Merry Christmas!

Sorry about the rambling later on, dont say I didnt warn you.

I did the Jewish thing yesterday and went to see Harry Potter at the theater downtown. I’ve seen it twice now in German, but I really want to see it in English… ah well. I was honestly rather surprised to find out that the theater was open Christmas day here, I figured that since everything pretty much shuts down for Sunday, absolutely nothing would be open on Christmas. It was a pleasant surprise.

Germany is quite a contradiction when it comes to these things, actually. For example, no stores are open on Sundays, the state shuts down for Christian holidays and the division between Catholic and Protestant is very much alive and well. On the surface, it appears to be a very religious culture. Secularization however, is everywhere. People dont hesitate to openly question God and the bible, in classes that have nothing to do with religion, students have openly attacked the bible and Christianity in general. England put out a coin a couple months ago with Darwin on one side. None of that could ever happen in the States, there are too many people to get offended.

Imagine walking into your office for a meeting, or your classroom for a discussion, you would never tell the entire group of people that God doesnt exist, the bible is just a bunch of stories and that you cant imagine how anyone could believe all that stuff. There’s no way you would do that, is there? It’s a very different attitude over here.

Winter break started on Thursday and goes through the 9th of January. Pretty much all of my friends went home for the break, so I dont have much else to do besides researching and hopefully writing (or at least starting) my two 15 page papers due in March. I know it seems a bit proactive of me, but we start again on the 10th, finals are three weeks after that, and then my 2.5 month break starts mid February and the last thing I’m going to want to do is write two 15 page papers. The more I do now, the more travelling I can do later.

Up until Thursday, it was ridiculously warm here. I mean like 45-50 degrees warm, it was amazing. All the snow was gone, I didnt need a hat or a scarf, and I could wander around the market as long as I wanted. On Friday it began to snow a little bit, and Christmas day I woke up to this:It probably made a lot of people very happy, having a white Christmas, but all I could think of was that it was cold again. Snow’s very pretty and all, but I’m much more fond of sun and warmth and being outside without wanting to turn around and go right back inside again.

Christmas Eve I made some manischewitz matzoh ball soup from a mix I got in a care package and watched “Man of the Year,” a 2006 Robin Williams movie. I do this thing on youtube where I’ll be watching a video of someone, see a related video of someone else, and then before I know it I’ve spent three hours doing nothing but watching videos from them. That’s what happened with Robin Williams.

It’s actually a pretty long chain (considering that I was introduced to QI in the beginning of November) to get to Robin Williams. To avoid boring you with rambling sentences, I’m gonna use arrows (which represent a change in what I was watching)  to show you how it worked. Lets start with the BBC comedy panel show QIStephen Fry Alan Davies → BBC show Jonathan Creek → Alan Davies stand upMock the WeekDara O’BriainBill Bailey Bill Bailey and Robin WilliamsRobin Williams. An that my friends, is why I love youtube. Aside from the Vlogbrothers at least.

On a side note, I’m kind of falling in love with the BBC.

Sometimes I feel like I hear more British English than American over here. Pretty much the only time I hear American English is when I talk to people on Skype, other than that, British English is everywhere. In fact, I’ve noticed that I’ve started to use proper as an Adverb (I think that’s right, I’m awful at grammar). For example, that was proper weird. I like British English.

I found a cheap second hand book seller the other day. I use the word ‘seller’ instead of ‘store’ because it really is just a guy with a bunch of books stacked on some tables just across from the market. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good thing, I finally found somewhere where I can buy interesting cheap used books without having to literally wade through a pile of other uniteresting things, but its bad, really bad, because it means that I’m going to start buying books again. You may say thats not a bad thing at all, and it wouldnt be if I was in Minnesota, but you forget that I have to bring everything back with me in August. Books are heavy, they take up room, but I love buying and reading them. I’d almost say I collect books, I have slightly more fiction than non, but not by much.

Just a short thing, unless I say otherwise, everything I tell you about, whether it’s a book, a movie, a lecture or something else, everything is always in German. I’d let you know it was in English by saying something along the lines of “and it was even in English!”

I bought three books from this guy, 1984, which I own in english already, but why not have it in German as well, a short story from Thomas Mann who is my favorite author of all time, and a book published in 1950 about the last couple months of the war. It was 6.50, but I had to have it. Nine euros for three books is a pretty good deal, right? That’s why I told you it was a bad thing, in fact, its quite dangerous.

My parents bought me bookshelves at a garage sale earlier this fall, I’m so excited to get my books out of plastic tubs and onto shelves where they belong.

Sorry about the lack of pictures this week, even if I did have more, they wouldnt be of anything exciting anyways.

Putting together those youtube links took me an hour because I kept getting distracted by other videos. Yea..

