Friday, March 19, 2010

Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Birnbaum!

Well this title translates to "the apple doesn't fall far from the pear tree." Yeah, the "pear" adds a sense of humor to the phrase, but you get the meaning. So after my weekend in Saarland, and then the week before that at Mid-stay camp, I think this week will be the first week in March that I was home for a solid seven days. But to make a quick reference to the title, I'm starting to notice more of the genes I inherited from my father...personality-wise I mean. Perhaps it started with the wall sit on the Berlin Wall in Saarbrücken? My dad always likes to have something to do, and I'm starting to notice that I'm getting that way too. The perfect example: March! The month of March has been where I've always been "unterwegs", or on the move. This past week was probably my calmest week, and I'm still questioning how I found time in between to feel bored at times.

But the highlights were Limericks and Körperwelten. On Wednesday, I went to an Irish Pub to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a few friends from school. And I ended up winning this hat:
I was debating whether I should bring it to Dublin, but I decided against it because with my camera, I look touristy enough already.

Thursday is where the boredom hit because I didn't really do much. I didn't go to school because all my classes got cancelled (6 periods...all cancelled!) And so the weather was incredible and it really helped brighten everyone's mood. The fact that Spring is around the corner is putting everyone in a good mood (gute Laune). And actually, I'm starting to appreciate "Frische Luft" (fresh air) now that the weather is getting warmer. My host cat has also been extremely friendly lately...probably because we have to open the door for him to go outside. But, just so I don't forget that I'm in Germany, the typical, German weather is back today (Sunday).

And on Friday, I went with Barbara, Domi, and Domi's boyfriend, Philipp, to Köln where the Bodies Exhibit was, Germans refer to it as "Körperwelten" (translation: Body World). I had an audio device that explained everything to me in english and then I also read majority of the descriptions in German. And overall I had a solid understanding of the exhibit and found it really remarkable. And the giraffe at the end was the best part!
Have you met my buddy, Hans?

I went to a birthday party last night, and I noticed something very different. NOT ONE TRIED TO SPEAK TO ME IN ENGLISH! Two recent examples where Germans tried to converse with me in English are:
1. At a Döner shop, the guy who took our (Lucka, Marie, and I) order asked us where we came from. He was able to speak a bit of Czech to Lucka. And then it was my turn and he spoke to me in English. I told him to speak to me in German. And I only responded in German. He asked me why I didn't want to speak English, and the quickest answer for me to come up with was by saying that "I hate English". He seemed to except it questionably. Of course I don't hate English, but I was so annoyed.
2. At practically every party, you end up with someone that drinks too much alcohol. And these people decide that this time, when they aren't able to speak German cohesively, is the perfect time for them to practice their English on me, the American. Usually I insist several times that they speak to me in German, but of course they're too stubborn. And as the try to converse, they ask me why I don't want to speak English with them. And the reasoning is usually: I don't understand what they're saying in English, and two, I'm in Germany to learn GERMAN! And one guy went on to tell me how he finds the British accent better than the American accent. And he didn't understand why I was ticked off at him? They always ask how good their English is somewhere in these conversations.
When people ask me where I'm from (because of my accent), I say the USA, they feel obligated to speak to me in English. I've been here for almost 6.5 months. And even though, I build my vocabulary everyday, people that don't know me doubt that I can speak German. For some reason, Germans always think "Why would an American want to learn German?" Because of their history, Germans don't have an extreme about of pride for their country, except for Bavaria, which was under American control when Germany was divided. And Germans start to learn English at such a young age, they can speak at least enough English to survive; so why would I be here trying to learn German, a relatively difficult language compared with English? I usually answer that question with the simple answer that I like the language and wanted to immerse myself in the culture. Generic, but true. That's enough of my rambling session.

So,tomorrow is a trip that I've been looking forward to for quite a while! I'm going to Dublin, Ireland!! And then the day after I get back, my family is coming to Germany and I'll be Munich for over a week! So once again, I'll be "unterwegs"!!

