Monday, January 12, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Welcome to winter! I shouldn't be surprised- and I'm more or less not- but it is cold and snowy here. Sure, I chose to live in this country. But in my past two years here I haven't really seen a proper Canadian winter. It is warmer, relatively speaking, in southern Ontario, but overall, winter seemed to come in early this year and it is not going anywhere. Additionally, I think this is the longest I've seen this much snow stay on the ground day after day. We have probably about 5 inches now, but it's hard to tell without any true yards in the city and the snow plowed up on the sidewalks.

On Saturday night, I was having a few drinks with Olivia and a bunch of the Frenchies, and instead of going to a bar, we decided to have a snowball fight! It had been snowing for a few hours and we had almost 3 new inches to play in. It was really super fun. It helped me stay positive about the weather conditions: trudging through the snow all the time is not fun. It is a novelty about the first two times you do it, then it becomes irritating, then you get used to it. But I don't like the feeling of my snow boots seeming to add 20 pounds. Oh well, it's my last winter here!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Erasmus 2.0: Toronto

I am now reliving my days as an exchange student vicariously through my new exchange student flatmates. They are from France, and have, relatively speaking, tons of friends from their uni here in Toronto. Their European, Erasmus (the EU-wide exchange program) attitude is so much fun to see and take part in. It is easy to see that they are more relaxed about things, breathing fresh air into the uptight-ness that Toronto can often exhibit. Last night we had a little party at my house, which consists of seven girls, and the mix of people was great.

Okay, I wrote that about a week ago, and now I am finishing this post. Last night I went to a party at a house where five exchange/international students live. Once again, I had an awesome time. I love reliving my exchange year. The year-abroad attitude is a relaxed, easy-going one, where people introduce themselves and chat freely and the beer in the fridge is for anyone to grab. My Toronto experience in my first two years wasn't really like that, at all, so this is refreshing and I've barely had time to miss Berlin.

I'll write more about Toronto later. Right now I need to do readings and laundry!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Well, I am leaving Berlin in a week from tomorrow. It's hard to believe how quickly my time here has gone by. At the same time, I feel like I've been here for the whole eleven months; it seems like last summer was ages ago. I could go on and on about this city, but I'll keep it short and sweet. There's something about the atmosphere here that makes Berlin unlike any other city in the world. For most of the people I know, no European city can come close to the feeling that being in Berlin gives them. It's hard to articulate why. But it certainly has something to do with the history & the demographics.

Barack Obama is going to be here on Thursday! After a lengthy debate, he is speaking in front of the Siegesäule (victory column) instead of the Branderburger Tor. I'm prepared to wait hours to see him. The Germans for some reason absolutely love him, so the whole event is a really big, exciting deal.

Meanwhile, the gorgeousness of May and most of June has come to a complete stop. Now it's the typical northern European summer: gray, rainy, and chilly. Gross. Can't wait to have some 90 degree weather at the beach.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hurricane Festival

This past weekend I went to Hurricane, a music festival held in Scheeßel, a small town in northern Germany. We took the train and arrived at about 9 at night on Thursday, excited for the concerts that would take place till Sunday night. It was a really, really great time, and I feel like it was a rather European experience. Though we have music festivals where people camp in the US/Canada, they're not nearly as common.

The thing that stands out the most other than the great music was the dirt. We were camping in a field of dust, very literally, with some straw growing out of the ground. It looked really weird at first. By the time I woke up on Friday, I had dirt between my toes even though I had been wearing socks the whole time. Washing your hands was totally futile, as was showering. Long lines at the showers in the morning was a strong deterrent, so by the end of the festival I felt that anyone who looked remotely clean was not trustworthy.

Meanwhile, I spent probably about six hours a day at concerts. Our festival kicked off with Shantel, a German guy who started off making techno (as they all do), but decided his interests lie more in Balkan music. He played with a full band and it was really awesome and all the Germans were dancing. Of course. Then we saw Rodrigo y Gabriela, who are amazing guitar players from Mexico. The rest of the weekend's highlights were Tegan and Sara, the band I was the most excited to see; Jaguar Love, Bat for Lashes, Sigur Ros, and Radiohead.