Kids at Heart

12/19/2010

Normally, having a professor say only good things about a presentation you just gave is something to be proud of, a pleasant and reassuring surprise. Here however, its hard to know whether the praise you are getting is because you gave a genuinely good presentation, or if, because you’re a foreigner and a non-native speaker, they’re just saying that for someone in your position you did surprisingly well.

I gave a presentation on Monday with a German girl, and the professor had only good things to say about my half, but had some critique for hers. Also, about a month ago, I wrote an essay for this same professor, and so did another German girl. Once again, I got no negative feedback, while she did. I would like to believe that, because both these girls are in their first semester, they just havent gotten the hang of Uni expectations yet, but there’s a part of me that leans towards the fact that the professor is probably just telling me what I want to hear. No point stressing about it, but its something thats hard not to wonder about, you know?

Tuesday was what was probably our last movie Tuesday of 2010. We saw a Swedish film (dubbed in German, of course) called “Ein Mann von Welt,” which was, for lack of a better term, interesting. Weird is also another word I could use.

On Wednesday after class, my friend Danija from Latvia and I went shopping for Christmas presents. It wouldnt be so hard if I didnt feel like whatever it was that I wanted to give someone had to be distinctly German. It narrows down my options by quite a lot, you know.

I finally got a haircut Wednesday evening, which is all well and good, except my hair is shorter now than it has ever been in my entire life. The hard thing about haircuts is that since I cannot wear my glasses, I cant properly see what exactly the person is doing. To make a long story short (seriously), I asked for 3.5cm off, and got slightly more taken off in the process. I like it short, but I think I’ll like it more in like two weeks or so. It is definitely the shortest I’ve ever had it.

I spent about 20 minutes at home on Thursday… I had to stay late on campus and then came back, twenty minutes later went out for the night. Made for a fun, but pretty freaking long day.

Our traditional dinner thing continued this Friday with my friend Lucia from Italy. She made some deep fried pizza pocket-ish things, a quiche (now thats a word I had to google…) and other tasty things. Unfortunately I didnt manage to get any photos, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. We made it an early night however, because the next day (yesterday) we were going to Heidelberg.

The State (or Land) that the city of Freiburg is in is called Baden-Württemberg, and the German rail system has this deal where for 29 Euros, you and four other people can take regional trains, buses and trams anywhere in Baden-Württemberg on any day of your choice. It’s a pretty good deal.

We took a train from Heidelberg to Offenburg, from Offenburg to Karlsruhe where we had an hour wait and took a quick walk through a park, and then from Karlsruhe to Heidelberg. The whole trip, including waiting time, took roughly three hours.

Heidelberg has a beautiful castle above it that looks over the entire city. Its quite a climb getting up there, but the view is spectacular.

The best part of the castle however, had nothing at all to do with the view, the architecture or ruins, no, it was the snow. I have no idea how it started, but we all ended up covered in snow, running around this lawn area behind the castle like kids right after the first snow of the year. After something like that, there is nothing better than hot cocoa from a small cafe just down the hill.

After warming up a bit, and trying to dry our coats and gloves off as much as possible, we went back down into the city and wandered around different parts of the christmas market and came across something wonderful, an outdoor ice rink.

Pretty sure it’s been like five years since I went ice skating, but somehow, I managed to only fall over twice. The first time was entirely my fault, the second time was because my roomie and I wanted to see if we could spin around in a circle together… we couldnt. My shoulder took a nice hit on that one, It’ll be sore for the next couple days, that’s for sure.

It felt so remarkably like Christmas, with the snow and the ice and the lights and everything. It was pretty amazing. Germany really knows how to make you feel like you’re in a story book.

After a snowball fight, over an hour of ice skating and an afternoon of wandering around, by the time we got on the train to head back to Freiburg, we were pretty wiped out. In fact, it felt remarkably like we were little kids who got all wound up and then crashed immediately afterwards.

The way back was slightly less organized, because since we didnt know when we would want to come back, we couldnt plan ahead. We ended up taking a train from Heidelberg to Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe to Baden-Baden, from there to Offenburg where we had over an hour to kill so we ended up in this small restaurant eating döner kebabs, and then finally from Offenburg to Freiburg. Long day.

I’ve gotta say though, that yesterday was definitely one of the best days I’ve had in the 3.5 months that I’ve been in Freiburg. Heidelberg is a gorgeous city, and Christmastime definitely agrees with it. If you’re ever in the area around this time of year, I highly recommend it.

Well then, I think that’s pretty much it for this week. I have class until Thursday and then Winter break until the 9th of January. Let me tell you something, as much as I wish I could be going home for break like everyone else, there is nowhere I would rather be than here in Germany. In fact, I have a perfect solution, why dont you all just come over here for the next three weeks? I get to see friends and family, and you get to see Europe. Pretty much a win-win, right?

Honestly though, I found out today for sure that I will be back in the cities between April 8-22!! Yay!!