Just a quick point. Germans do celebrate April Fool's Day (April 1st), but they say "April April" when they fool someone. And in the colloquial language (certainly not Hoch Deutsch), the verb, verarschen means "to make a fool of someone". In high German (Hoch Deutsch), you would use the phrase "auf den Arm nehmen", which translates literally to "to take off the arm"...but it has the same meaning as verarschen.

Have a safe Easter season everyone!! Easter in German is Ostern. Enjoy the start of Spring (Frühling)!! Safe travels!

Bis dann,
Matt

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Saarland ist cool!

So I just had a really good weekend visiting my extended host family. They all live in Saarland, which is really a totally different part of Germany when compared to my city in North Rhein-Westphalia. And so it was really awesome to see them again since I haven't been there since Christmas! It was great to get hugs from my little host cousins and have some great conversations with my host Omas and Opa. Today I also got to ride a horse that belonged to my host uncle and his family. I stayed with my Oma Josefa, and she is really an interesting person, who asks a lot of good questions. And something randomly that she said really stood out to me. She had said that when she was growing up, during the war, she didn't have school half the time. And her insight really made it interesting to realize how much different Germany is after two generations since World War II. But in addition to the time I got to spend with them, and learn a few more expressions of the Saarländisch dialect, I went to the capital of Saarland, the city of Saarbrücken (or in the dialect, Saarbrigge). I met up with three of my fellow CBYXers, Anabelle, Brittany, and Mira. I had been with them the week before at camp, and it was great we had our little reunion!

A complex of Renovated buildings since the war, and it included a Castle.
(Left to Right: Me, Mira, Anabelle, Brittany)
There was a piece of the Berlin wall. In honor of my Dad, I promised I would do a wall-sit on the Berlin wall!
Town Hall.
This theater was gift from Hitler to Saarland because they joined the Republic of Germany. They went back and forth between France and Germany.The Saar River.



And so March 14, is also known as "Pi (π) Day". That doesn't work in Germany because the date is written as 14.03.2010, so that doesn't exist in Germany. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!! Here was the sunset in Germany this evening!

Bis später,
Matt

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mid-Stay Komplett

So I know I've written before how I feel like time is speeding up...well I can definitely say that Mid-stay was the fastest week on my experience here. And even though it'd be a 100-page blog if I wrote about every little detail of the camp's wonderfulness and awesomeness, I can say a few points:

Mid-stay started when I ran into a few CBYXers at the Köln train station, as we coincidentally had the same train to Bad Honnef. And the conversations were awesome this week. We weren't able to speak perfect English, so it was a mix of German and English that we spoke with each other. And when people made language mistakes, in both English and German, we had a good laugh. But this week was a great time to reconnect with people that I hadn't seen since September when I flew over here and hear about their experiences and share our own. Everyone was practically fluent in German, that is with our American accents. The liaisons, or volunteers, had encouraged us to speak German with each other, but when you get a group of 25 Americans...the chances are slim to none that they are going to speak anything but English with each other; therefore, English was the prime language of the camp. The workshops were in German, but social time and conversation was always in English. And so we really did make an impact, or impression, wherever we went!

We went to Bad Honnef, where we stayed at the youth hostel there, but we did spend a day in Bonn and Köln as well. The second day of camp we went to Bonn. We visited the Haus der Geschichte (House of History) which was an very innovative way of depicting Germany's immense history. It was very well done. We visited the old capital buildings because Bonn was the capital of West Germany. We got some time in the Altstadt (old town) in Bonn, and that was a lot of fun. And let me just say...when you give a group of exchange students that chance to get together and roam free, they will get creative.



And after the day in Bonn, we went on a hike up a mountain to this old watch out tower ("Burg"). It wasn't like we weren't already exhausted from the day in Bonn or anything...? But it was a spectacular view, even though it was very tiring to get to the top! My friend, Mira, and I became "walking buddies" because we helped each other from breaking our necks going down the mountain.

