew.’ Dietmar was a cool guy, as was everyone I met on the excursion. I felt like part of the group, and instead of being the annoying foreign guy, I was more like the cool foreign guy. For example, when we were playing the German version of Who wants to be a millionaire (Wer Wird Millionär?) they would pick questions for me based on things I’d told them (like that my favorite German word is Edelstein, they picked a question with Edelstein in it) or questions about America. There was also one night that we went to a German comedy routine. Most of it I didn’t understand, but he made one joke in English, and all the people in our group looked at me with a clever smirk, and a look in their eye that seemed to say, ‚Our American understood that one better than anyone else here.’

Der Weihnachtsmann kommt
For Christmas I divided my time among three families here in the Altes Lager area (and I was even extended 2 extra invitations that I could not take up) The first hint that Christmas was coming up was the Diakonie Office Christmas party. This involved a nice meal, a little German speaking, The 12 Days of Christmas a la Gary, Tim and Keith (in English), and a sneaky Santa style gift exchange. Now, everytime I have done the sneaky Santa game it has been a time to give Gag gifts, so I just assumed that it was also the same here. My present was a rubber duckie key chain. As the gift exchange begain, I noticed that all the presents were in fact quite nice. This made me nervous. In the end I was given my own gift back, either as an act of mercy or belittlment, I can not be sure. But I was relieved.
Then I spent Christmas Eve with Jake and Dorothy, where we ate Christmas Tacos (and I am not complaining there, it is a rare dish in Germany, and one I enjoy) and talked about how Christmas goes down at my place. On Christmas day I went for lunch to Ina Albers’ house. Ina works sometimes at the office in Altes Lager, and is one of the people I talk to on a fairly regular basis. I went there for lunch, and we had Duck, Goose and potatoes made in every form imaginable. It was a good lunch. Then we went on a walk which went on for about 4 hours. Then I had a long conversation with Ina’s husband, who happens to speak english very well. We had a good conversation about life, which is something I hadn’t really discussed with a German before, so it was a fun conversation. After that I played Fußball with the Albers’ son and I started practicing my German with him. Kids I can usually understand no problem (their son is probably about 4 or 5). We got through a couple of general comments, and then he asked me if I was leaving yet, but I think with the air of ‚Do you have to go home soon?’ I tried to ask him if he wanted me to leave now, but I couldn’t figure out how to ask the right way, and after my third try he said ‚Ich verstehe nicht, dein Deutsch ist anders als mein.’ (I don’t understand, your German is different than mine.) It was a pretty cute thing to say. Then I drove home (around 8:30) and called my family, which was nice as I got to talk to not only my parents but also my brothers.
The day after Christmas (which here is a holiday, called the 2nd Christmas Day) I spent with Familie Förster, who I lived with for a week upon arrival to Germany. Keeping in tradition, I arrived a good deal late. I was under the impression that it wasn’t going to be anything special, but it turned out to be a dinner with the whole family. But I wasn’t late on purpose, my laptop, which served also as a clock, happened to break that day (which stinks), so I wasn’t really sure about what time it was. (The next day I borrowed a clock from my buddy Walde, which I still use, he said I could keep it.) It was also a good time, and we talked for awhile in German, which was difficult (I attempted deep conversation about how work was going) but it is always nice to spend time with the Försters. (We affectionatly refer to Frau Förster as Mom and she calls us her Children.) It was fun.

Now on to more exciting things. I’ll start in Decemeber. (And just to impress you (all) I will give you that in German: Ich fange in Dezember an.) On a sliding scale, December is the best month to exist in Germany. I may be comparing it to the bitter wind, depressingly cloudy skies (which were more novel in November, now I am used to them) and generally lack of Lustigkeit (which translates to happiness, but I enjoy the German word) of November, but still. December begins with Advent, which people here enjoy explaining as though it is a novel idea to me (but it exsists in Churchs in the USA). Though they do have some right to explain its novelty here, becuase here it is not just a religious thing, but a genuine holiday season. It is a buildup to Christmas, and is celebrated with Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas Markets) in every town and village. Each town is under the impression that it has the best Christmas Market in all of Brandenburg, but each Market ranges from being a couple of food tents and a fire pit, to something like a Fair with rides, many stands and entertainment. Rumor has it that Munich has the best Weihnachtsmarkts in all of Germany, but I never saw it with my own eyes. Berlin had a Market on just about every corner. The only downside about them is that even in the middle of January, they are still around, and they mainly serve to take up space on the sidewalk and slow down the people traffic (though this only applies in Berlin as far as I know.)
December was also marked with the arrival of Gary’s brother, Tim. It was good to have someone else our age around, and Tim was also alot of fun, and we had alot of good conversations. Having guests is both good and bad, on the one hand it is nice to have someone else to come up with ideas for something to do, but on the other, they often keep you from doing important tasks. But they often inspire the going on of trips and the like, which you will see. We took many trips into Berlin, learned the Berlin subway system, and wrote a few songs. It was fun to have company, meet someone new, and get a little spiritual encouragement, but, alas, Tim has weg gehen. (He went back to Norway, where he is doing a study abroad program).

Halbjahre Spiegel

I have now survived in Germany for almost 6 months. I have to say that living here has gotten normal. I have learned to appreciate little things, like the ability to understand about 90% of what the kids say to me, and being to ask them little questions. Some days I can even understand the TV. I would say the hardest part is the alphabet. I have come to appreciate the shows on MTV, because here they are broadcast with German subtitles, so the German version of me complains about the times that MTV plays music, while the American version complains when it plays shows. Today I write to you through the pains of a headache, stomach ache and general ache that I can only hope isn’t the sign of sickness. Feeling sick has a way of making you miss childhood, or home. Not that I want to go home, I still have much to learn, and still need to master German. If I can keep learning at the same pace I will know twice as much German as I know now when I step off the plane onto American (Canadian American) soil. It is finnally getting cold here in Altes Lager, something I am promised is an oddity (usually it is freezing and snowing like crazy, I am told, but most likely with egzageration. [I have forgotten how to spell that word completely...]) I have decided to attempt a German study time every day from now on, to learn Grammar and more words. A certain friend from Alaska, (mhem, Katie) might enjoy the fact that the Sun comes up at about 9AM and is in the process of setting around 2PM. And even when it is out, the weather is mostly cloudy. Looking back, though, the past 5.6 months have flown by, and January is almost over. At this point last year I was picking up an application for the local YMCA to be a lifeguard. I can only hope, if not a touch half-heartedly, that the time doesn’t go by as quickly in this last half of my German adventure. Though I do look foward to seeing good friends once again, I don’t look foward to leaving the ones I have made here behind.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A blog with a photo?!

Here I am teaching the English to my most hyper class...word...more on that later.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

To all my loyal blog readers,

Fear not, I live. Time contrants, internet time limits, trips to Berlin and the Czech Republic have been taking up my free time, and also need to be reported on, so soon I will post stories on all of these subjects, and more.