Saturday, October 22, 2005

Breaking Down Stereotypes...or not.

So as I am here in Berlin, I am learning where the German stereotypes come from. Some of them have been broken down. For example, everyone thinks that Germans are highly organized and efficient. My thoughts: Yes, this is true, but only to an extent. Take a look at the whole system of signing up for classes. In my opinion, I don't find it efficient at all, nor do I find it organized. Showing up to a class that has been cancelled until November 4 and having no prior notice is not what I would call efficient.

Another stereotype is that Germans can be very cold people, or rather, very rude. I suppose this is true for just about any nationality (Americans are loud & obnoxious, the French are pushy, the Chinese are pushy in a different way, etc. So it all is some form of being rude), but for the Germans, I am understanding why it seems to be true in some instances. When Alex, Cam, Rob, and I went to the movies, we had to pick our seats when we bought the tickets. (I met Rob through the Middlebury Language School and met Cam through Rob here.) When we got to the theater, our seats were occupied, and the woman there was snippy, to say the least. She basically told us it doesn't matter where your tickets say you sit, but it was in a very abrupt manner that came off as being, well, bitchy.

I think last night epitomizes what someone would think of "German rudeness." I don't mean to offend anyone, but the guy we encountered last night was just a dick. I don't usually use that to describe people, especially in writing. However, read on.

Alex, Cam, Devin (she goes to Sarah Lawrence but is going through the Midd program), and I were standing outside this bar, The Pip's, waiting for Zoey and Meredith. Alex had a beer in her hand and was finishing it before we went inside, so the 4 of us were just standing around talking. Devin said, "Hey, there's a guy standing in the window giving us looks." Cam, Alex, and I turned around not so subtly to see this man giving us dirty looks from a second story window. (Which is actually considered the first floor here, but regardless.) He left the window and we continued to chat.

And suddenly water just fell out of the sky. Not rain, but a bucket's worth. We all turned around again to see the guy in the window, and indeed, it was a bucket's worth of water. When we looked, the guy threw another bucket of water on us. As if one wasn't enough? He hadn't even shouted anything to the extent of "Shut up" or "Go away," and it wouldn't have even mattered if it was in a foreign language because we would've understood the tone. No forewarning of any kind. After the two buckets were thrown on us, other Germans walking by just shouted, "Arschloch!" and whatever, which was very kind of them.

See, so this just furthers the stereotype of being rude. I realize that this guy was just a total asshole anyway, but who seriously throws 2 buckets of water on people, when it is only 11 pm on a Friday night in a neighborhood that is filled with bars? Additionally, he didn't even say anything! Could we get more passive aggressive? If you don't want to hear people outside talking at night, don't live near a bar, jack ass. Perhaps I would be a little more understanding if it was 2 am and he gave some sort of forewarning, but it wasn't the case.

However, on a completely different note, I suggest that everyone read Alex's blog entry for today (Oct. 22, titled "Honestly, wouldn't one bucket have sufficed?"). She wrote out some funny stories that Cam told us last night and they are pretty funny. I've come to the conclusion that Cam is probably one of the most quotable people, orelse he just has the most ridiculous stories. I'm not sure which.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Oh, How I Miss Bannerweb

I have come to the conclusion that I miss that P.O.S. software called Bannerweb that we use back at Middlebury to sign up for classes. Yes, it crashes sometimes. Yes, it may lock you out so that you can't get that class with Mark Southern. Yes, it can be slow when you need it go faster. But damn, those are the things I miss and now can fully appreciate. Bannerweb does this amazing little thing called a "practice round." You can see what classes you want to sign up for, where they are, how many spaces are available, who teaches the course, when it is, how often it meets, and everything you basically need to know about classes.

"Shopping" for classes is nearly as stressful as finding an apartment. I don't know how many credits I'd be receiving and the course catalog isn't the least bit helpful. For example, I didn't realize that all the film courses come in mandatory pairs. All I know is that I need to get 4 credits from the Middlebury Schools Abroad...but, as it turns out, I can take the mandatory pair of film courses and get 2 credits for it. Sweet. Makes my life a little easier...but...the problem is not just with getting credit, but if it will count towards my major.

