We went to the ice skating rink last Friday and had lots of fun. There was quite of bit of blood on the ice at one point (someone obviously had a major spill), and I couldn’t help thinking how hard-core Germans are..
Okay, okay, I am just making fun. Actually I am only beginning to discover all the little quirks and idiosyncracies of the German culture. For example, one can almost feel the hairs on their necks stiffen if you cross the street on a red light, no matter how small the road. On the other hand, if you just walk down the street a few feet, away from the light, everyone crosses as if it were their personal right.
And then there is this recycling issue. Many people (including one of my flatmates) are very conscientious about putting the right kinds of plastic in the yellow sack, paper in the box, glass bottles in one bag, and plastic bottles in another. On the other hand, after all that effort of properly filling the yellow bag has been made, they are promptly dumped outside on the sidewalks (along with all other sorts of debris: toilet bowls, old shelves, couches, etc) and left to pile in yellow heaps for weeks on end. We are lucky to have a recycling center close by. However, we can only bring the glass bottles and paper recycling: plastic bottles must be brought back to the store from which you bought it in the first place. This is usually my preferred method as a student, because you can also receive your ‘pfand’ (recycling fee for the bottle at the point of sale), which can range anywhere from 0.20E to 1E (really, it was 1E at Oktoberfest!). The interesting thing is that you can only bring plastic bottles back to stores which actually sell that particular drink.. which effectively discourages the less intrepid from proper recycling habits. After all, who wants to traipse across town with a plastic sack full of bottles for a lousy 0.45E, as I did this morning?
It has been quite a while since my last post, but that I will promptly blame on Deutsche Telekom and their sorry management skills. Already into the later half of October and still no internet in the house: the minor annoyance is about to become a full-blown frontal assault by the beginning of next week. 5 students, 1 masters program, 0 login ability = catastrophe.
Still, the past two weeks have been incredible for me: in the space of five days, I have managed to overcome a minor existential crises and at the same time, justify the decisions I have made for my life in the past four years. I got a job (a *real* job), found a long-lost friend and made several more, and got a taste of the fascinating things to learn in the coming two years.
After the struggles and self-doubt, I realize now that I was not wrong to take that two year detour from my linguistic studies and that I really will be happy with this career decision for a long time to come. In fact, for once I do not feel as if I must hurry along my education in order to get where I want to be. I *am* at the point where I want to be. So now every moment that goes by feels rich with new ideas and time does not seem to pass by too fast.
After having completed what has been dubbed the Japanische Tour, I can now say that I ‘did’ München. Englischen Garten, small shopping jaunt in Odeonsplatz, Deutsches Museum, Oktoberfest, and of course, a pair of the most famous bavarian castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. Traveling by car rather than the train was a very different experience. For the first time, I was able to see the city in its fully impressive size, something which was lost to me as a tourist by foot. The last time I was there, I made it to the clock tower place of course, but my view being limited in scope, I found some of the surrounding areas somewhat dull. I was therefore astounded by all the incredible buildings, statues and monuments Ã la française, and the expanse and breadth of parklands which can only be noticed when you go straight instead of turning left, and have to prove your mettle as a map reader in a foreign country.
Oktoberfest was exciting. I couldn’t remember which tent was the ‘fun’ one, but I think we finally stumbled in on it in the end. After a stint in Paulaner with three older, rather grim and wrinkly-faced people, we realized that there was not enough action there. So at the risk of losing a table and not finding one again in another tent, we decided to get a bit of fresh air and see the sights (which for me are the kiosks with tourist junk). A t-shirt and some candied peanuts later, we found ourselves in Schaffenhoff.. Schattenhattel.. Schoffenhamer.. uh, the ‘sh’ tent, and what a marvelous sight met our eyes: the tent was packed with people and the whole gaggle of them were standing on the benches, shouting, singing, dancing, with ruddy cheeks and bright eyes. It is rather intimidating having to walk into a place like that when everyone but you has a beer and a place to drink it. Walking through the ranks of drunken revelers, trying to find a small opening and some friendlyish faces, is a daunting task at first. But once you find a spot, you can pretty much take over the table bit by bit, and stay all night. The best part about dancing while drinking is that the unpleasant alcohol buzz wears off, leaving me giddy and able to drink more. And finally, Markus was right: the chicken was absolutely delicious.
Amid the festivities of the night before, I was asked what would make a good ‘typical German’ gift to some Czech friends. As a foreigner, it makes sense that I should know these things (of course! you say..). This question, however, immediately brought to mind our discussions in the German language course. What do people think of when they think of Germany? Well..
Germans are punctual, hard-working, serious folk.
Yeah right. Punctual? Consider yourself lucky if your train makes it to the station and leaves on time. And just say to yourself, “At least it wasn’t postponed till the next day,” when you skip a class to sign your apartment lease at 2pm, but don’t manage to get that far till 8. Hard-working? German shops are closed on Sundays, ostensibly to allow people to go to church (uh-huh, who goes to church on Sundays?), but really to protect those lower-class gals from having to work longer hours for crummy pay, since the shops aren’t going to take on extra hands. Serious folk? Well I guess I won’t comment on that. I’m still hoping the running joke in Germany about Belgians who horde children in caves, molest them, and leave them for dead, will die down at some point in our household.
So what has stuck? Recycling (which has become a big thing for us in view of the impending arrival of Tobi, the green voter), crossing the street on a red light, and…I have to say it…Wurst, Cheese, Bread, and Beer. I still remember scouring the streets for a head of broccoli, and finally coming across some limp, sad thing. But there is also.. Angela Merkel, kaffee and kuchen on Sundays, that nice lady outside the bakery who came to us three times to help us find what we were looking for…
Not to mention the fact that I am slowly becoming a savvy shopper. I now know that the best heads of lettuce are found ‘underground’ in the subterranean halles below the hauptstraße. No longer will I balk at a 22E clothes hanger, but will go directly to C&A and ask for a handful of the loads they throw away every day. And finally, there’s beer, but then there’s also Caipirinha.