And so on that Friday, we were in Köln. We visited a mosque where they showed us how they pray and how it is to live in Germany as Muslims...which, like the rest of the world, is stereotypically difficult. And after that, we had free time in Köln, and we saw the Kölner Dom (cathedral) and explored parts on the Innenstadt that I hadn't seen before. It was pretty awesome. We picked up some nick-nacks, like Henna (I did get a Henna tattoo on Saturday night done by Marios), and I picked up a door sign that says "I didn't do it" in German (Ich war's nicht!). It was just an ecstasy of happiness and joy for me having been with such an amazing group of Americans. And sometimes when you're not an exchange student, you can't get the full understanding of what I mean. After our fun, the entire group went to dinner at a Brauerei, or basically a German pub where they make their own beer. It was fun to read the menu because it was written in High German and the dialect from Köln (Kölsch). It was hard to understand some parts.



This is how Marios accomplished the photo above for us!

And so other highlights of the camp were:
We played this reaching game where we had to reach a bottle of water across the room and we still had to touch the chair at all times...so the point was to ask someone in the room to get the water bottle for you, but I didn't think of that idea. I went directly into a MacGyver tactic and reached the water bottle using string and a manual potato masher.

And then we had an assignment where we had to go into the city of Bad Honnef and trade an apple and an egg for whatever things creative we could. We went from house to house and got books, candy, a few lanyards, fruit, a cup, a cell phone case, pins, a sauerkraut cutter, and a bottle of Champagne. It was amazing how you could trade so much for only have started with an apple and an egg!


And so after a lack of sleep over the week, I got a bit of a cold and was exhausted after the week. On the train ride home, I was a little depressed to think that it was over, and that I've been in Germany for what will be 6 months on Friday. But after the train ride home, it felt good to be home. I focused on speaking German as soon as I was back with my family, and fortunately my German came right back to me! I guess I could now officially say that German is imprinted in my brain.

RANDOM FUN AT MID-STAY!
I was joking about the brightly colored pants and then the lady that worked at the store dared me to try it on. So I followed through with the dare and my friends added the jacket, glasses and headbands to the outfit...and as an exchange student...you take your camera everywhere!!


We squeezed tightly in an elevator because the stairs required too much energy!


And so I was back in school on Monday. And on Tuesday I took my first major test at my new school. It was honors Geography...in other words, I had no idea how to answer the questions in German. I understood the questions but couldn't really answer them well. I wrote a note to my teacher explaining that it was over my head, and I said "Deutsche Sprache. Schwere Sprache." (German language. Difficult language.) I have another huge test in English, so I should be able to handle this upcoming "Klausur". The weather is gorgeous today, so I think I'll be doing some photography!

Bis dann,
Matt

P.S. So I got some bad news from my Mom about how pet bird, April. After almost making it to 14 years old, April passed away 3 weeks ago. April was a bird with spunk, and gave my Pop Joe a run for his money when he babysat April and April got out of his cage and then Pop Joe had to get him. So we got him when I was 5, and I named him April because we got him on April 11th. We found out a year later that April was a boy, but the name stuck. Our house will be a bit quieter without his chirping.
April May (Bruce) Knoth April 11, 1996, to Feburary 19, 2010

Monday, March 1, 2010

Fröhlicher März!

Happy March everyone!! March is a very big traveling month for me. I'm going tomorrow to my "Mid-stay camp" in Bad Honnef, with a total of 25 CBYXers till Sunday. The following weekend, I'll be visiting my host grandparents in Saarland, like I did for Christmas. The third week I'll be flying to Dublin, and then on that Saturday, I'm going to Munich with my biological family (American family...and I'm looking forward to be able to not have an accent with I have a conversation)!! And that trip is during Spring Break, which will bring us into April. But I'm going to rewind a little bit back into Feburary to cover what happened after Karneval.