I may not be able to get credit for taking Film History here, even though the course here entails more work than at Midd. I emailed the current head of the film department, and he said that he is not willing to give me credit. Thankfully, I had emailed the department head (good ol' Ted Perry) last year and had asked him if I could take film history abroad. And thankfully, he said yes, and even more thankfully, I kept that email. So I can tell the current department head, "Well, Ted Perry said I could do it, so there. Ha!" Which I might actually (not) do. In the end, to make it simplified, I may be taking 5 courses this semester (though 2 count as 1 in Middlebury's eyes).

Some building at the FU that I don't use, but I took the picture because it says Freie Universität on it.

I've already picked 2 classes: Political Culture in the French Revolution and Comics in History --History in Comics?. Both of the professors are really nice people and easy to understand, and of course the topics sound really interesting. I'm taking the one on the French Revolution because the professor seemed chill and I don't know that much about the topic. The comics class just seemed really different and something I wouldn't be able to take when I get back to Midd. (Yes, Bennigans, I know that you took a class on cartoons, but that was during J Term, and well, I don't think I have a J Term class left, especially if I do a thesis...scary.)

So all in all, this week has been a bit of a bust because of the film courses. Oh, and they start next week, too, unlike the rest of the university. (Who knew? Bannerweb would know that...I miss Bannerweb) Nobody told me that the 8 film courses I took start next week so I should've been attending history or politic or some other subjects' classes. Totally sucks. I also sat in on an art history course by accident that I wouldn't take even if I was interested because it was the same exact course I took back at Midd, just in German. In conclusion, I would just like you all to know: Appreciate Bannerweb. It does a lot, even though you may think it's a huge piece of crap. Alex and I started a Facebook group called "Going Abroad Made Me Realize Bannerweb is the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me," so feel free to join.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Der Erste Tag

I survived. The first day of classes. Well, ok, it was one class´about the French Revolution. I probably will not even take it because I will most likely end up taking more film courses. The professor was really nice and the class already has a 10 page paper built into it already (Hausarbeit), so it's not a problem that I will have to write 12 pages (of course, depending on if I take the course).

Before the class started, I was unbelievably nervous. My hands were shaking and I just kept reminding myself to breathe. I mean, I know it's just another class, but it's in another language. The first thing the professor asked was "Was ist politische Kultur?" I could possibly explain myself in English, but in German? Good question. Was IST politische Kultur? Got German.

The class felt very much like a discussion class back at Middlebury: There wasn't more than 12 students, we sat around desks set up in a large square, and the professor was laid back and sitting, too. What the professor talked about mostly was a very brief introduction to the course and just answering his one question of "Was ist politische Kultur." I was surprised at the amount that I understood and as forgetful as I am out of nerves, I had forgotten my English-German pocket dictionary, so it was even better than I thought. Out of the entire class, there were only 3 international students including myself. The other two were two French guys (the only reason why I knew was because they whipped out a French-German dictionary that had a large French flag on it) who I am sure know a lot about the Revolution. Maybe.

After the class, I had to approach the professor and ask him if it was ok that I write a 12 page paper instead of a 10, introduce myself, and tell him that I am with the Middlebury program. I was so nervous that I used the informal you form (du instead of Sie), which I was later kicking myself for. I asked him if he was familiar with the Midd program and he just sort of gave me this look, then asked, "Is that in Vermont, between the mountains and in the really pretty valley?" Apparently he was there last summer. Perhaps with the Language Schools, I didn't ask. He was very nice and didn't seemed fazed that I used the wrong "you" form (Thank God, otherwise I would definitely NOT take the class).

So hurrah, the first day is over. It's always the hardest. Tomorrow I have three classes to go to: 2 film ones (both are taught by the same woman) and 1 history one (which I'm excited about the title: "Comics in History - History in Comics?"). No idea what ones I will take, but regardless, I am glad that the first day is over.