Now Presenting…

12/12/2010

Oh hey there, its Sunday again and therefore, I owe you guys a blog post. It’s not that I particularly feel like writing a blog today, in fact all I want to do is sit here and do nothing. But if I skip this week, I’ll just use it as an excuse to keep skipping weeks and we cant have that!

In my last post I mentioned that I had a 45 minute presentation last Monday for my Secularization seminar. Good news, it went pretty well, the professor said he liked it and my partner and I managed to fill the time quite well. The only slightly off thing about it was the fact that at the end, when the professor was telling us what a good job we did, he only looked at my partner when he was talking. I dont know what that’s supposed to mean, and I’m not gonna worry about it because I’m just so freaking happy to be done with that stupid presentation.

I have another presentation tomorrow for my Borders class about Diasporas and ghettos, but this one is only 15 minutes and since it’s with another girl, I only have to talk for half of it. I’m presenting Diasporas, and my partner is doing ghettos. After last week, this presentation is like a piece of cake. The hardest thing about it was tracing a map onto an overhead, so, yea.

On Tuesday my friends and I went to see the new Woody Allan film called “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” or auf Deutsch, “Ich sehe den Mann deiner Träume.” It was pretty legit, actually. With Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts, it was definitely worth the 5€ I payed to see it.

At risk of creating a large block of print without pictures, I just wanted to tell you that my German is really getting better. It’s like all of a sudden, my brain clicked and figured everything out and is starting to function pretty freaking well in German. Whether its writing a paper, talking in class or almost completely understanding that Woody Allan film, I use my dictionary less and understand more with less effort. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot that I miss or simply don’t understand, but I’ve only been here for three months. Eight months from now when I come home for good, I’m going to be fluent.

Talking about it with some other international students, general consensus is that it takes a couple months just to change the way you think. If you want to learn a language through immersion, a semester isnt going to cut it. Immersion means having to change the way you process language entirely, and that takes time and effort. You dont realize how much it means to be able to express yourself until, because of a language barrier, you cant. I am removing that barrier more and more every single day. I love it.

You know those days that feel like three or four separate days, when its really only one? That was my Friday. In the morning, I worked on my presentation and such. In the afternoon, Sarah and I went into town because German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were in town for some meeting and we wanted to see the protest. In the evening, my friend Asumi from Japan had us over for sushi, teriyaki chicken and Sake, and then we went to a WG party (WG is like a group flat)  in Vauban. It was a pretty good day.

Because theyre Europeans, and they simply just love to demonstrate about pretty much anything, there was supposed to be a demonstration against Sarkozy/Merkel on Friday and Sarah and I wanted to go check it out. We got there a little early so we decided to go to the Münsterplatz, because we knew they had been there earlier and just kind of wanted to see what it looked like. Turns out, they were still there.

The entire city center of Freiburg was decked out in German and French flags. It was probably the only time that I will ever see so many German flags on display when in Germany because for understandable historical reasons, they’re rather afraid of showing any kind of nationalism.

But anyways, in order to even get onto the Münsterplatz, we had to go through some hardcore security. No metal detectors, but they thoroughly checked our bags, patted us down and all that jazz. Sarkozy and Merkel were having a conference in this red building here, so Sarah and I thought it might be cool to wait around and try and see them as they left. We waited, and waited, and then waited a little bit more.

Apparently, there were roughly 2000 cops in Freiburg on Friday, specifically for this meeting. That number doesnt surprise me in the least. Police were everywhere. Another impressive thing was the motorcade that was waiting for these two people outside, there were a minimum of ten cars, two coach buses (which remained empty, and were probably just there as a barrier) and I’m sure countless more vehicles waiting just off-site in case something went wrong. It was impressive.

To make this long story somewhat shorter, Sarah and I waited for about an hour and 45 minutes, and then just as we were about to say screw it and leave, out comes Sarkozy. I tried to get a photo of him, and he may be lurking in one of the photos I did take, but basically out came a mob of people, Sarkozy gets in his car, leans out, waves to all of us standing there and then the entire motorcade zooms off. All in less than a minute. I honestly don’t know where Merkel was in all of this.

Quick tangent story, when my family and I were in Israel in 2008, we ended up being in Jerusalem at the same time as Sarkozy and his wife. We had a couple of almost run-ins with the French president, but by far the closest, which was a serious security fail, was in the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. We were there to see some stained glass windows, and were taken to the same place where Sarkozy and his wife were supposed to be in seriously less than 10 minutes. There was even a plaque there with his name on it that they were going to give him. I dont know who let us in, but that could have been a big security eff up if we had been more than just tourists. His motorcade pulled up to the building just as we were walking out the front doors. Yea, close call.

As a side note to my side note, he got shot at the next day in the Jerusalem airport which means we were probably in more danger during those few minutes in Hadassah than during our entire trip combined. But anyways, back to Germany.