I had a great time, and came back filthy and thinking my feet might fall off.
Here is a video I found on YouTube. Although the cinematography is dizzifying, it shows the festival & is a hilarious spoof of super-dramatic football players.

Monday, May 26, 2008

On German

I’ve already mentioned the English bookstore that I went to a few days ago, and how everybody was speaking English there, and that was a little foreign, and a little weird, and a little fun. Later that day I found myself saying to my English ex-flatmates, “I’m so tired of German. I’m so tired of not being able to communicate perfectly or having communication be such a job. I just want to be easily understood! And to be able to convey my personality through what I say!”

I should mention this: my German is good. I’ve been taking German since sixth grade, with my previous 2 years of college off. My German is good and I’ve never really had to work at it because my learning has been spread out over such a long period of time. But no matter how many times I correctly put the verb at the end of the sentence (probably the hardest thing to do when you are speaking spontaneously), I cannot convey my personality through what I say. And I think everybody feels like this.

When I’m speaking in German, I use facial expressions, tone of voice, and hand gestures much more than I do in English. This is to try to make up for my linguistic shortcomings, because, while my German is quite good, I make plenty of mistakes. I wonder how long it takes to actually become fluent, truly fluent. I’ve already been here for about seven months, and while I could speak more German, I speak a decent amount. And any time I’m tired, mentally or physically, my German starts to go down the tubes.

Mastering a language is an interesting thing. Unfortunately, to become fluent, you must live in a country where it is spoken. I could take every single German class in Toronto and still not have as good spoken German as I do now. Fluency really depends on what the definition being used is. A teacher asked us in the first week, “is everyone fluent in German?” When no one said anything, she followed up with, “is everyone comfortable with German?”

I must have made a face, because she singled me out and asked me the two questions. While she seemed to use the two terms almost interchangeably, I think there is a world of difference between the two. My understanding of German is near-perfect. You reach a point where you can glean so much from context that knowing actual words doesn’t matter-- just as we all do with English. Because of that, I can understand and read almost anything. But I am still far from being fluent when speaking. So I am definitely, auf jeden Fall, comfortable with the language, but not fluent.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Immer mehr Fotos.

There are even more pictures up on my Flickr now, mostly from Meaghan's visit.

Also, a little political comment: Hurrah for John Edwards endorsing Obama! And hurrah for California striking down the ban on gay marriage! Those are things I like to hear on the news.

It is a little rainy here, and I have been a little bored because I don't have very many classes. Oh, well. I went to an English used bookshop yesterday. It was fun to hear everyone speaking North American English-- that doesn't happen that often. Perhaps the best part, other than the guy working there being attractive, was that I was able to trade in a bunch of books that I had here. Since I have to come back stateside, it is good that I know what I can do with English books. I bought Love in the Time of Cholera, a book by Ali Smith (contemporary Brit writer), and a book called Sustainable Planet. I then biked down to the Friedrichstraße area and bought tickets to see Santogold, a urban-world-music singer of sorts from Brooklyn, and Sunset Rubdown, an indie band from Montreal. I am very excited about both! A blessing in disguise about Berlin is that a lot of musical acts that are popular in the US & Canada are not nearly as popular here, so it is easier to get tickets, and they are cheaper.

My family will be here in a little under four weeks, and I absolutely cannot wait!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

RIP Sven

I have sad news. Sven died yesterday evening. I will miss him, but he was in desperate need of retirement (apparently). I had taken him to the mechanic to get a new lamp- finally- and the mechanic informed me when I went to pick him up that the gear system was shot and so was the rear wheel! And that it is dangerous to continue riding him.
But, today I went to a flea market out in Friedrichshain, where I bought a new bike! I am so happy to have already replaced Sven, because life without a bike was absolutely killing me. This is a nice city bike that has been spray-painted bright PINK! I bartered the price down to 60 euro, and was trying to get even more off when the guy angrily wheeled the bike away from me, which prompted me to practically scream at him that I wanted it, and would pay for it. I think I will definitely be able to re-sell it for a good price. Jenn, who also purchased a pink bike, and I biked home from the flea market, and I would have to say the best thing about my bike is that it is silent! It is almost completely silent. My other bike sounded like a rattling deathtrap.