Oh, and for the Fair Lawn people reading my blog...I just heard that a certain Vicky from the class of 2003 has become a stripper. With her best friend that is a year younger than us. I'm not giving specific names, just in case this is googled or something. All I can say is I can't wait til 5 year reunion.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Remembering Germany's Past

I am deleting everything that I wrote the other night because it was so ridiculously scatterbrained. However, I will leave it on here that I downloaded Skype on the unreliable wireless I am mooching off of. So, feel free to add me.

Today I went to the Deutsches Historisches Museum by myself. I actually could only figure my way to the part of the museum that I.M.Pei designed because I didn't see any maps to lead me around. (Picture on the right is where I was) I'll eventually figure my way over to the Zeighaus, which is the older part of the museum. The part the I.M. Pei designed houses the temporary exhibitions, so I stayed in this one exhibit titled Der Krieg und seine Folgen 1945: Kriegsende und Erinnerungspolitik in Deutschland (Translation: The War & Its Consequences 1945: The End of the War and Politics of Rememberance). It was absolutely fascinating because it dealt with how Germany changed after the end of World War II, from 1945 until present day. The exhibit was actually only supposed to last through August, but it's been extended until October 23.

I get the feeling that many Americans think that the Germans sort of try hiding the past, but that's not true at all. The Germans were affected by Hitler's regime just as much as any other country and they, too, had to deal with the aftermath. Much of the country was left in ruins, many women were left husbandless, children were orphaned, and the country was split into quadrants. Seeing it from this perspective has really made me realize that Germany has struggled with its past in the sense that they could not really be patriotic like Americans, because the rest of the world saw it as coming too close to Nazism. I suppose it will only be a matter of time before that is all changed with younger generations, but the past will surely not be forgotten.

The picture on the left is one I took while walking on Unter den Linden, one of the main roads here in Berlin. It is where the Deutsches Historisches Museum is, along with Humboldt Universität, the Deutsche Guggenheim, and a good amount of other museums. It's the Fernsehen Turm and I have no idea what the other pretty building is.

On a completely different note, I am beginning to feel more comfortable here. Granted I have not been speaking nearly as much German as I should be, but considering classes will be starting on Monday and I will be moving into my apartment in about two weeks, I feel like I'm getting to know the city better. I am remembering the U-bahn and S-bahn systems better and I don't constantly have to pull out a map. Tomorrow I will be going back to the FU to make sure I know my way around on Monday. I'm including a picture of the Silberlaube in this post, which in my opinion is extraordinarily ugly. The Silberlaube is essentially the student center, I think. (Dan, if you're reading this, I think the Doshisha University is probably a million times prettier than this one building that is central to the FU.) Isn't it awful looking? David, another MiddKid who was here in the past, described it as the "big, ugly, silver building that you can't miss" in a packet he wrote for us on where to go look for housing advertisments. I think he is completely right.

My last thing that I would like to post about today is regarding beer. Yes, I am in Germany, and yes, beer is part of the culture here. Like I have said in an earlier post, it is strange to see prepubescent kids on the streets urging each other on to chug a half liter bottle of beer. Today was my first experience buying beer from a supermarket because I offered to bring some beer to my friend Rob's place tonight. Alex and I went to Kaiser's in Wittendorfplatz, which is down the street from our hotel. When people at home told me, "Yeah, beer is cheaper than water over in Germany!," I thought they were kidding. No, everyone who told me that was in fact 100% correct. And to prove it, I am posting my receipt for the three half liter bottles of beer that I bought. One can see Hasseroeder (0.59€), Holsten Pils (0.55€), and Paulaner (0.60€), with an 8 cent deposit on each one. The last item on the receipt, the DW Tasche, was a canvas bag I bought in order to carry the beer back with me. (That is one thing that is very different here: You have to buy the plastic bags for your groceries, or buy canvas bags and reuse them. Canvas bags are useful, so I figured I should buy one.) And yes, you can see that the canvas bag cost me 1.00€, which is more expensive than one bottle of beer.