Last night we hosted a small house-warming party in our new, finally furnished, appartment. It was surprisingly tame (compared to the bashes thrown by my French room-mates), despite the amount of alcohol we consumed. Not to mention the shisha – which took a delightful tumble onto the kitchen floor at one point – and the haze of strawberry that left some more mellow than others. In fact, we managed to make it out with only one broken plate and not a single permanent stain from the orange-juice soaked confetti.
Still, partying in Germany, at least for me, was something of a trying task. For the first two hours, I sat around the table with at least ten Germans, most of which I am certain spoke fairly good English. It was almost amusing, really, how their loud and boisterous conversations would suddenly come to a grinding halt as they realized, “hmm, maybe we should say something to that American girl..”, then they would throw wild deer-in-the-headlight stares at each other, trying hard to think of how to say it in English. I was much relieved when Gesche arrived, whom I had met the night before, and who was much more at home speaking English. In the end, however, the alcohol began to settle in, they became much more relaxed, and I had quite a nice conversation with Andreas about gay men and the disabled workers gewerkschaft.
I have been doing quite a bit of shopping lately. Since one of my roommates wanted to buy his furniture new (and had a car), we have made several trips to Ikea and Meuble-Boss for nice, cheap bedroom sets. Last night was our last trip and it was in a sandwich shop, in the women’s bathroom, that I noticed it: a small vending box with condoms for sale on one side, and erotic toys (dildos, etc) on the other. In fact, it was while driving in Saarbrücken when we passed an entire warehouse store with the name ‘Erotic’ splashed all over the front. I am suspicious now of every person who walks down the street. But if I mention it, I get only a, “Ah, Prude American!”, a hand-waving, and a laughing off. Such a bizarre country.
I went to my very first live football game last Sunday. Saarbrücken, a third league team (blue and black), played against Mainz, a first league team (red and white), and won the game 1-0. It was thrilling. I knew better to keep my eyes on the ball or I’d miss the goal, and when it came, I was not disappointed. So this means little SB will make it to the next round for the German cup.
So what is a German football game experience you ask? 15,000 people were in that stadium, and as there are no parking garages or whatnot, their cars were doubly lined along the sidewalk and the right lane of the road for miles on end. There was also a barricade of German polizei, not sure why. No commentator for the field (they just assume people know what’s going on), and they drink beer or coke with these long sausages wrapped in a small round bread roll. Fascinating.
One of the aspects of life in Germany over which I often pondered was what to do when certain historical topics were introduced while in the company of German folk. What would I say? How would they react? Perhaps I worry too much sometimes. Last Friday, I introduced my new friend Danielle, from Israel, to my German roommate Michael. Their first exchange, Him: “So how do you feel about the war between Israel and Lebanon?”, Her: “How do you feel about the Holocaust?”. I had to smother my laughter. She also has a German boyfriend, a Saarlander. So of course, no wine-tasting in Trier would be complete without Michael declaring to the both of them, “it’s so nice to see how people from Israel and Germany work out together 60 years after the Holocaust..”.
We did have a marvelous time in Trier. Besides visiting the Saarschleife (the point at which the Saar river makes a large bend along the valley), we were free to have lunch where we liked as well as follow the guided tour through the city or wander off on our own. A small group of us chose the latter and I took many wonderful pictures. We ended the day in a small Vinothek along the Mosel river for a three-hour long wine tasting of 6 varieties. I believe there was a pinot noir at the beginning, which wasn’t very good (too light, too young), and the rest were sweet white wines, as well as one rosé. I bought their late harvest ‘Eiswein’ which I thought was delicious. Many of the students preferred the cheaper wines and had them opened for the bus trip back to Saarbrücken. Ah, such is European life!
German lessons of the day: One must always cover one’s mouth when yawning. Otherwise evil spirits will come in and suck out your soul, besides it being considered rude. When entering a restaurant, you seat yourself even if the table has not been cleared – the staff will eventually get around to doing that.
Last night, Germany won the qualification for the European cup 13-0 against San Marino. With several of my future fellow CL students, we celebrated at the Short Corner (die Kurze Ecke) with beer and incidentally, we discovered that the soccer table game is called fußball (‘foozball’) in English and kicker in Deutsch.
In my first days here, I’ve made the most delightfully stupid mistakes. Besides the rather tame incident involving a desperate need for water (in which I happily approached a young man with pleading eyes and asked, “Wer ist der Wasser?”, when I later realized it meant ‘Who is the[masc, but should be neuter] water?’), I have also thought about steering clear of restaurants. This is because Germans have a most peculiar ritual when it comes to paying the bill.
Stemming from the frightful fact that credit cards are rarely used, the waitress will come to your table with the receipt and expect you to pay in cash. She has a small wallet with plenty of coins and bills to give you change. However, unlike most (civilized) countries, the waitress will tell you the price of the meal, and then the customer (me, in this case) is expected to respond with the price he/she wants to pay. This means that one must quickly add a bit of gratuity, tell the girl the new price, and she will give change for that amount.
Not knowing all this at the time, however, I blithely gave her several bills, received my change, and she walked away. I then had a dilemma. Do I leave the tip on the table? But the tables were outside, and there were some rather unwholesome gentlemen not far away. Do I go inside and hand it to her?When I finally came to understand the entire process, I ended up having to flag her down, and poor girl, having misunderstood my receipt, I over-tipped by about twice the amount. She told me so, but I shook my head and said, “It’s okay, it’s okay!” and quickly ran off.