Well everything seemed to go back to the "typical German" lifestyle after Karneval. I found school particularly boring that week because it was a little depressing that Karneval was over...and hence, we didn't have anything to look forward to. But the weather warmed up, although I still had to wear a winter jacket. And so in the last week of February, I went to a popular Disko, called the Kufa (Kulturfabrik - translation: Cultural Factory), with some friends from school. It was a good experience, but to be honest, I feel like the more get-togethers or birthday parties I attend, I wish for a smaller, more intimate get-together with some friends where we can just hang out (in a quiet place) and chat and laugh, and just simply enjoy the time! I had a good time this past Saturday in Düsseldorf as I met up with my fellow Jerseyan, Betsy, and two other AFSers (one from Italy and one from Denmark). I went to the Düsseldorf Panoramic Tower for the 3rd time this year...I think I should get a Frequent Visitor coupon or something like visit 3 times, the 4th free...


I'm ready to jump into the Rhein :-P.
So anyways, I'm hoping to get some of that a this Mid-stay, although I'm not quite sure what to expect...

That being said, I'm going to talk about two more quick things: The Storm, and the Olympics. I'll start off with the storm we had yesterday (Sunday). The wind was immensely strong...and so by Sunday evening, they shut down all mass transportation in North Rhein-Westphalia (my state). I took a train into Duisburg on Sunday (to welcome the Winter group of AFSers), which was delayed by over a half hour due to the terrible weather. My friend, Emily, who was heading home from her Mid-stay camp, got stranded in Mainz overnight because several trees fell on the track and delayed all the train...I could be mistaken, but from what I understood, a tree fell on a train as well...but don't take my word for that. However, she arrived home 24 hours later. But there is no exaggeration of how insane this storm was. Everything was blown all over the place. The windows whistled as Claude and I watched "Spiel Mir Das Lied Vom Tod" (translation: Play Me the Song of the Dead.)

And now to the Olympics...which I found to be a little bit inconvenient for the time zone here...why do you ask that? Because German television only airs the events LIVE! So I didn't get to see every single event, since I couldn't afford to lose any sleep, but I did enjoy what I got to watch. I tried to get up a 3am one morning to watch Figure Skating and Ski Freestyle Jumping, but I put my alarm immediately on snooze. But I would say that watching the Olympics in the US is much more convenient for the viewer! And I'm proud to say that I could understand the German commentators, with their diverse accents from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland...and let me emphasize DIVERSE! But Germany and the USA had great overall performances throughout the Olympics, so it was all good in the end. It was very unfortunate with the death of the bobsledder at the start of the Games, but I would say my favorite event was the Men's Cross Country Ski Relay where the Swedes won, but the anchor for the Norwiegen team was insane to bring his team into second place after being over 30 seconds behind...that was the best performance I saw in the 2010 Olympic Games!!

But some big events happened in my family! Congrats Ginny and Bill on little Micaela Presley! The package I sent my brother for his birthday 3.5 weeks ago still hasn't arrived, but he did get his license! Have fun driving, Brian! So I'm made at the Deutsche Post. And Ashleigh is currently in Prague, so we got to communicate more this week because we have the same time difference! Even though she's 7 hours away in Prague!

Just a quick random fact: In German radio, at least 80% of the songs are English and so I don't feel like I'm having a cultural gap year with music because they have played the same exact songs that you'd hear on Z100. There's a rule in France, where 1/3 of the music played every day must be in French. I feel this is something Germans should adopt because I feel like they are losing a bit of their culture's identity by playing so many English songs. And also many TV series are American, like House, Desperate Housewives, and 2 and a Half Men, just dubbed in German. Another aspect that is easy for me to adjust to culturally because there's really no difference, but I don't feel that is a good aspect for the distinctiveness of the German Culture.

Off to Mid-stay!!
Schöne Woche! Bis dann!
Matt