1. I will be trying a lot of beer this year and there are a lot of beers to try.
2. Beer is in fact cheaper than water, but of course not healthier.
3. The Germans are really all about saving the environment with using canvas bags for everything.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Berlin photos

Due to the joys of wireless, I am able to post some pictures that I've taken over the past few days. (Basically, I turned on my computer to listen to the new Franz Ferdinand CD, and lo and behold, my computer picked up a wireless signal.) So here on the left is a picture from when Alex and I stopped by Checkpoint Charlie, which was where you could cross into the American sector of Berlin into the Russian sector. I have more pictures by it, but I thought this one is just one of those things that you always see in history books. It was pretty surreal seeing it in real life, but at the same time, it was a total tourist trap and there were a ton of people just everywhere buying postcards, replica hats, etc. There is also a very different feel between the two sides. You could definitely see the buildings on the eastern side were newer because the old ones were knocked down. Even today you could feel the difference although it is now one city.

Here on the left you can see a picture that I took of part of the East Side Gallery, which is a lot of street art on part of the Berlin Wall that was left. I think I took 50-some odd pictures over at the East Side Gallery, but you can check them out on my Flickr Account. I didn't load all of them yet, and I also am lazy, so I didn't rotate some of the pictures that should be rotated. You get the general idea, though.

Then below is a picture of a bridge that Alex and I walked across to get to the East Side Gallery from the western side of the river. (Not sure which river it was...sorry.) It's a bridge you cross from Kreuzberg to Friedrichshain, which are two neighborhoods that are the equivalent of the Lower East Side and the Village. The detail that some of the buildings and infrastructure here have is truly amazing and it is very unique. It makes me wonder why we couldn't have stuff like that at home, but I suppose that's what characterizes Germany and the U.S. as the U.S. I have more pictures from the bridge, too, and I think they are also on my Flickr account. The last picture is also of Checkpoint Charlie. I apologize that there really isn't any sort of order to the pictures that I am posting on my blog, but oh well, you will just have to deal.

Oh...and if you're actually reading my a comment...I feel as if nobody reads it. I'll admit my thoughts are a scatterbrained, especially in comparison to Alex's (God, she takes forever to write her entries)...but...just post so that I know whether or not I should even continue to update this thing! Even if you just say something ridiculous...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Die Universität

Today was the orientation for students going through the Middlebury program. We essentially sat around for a long time reviewing what we had already read through in the handbook (the only difference was that it was in German) and eating in this Italian restaurant in the Student Center. (Or something.) I can't say it was honestly helpful because I felt as if I missed a lot of what was said, orelse I already knew what was being said because of the handbook. So either way, I still feel quite confused about the whole process of finding classes. To be perfectly honest, and I never thought I would ever say this in my life, I think I miss Bannerweb. For those of you who do not know what Bannerweb is, it's what we use at Midd to register for classes online which frequently has crashing problems as you register. Bannerweb is easy, though it may kick you of the system at a crucial time or the like, and it is straightforward. I'm not so sure about having this process of "shopping for classes."

I don't think I was the only one to feel confused, as we all looked at each other and asked, "Did you get that?" or "Wait, is this what was meant?" To sum it up using Zoey's quote:

"I am SO over this Deutsch bullshit."

Which is funny, especially because I am going to be here for a whole year. In the end, putting it into perspective makes the year not seem TOO bad. I will be confused, scared, and intimidated throughout first semester and second semester I will hopefully be confident and comfortable.

The university is HUGE, especially in comparison to Middlebury. I feel like I will get lost every day, and there is this whole system of finding rooms which confused me even further. (Apparently there are addresses within the buildings...sort of.) The buildings are pretty ugly, especially when you look at the cute little quaint buildings of that School on the Hill. Founded in 1948, the Freie Universität looks like something out of the 1960s with bright colors popping out everywhere. For those of you from home, I think it is way uglier than Fair Lawn High School's B-wing. (Didn't think possible, but it seems the possibilities here are endless.) I found it humorous that there was a JFK Building, as well as a Henry Ford Building.

On the up note, we got a catalog of "Hochschulsport," which is essentially just a bunch of workshops and classes that are for sports. I think I really want to do a swing class (as in, swing dance, not playing swing) or perhaps a salsa class. I already took ballroom dancing during J Term with Dan, but I think taking it in another language will be ridiculously embarassing (and thus make for good stories) and at the same time, loads of fun. They also have a gymnastics class which I am very tempted to take, but considering I haven't done any gymnastics since oh, junior year of high school, I probably shouldn't. (And even then nobody could spot me because I was too big.)