Yesterday night was really fun. StuSie bar (the one in my apartment complex) had a beer pong tournament which was really fun because Germans don’t play beer pong at their parties, and I’ve actually been asked multiple times if Americans actually play it or if they just made it up for movies. My friend Danija and I got second place after playing a total of 6 games. As a prize for coming in second, we got six coupons for free shots at StuSie bar, but let me tell you, after six games of beer pong, I saved my three coupons for later.

I wish I had pictures of last night for you, but I forgot my camera at home last night. Ah well.

Enjoy your 18 inches of snow, Minnesota! Despite what Bing Crosby may lead you to believe, I am perfectly happy not dreaming of a white Christmas, although I do really like Holiday Inn.

And for all of you college kids, good luck on finals!

Like the title suggests, this weeks blog comes to you in two parts; work hard and play hard.

Part I – Work Hard:

I have a 45 minute presentation tomorrow morning on christian fundamentalism and televangelism in the USA. It is, of course, in German. Normally when I have a presentation at home, I write a couple bullet points on note cards, rehearse it once or twice and then largely improvise my presentation, but I cant do that here because I simply dont have the vocabulary. Because I have to write out pretty much everything I want to say beforehand as well as research and tons of reading, I spent seven hours on Thursday and Friday and 5 hours today working on this presentation. At least the subject is interesting…

As hard as prepping for this presentation is, the girl that I’m doing it with has been absolutely amazing. She offered to lead the discussion and answer all of the questions, gave me a book in German with info so that I can c/p some quotes without having to translate, and has just been overall a really good sport. I lucked out.

I also have a 3-4 page paper due tomorrow for the same class. That took me about eight hours on Wednesday (in case youre counting, that brings the homework tally for this class up to 27 hours in four days). Its a concept for my 20 page paper that’s due at the end of the semester.

My problem with writing papers in German is that when I write English papers, I dont plan what I want to say beforehand, I just write a paper and then go back, write a thesis and edit. Here, I have to do the whole outline thing in order to keep my arguments organized because if I dont do that, I forget what I want to say because I get so caught up in grammar. Honestly, there’s really no other way to describe it than a pain in the ass.

I have another 15 minute presentation a week from tomorrow in one of my other classes.

As you may have guessed, I’m rather stressed out.

Part II – Play Hard

I went to Nuremberg for the day yesterday! This trip, four of my friends came with me; it was a lot of fun.

Apparently, Nuremberg has the biggest Christmas market in Germany, but it was honestly rather disappointing. Every other stall was selling sweets, wooden toys or Bratwursts and it didnt seem any bigger than the one I saw in Constance last week. It was still fun to bum around though.

Its winter here for sure. It hovers around -4 to -2° Celsius, or mid-twenties Fahrenheit, so even though it’s really got nothing on a Minnesota winter, its still quite chilly. In fact, one of the first things we did in Nuremberg was go to Müller and buy some warm wool socks to wear over the socks we already had on. It doesnt help that the Germans dont bother shoveling snow or slush out of the streets/sidewalks. My shoes were soaking wet all day.

We basically spent the entire day just bumming around the Nuremberg city center. It looks a lot like Freiburg actually, which may have something to do with the fact that both cities were largely rebuilt after WW2. Speaking of WW2 though, I’m pretty sure that most of you have heard of the Nuremberg trials, where the allied powers tried some of the leading surviving Nazis for war crimes. Being the history nerd that I am and given the fact that my favorite historical figure (Albert Speer) was tried there, I REALLY wanted to go see the courthouse, but it was just far enough out of the city center for it to be too far to walk, and with only six hours, it just didnt make sense to go see it. Ah well, hopefully I’ll come back some day.

For the rest of the day we just wandered around, went into a couple shops and pretty much just hung out until it was time to get back on the bus. The thing thats really too bad about trips like these is that the cities change so much once it gets dark, but we always have to leave so early because we have to get back to Freiburg before midnight. I feel like we only get a taste of the city, and that there is so much more to see if I was to go back. That’s about all I have to say about Nuremberg, and like always, there are more photos on my facebook.

Last Monday I got two amazing hannukah packages in the mail. The first one was from Robbie and Mark, and they sent me cheetos, reeses peanut butter cups, tabasco sauce and other fabulous things like that. My parents sent me a menorah and candles (which because they didnt fit the menorah, my dad apparently spent an evening carving them to fit), a mountain of fruit snacks, kasha, stuffing as well as mazoh ball soup mix, and their hannukah present, a portable shabbat candle kit. It was a pretty exciting afternoon.

I love getting mail.

Well, I should probably get back to working on my presentation, although I think I may have gotten to the point where more work isnt going to make it any better….

Wish me luck tomorrow!

And of course, Happy Hannukah