Friday, September 28, 2007

Adventures in Laundry

Laundry-- who knew it could be such an ordeal? After accidentally washing a load on the table linens setting, because you can't change the settings after you've pressed the start button, and some frustration due to the fact that the washing machine informed me that my clothes would be washing for 58 minutes, I finally got some clean clothes. But, no. They still needed to dry. I was trying to read the long instructions (17 steps, no joke) on top of the dryer when another guy came in. We quickly started chatting in English: he's from Venezuela, in Berlin for one month now, studying German. He could understand even less of the drying instructions than I could. After 15 minutes or so of standing around, slamming doors, sticking our laundry cards in the machines and randomly pressing buttons, we both gave up. I just decided to dry my stuff in my room. So last night and this morning, there was laundry hanging off of everywhere possible. Every hanger was taken up. There was practically no space in my tiny bathroom due to the fact that so much was hanging on the shower curtain rod. I don't know what I'm going to do next time. I do know, though, that I will leave much more time to figure it out; last night, Venezuela and I were pushing the time limits of the laundry room. Which brings me to my next question: why does a laundry room have a closing time?

My Movie, Finally

Amazingly, my internet held out long enough for me to upload a little movie I made of Berlin onto YouTube. Here it is:

Note that the statue is not of Friedrich von Humboldt, it's Friedrich of the Hohenzollerns, aka Freddy the Great.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Class

This is my class, as photographed by our teacher during our field trip to the Wall Museum. I'm not sure why I am so in the foreground. It looks like we are a big band and I am the lead singer. Huh.
I just realized that, if you are so inclined, you can click on it to see a larger version.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Today we (my German class, 14 kids total) went on a field trip! It was fun for a few reasons: I really like the class; it was like the old days of taking fields trips-- they don't happen too often at a huge school like U of T; and our teacher took us on this totally on her own, it was not planned and no other class did it. She's great, big-hearted. Anyway, our field trip was to the Berlin Wall Museum, which is a small, but nice, museum a bit north of Mitte. It is one of two places where the wall still stands in its original place. It was very interesting, and the exhibit there is in both German and English. Across the street, you can peer through cracks in the wall to see what no-man's-land looked like. The place where you would stand for this is gravel, so it's pretty effective in making the visitor see how hopeless escaping East Berlin felt/was. There is also a chapel across the street, and every business day at 12 they commemorate someone who died trying to get over the wall. We stayed for that, and it was quite moving. I think it's a little too bad that it's only in German, because I'd recommend it widely.

My teacher also said that she would definitely recommend this museum over the one at Checkpoint Charlie because the Wall Museum is more objective. I haven't been to CC, but the information laid out at the WM was very objective, that was plain to see. The visuals are also more effective at the WM because there aren't tons of tourists around; you're allowed to think.


Be sure to check out my photos by clicking on the link on the right-hand side of this page. Right now, they're typical touristy pictures of Berlin, but oh well. I'll get better ones.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I met up with my friend Viktor last night, who I know because he studied at Toronto last year. He’s been in Berlin this summer with an internship at the German foreign office. After going to a bar in right outside of Mitte, where we enjoyed the German special of light wheat beers mixed with either raspberry or some green flavor syrup, we went into Prenzlberg. On our way there, we met a guy from California, who was on his way to work at a club in the same area we were going. After parting ways with him, Viktor told me we were going to go to a hole in the wall that he’s fond of because it sells beer on Sundays. We walked for a while, glad it was no longer raining. Just as we were walking past some scaffolding, Viktor said, “It’s right here.” It was literally a hole in the wall. Imagine a break in the scaffolding to allow for an entrance, and then a shabby walk-up window selling only beer. It was hilarious-- I was imagining a dive bar, and he literally meant a hole in the wall.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

“Fremd is nur der Fremde in der Fremde.” - Karl Valentin. My teacher started the second part of class with this quote yesterday. You don’t need to know German to get the same out of the quote that my classmates and I did: fremd, fremd, fremd. Fremd means foreign, and the quote basically means that what is foreign is only foreigners in a foreign setting. Hmm. What we knew was that we had to write an essay about being a foreigner in Berlin and since then have referred to the essay as the “fremd, fremd, whatever” essay. In order to understand the quote fully, you need to be familiar with the intricacies of German cases and prepositions. Perhaps we should all be studying a bit more.

When I’m on the U-Bahn, the subway, listening to a “This American Life” podcast, I forget that I’m in Germany. It still hasn’t hit home. I don’t know if this is good (I have a positive outlook) or bad (I am deluding myself). I’m on the subway. Words are only symbols, after all, so after a few days with the U-Bahn, it’s not a foreign word. I can’t hear any German, two women across from me are wearing hijabs, and the guy beside me is wearing a jean jacket just like me, but his has seen more wear and tear. I could be anywhere. The train is pretty crowded even though it’s not rush hour. I imagine that most people are commuters like me, since this subway line only goes from outside the city to a stop in the center, it doesn’t go through the city like most lines. But then we pull into a station, and there is a “ß” in the station name, and I notice that the guy beside me is carrying a tote bag. Earlier, I was in a computer room in the Sprachenzentrum (language center) of Humboldt University becoming gradually more irritated with the German keyboard as a “ä” showed up every time I hit the apostrophe key and every question mark required a special “Alt Gr” (I’m not sure, either) button. Just as I was becoming reacquainted with the switched “y” and “z” keys, the monitor in the computer room told us computer users that she had to leave soon, then repeated her message in English, as if we ended up at Humboldt by some grand fluke.

So I was in Berlin, after all. I ended up writing in my essay that I don’t feel that Berlin is foreign. In fact, I feel oddly at home. Perhaps it’s because I am used to living in a big city-- after living in a suburb of Pittsburgh for a few months of agonizing sales work, Berlin- as a city- feels more comfortable. Maybe it’s due to my new hypothesis: Berlin is very welcoming. When I was here with my mom, I didn’t feel like a tourist. That was almost certainly due to fact that I will be here for ten months. But it was more than that, I didn’t feel like any city residents were scorning us as tourists. I know it happens, because I sometimes think mean thoughts about tourists in Toronto when there is a group of them clogging the sidewalk. And then came the clue that we really didn’t look like tourists: someone asked me for directions in the U-Bahn station. I had told my mom that I would really feel like I am a part of the city when someone asks me for directions, and it already happened. That only goes to show that there’s not a typical Berliner. You can’t see it in their clothes or their haircut, you can’t discern who’s a native by trying to guess their economic situation.

Instead, I am a foreigner. I feel conspicuously, but proudly, American here. Yes, as we’ve learned, on the U-Bahn, no one can tell the difference. It’s true: more than one person spoke German to my mom, who knows no German. She would wordlessly point to me. Especially in my class though, which is an intensive German class, I am a proud exception. I’m the only American. I’m the only one who speaks English without a British accent. I’m the only one from a country where we all eat ten donuts a day, according to the British boy I sit next to. And on the U-Bahn, I probably am the only one whose head snaps around when George Bush appears on the Berlin Transportation Commission subway news. For now, I’ll try to figure out why Berlin doesn’t feel like Germany, it feels a big city without a concrete location in a certain country. I’ll study my separable verbs and my prepositions. I’ll try to rely on a map less and impatiently wait until I can buy my bike used from a tour company. But then again, that is what every new Berliner is doing, no matter their country of origin.