So in retrospect of today, I think it was a good day. Alex and I will have eaten 3 meals by the end of the day and this is awesome because we've been cutting meals out to save money. And Middlebury is paying us to eat out. Always good. Thanks, Middlebury. I got the course catalog on CD from Katharina, one of the assistants, so Alex and I will have a good look at that. Hopefully I will not be class-less by the time we actually have to choose classes. And seeing the university...well...yes, I am intimidated, scared, and nervous, and it feels worse than being a freshman all over again at Middlebury, but it will be a life experience I can put under my belt and say, "Yes, I actually accomplished something in my life."

Put simply, I am still taking one day at a time.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Burrito In My Pocket

No, this post has nothing to do with burritos in my pocket, although Alex and I did have a discussion about that. (I did do that while I was at Middlebury though, last semester.) We had lunch at a Mexican place in Prenzlauerberg, which was surprisingly good. I didn't think I would find any Mexican restaurants on this side of the pond, but, well, we did.

Most importantly to post on here is that I have FINALLY found an apartment. After emailing nearly 90 people and making at least 30 calls (no exaggeration), I have found a place in Kreuzberg, which is similar to the Lower East Side in New York City. I will be living with two German guys, Christian and Pablo. Yes, Pablo. Alex and I have discussed what cracked out German would give their son a Spanish name, but I will probably figure that out in the not-so-distant-future. I won't be able to move in until November 1 because Heike, whose room I will be occupying, is not leaving until then. I believe she is going abroad and will be back in May, when I will have to move out.

I'm not too concerned about having to move out because I've got it all figured out. I can live on my own for the last two or three months while I am here in Berlin. It won't be too long nor will it be too short, and people can't say, "Well, you should try living with people." Of course, plans can change, but for now, I'm not thinking about that. I think I will have to worry more about the fact that I am starting classes in 10 days and will be living in a hotel for the first three weeks.

On the note of living in a hotel, I think that it will probably delay the culture shock which is sure to come. I feel like a tourist rather than a student, and people still talk to me in English rather than German. It's a bit frustrating, mostly because I feel like my vocabulary is slowly dwindling, even though I am here in Germany. However, once classes start, German will be in full force and I will probably talk mostly in it.

So besides de-stressing because I have found a place to live, Alex and I went to Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery today. It was bizarre seeing Checkpoint Charlie swarming with happy tourists, but I suppose it can be seen as two different symbols: a symbol of freedom and a symbol of division. I guess when I think "Checkpoint Charlie" I think symbol of division, so I didn't take any pictures with Alex or me in them. On the other hand, I took a ton of pictures over at the East Side Gallery, which is basically this long stretch of the Berlin Wall which has been left with lots of street art on it. It was very powerful seeing some of the artwork and I think much more interesting than Checkpoint Charlie. (Not to mention we didn't have to pay to get into a museum or anything, plus it was a gorgeous day outside.)

If you want to read something more eloquent on what we saw today, I suggest reading Alex's blog. She's a more eloquent writer than I am.

So things I have accomplished so far in Berlin:

1. Finding an apartment, after seeing about 12 and having more than 90 emails sent out.
II. Went to the Brandenburg Gate on the Tag der Einheit Deutschlands, having wurst, and drinking beer. (And no, I have not gotten drunk. Just red.)
c. Discovered the joy of döner kebabs. And Alex has made many a joke on that.
Four. Begun to master the public transportation system of the U- and S-bahns.
Fifth. Been in an internet cafe more than I would like to admit.

And on that note...I guess I should end it here. But yeah, I am not moving into my apartment until November 1, so I can't receive any regular mail until then.

Friday, October 07, 2005

I am still Obdachlose.

I am still sitting in this beloved easyInternetcafe in the Zoologischer Garten and I am still homeless. I have yet to find a place, but I am still looking. I counted the number of emails I have sent out, which is 40 only in my Gmail account. This doesn't count the number of emails I sent through websites themselves, so I guess the total would be around 90 or more. And I've seen a total of 11 places, I think. And not one prospect.

I have decided that it is frustrating that my fate is being decided by complete strangers, whether they want me as a roommate or not. I am coming very close to the decision that I should find an apartment by myself, although it would be lonely, and I'll be here for the entire year. It might be easier, and I suppose I could just better my German in class.

I was talking with Alex, and I've also come to this conclusion: There really isn't much time to live on your own. Many people say, "You shouldn't live on your own, there is plenty of time to do that after college." This might be true, but this is my thinking. After college, it seems extraordinarily likely that one will move out and into an apartment with friends or with total strangers. Perhaps a significant other. And then after that, marriage forces you to live with your significant other, unless I am otherwise mistaken. So when are you supposed to live on your own? This is why I think it wouldn't be too bad living in an apartment by myself.

However, the other thought that came to my mind was this PBS program I saw on why humans have this emotion called "empathy." We are very sociable creatures, and empathy stems from the fact that we can imagine ourselves in someone else's shoes. The fact that we are sociable creatures creates this desire to NOT be alone, to live with other humans. So this is the downside of living by myself. As much as I might think it'd be a great idea, in the end, I'd end up lonely. On the other hand, I won't be homeless.

It has been a frustrating process for me and I am still pushing on to find somewhere to live. I know a lot of other people might have given up by now and decide to live in the Studentenwohnheim (dorms), but I really don't want to do that, especially because I am here for the year. I am just hoping that where ever I find a place, I will be happy there, and that the people (if there are people) will be friendly.

I am also looking forward to finding a place to live because then I can actually eat properly. I feel like I haven't eaten a proper vegetable in almost 2 weeks. I don't think in the past I would ever think this, but man, I miss vegetables. And fruit. Alex and I have been living on doener kebabs (read her blog, I'm sure she mentioned kebabs somewhere), which aren't bad, and actually are really dirt cheap and filling, but I just want some broccoli or something.

And the search continues....

Monday, October 03, 2005

I live in an internet cafe.

So today is my fourth day here searching for an apartment or "Wohngemeinschaft" (WG) in an internet cafe. I feel as if Alex, Zilai, and I are just living here. I think we stay here for about 4 hours or more per day, emailing, calling, and running around the city to see various places. I am starting to get accustomed to the keyboard here (like remembering the y and z are switched on it from the U.S.), but even so, I still make some mistakes.

The weather is still basically cloudy. I don't understand it, but it seems like Berlin really does have worse weather than London. Didn't think it possible.

One other observation I've made is that nobody here jay walks, as in, everywhere is clear, but the Germans wait until the pedestrian signal goes green. I've jaywalked (I'm from the NYC area, what do you want!) and gotten heads shaken at me. I guess everyone is not nearly in as big of a rush as they are back home, but even so, it will take some time to get used to.

Today is actually a national holiday here: Der Tag der Einheit Deutschlands. 15 years ago today the two Germanys were reunited into one nation. I heard from our host that there might be stuff going on by the Brandenburg Gate, such as beer drinking (surprise, surprise) and eating (wurst, perhaps?). I think we may try to go over there later after some appointments.

Other than that, there really isn't so much to say. The 4 places I saw yesterday were really nice and the people are friendly. Two of those places spoke in English with me (well, actually, one of them we spoke in English, German, and Spanish in one period of time!), and the others were completely in German. It is still a process, but I am sure it will sink in in a few weeks.

The car with the Midd sticker still hasn't seen our note yet. It's been sitting there since...Friday?

Saturday, October 01, 2005


I'm sitting in a Starbucks paying 8€ an hour because Alex and I thought we could get free wireless here. But no, you have to put in a credit card number...but we figured, eh, we trekked here with our computers, might as well just do it. And now I can post pictures because they're on my computer, while normally I would be in an internet cafe.

The search for an apartment is only going ok...Alex is having better luck with getting appointments. But it's only the second day we've been searching. I'll just keep pressing on, I suppose. It still scares me though because I don't want to end up in some crappy neighborhood...maybe I'll just end up in an apartment by myself. We'll see.

Im posting pictures from the past few days, including the car with the Middlebury sticker on it.