Author Archives: elenahyi

I love you, you’re perfect, now change!

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So I had forgotten that the Temple group is heading to Prague for the weekend in an hour, so this blog post is going to be really hurried. But I promised last week a look at what we do for fun here in Leipzig, so here goes!

If there’s a German theme regarding the activities we’ve been doing, I’d call it “körperlichen Dispositionen.” That’s “bodily dispositions,” for those following along sans bilingual dictionary, and they entail all those rather more physical feelings, like hunger and excitement––these kinds of feelings happen all the time in Germany. In retrospect, I should have expected to feel more physically involved in general here, given how much we walk every day (over 15,000 steps, my handy portable video game player tells me). Getting to the fun doings and their accompanying feelings, though…

Fröhlichkeit (Merriness)

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If you read the above word aloud, you might notice the phonetic similarity between Fröhlichkeit and frolicking––and indeed, when one is froh, one frolics! Just earlier today our group spent the pause between classes in the lawn of a nearby church. It was really more of a meadow, though, covered in white, purple, and yellow wildflowers. We ran in the grass till we tired, and then we sat and picked flowers. Very idyllic––and there’s no lack of little pleasant green spaces like this in Leipzig. There are parks everywhere, and multiple canals and rivers through the city. At some point, we may have to get on the gondolas together, because they are too pretty an experience to pass up.

Entspannung (Excitement)

I'm thinking Kate Beaton right now.

Okay so this is not the Moritzbastei, and it’s not even in Leipzig (it’s in Eisenach, at the Wartburg). But this face makes me feel excited!

In Leipzig, it’s pretty easy to feel excited about nearly everything. There’s a specific kind of excitement, however that comes the physical sensation of rhythmic pounding vibration in your chest––the kind you get at a parade, or in a drum circle––and in Leipzig, it only takes a trip to one of the many Discotheques (clubs) to feel this. Dancing in Leipzig, just as in any other place, can be incredibly fun, though I will note that more often that not, American music is played, and that it seems to me my German cohorts in the clubs don’t dance very comfortably. The dance floor lacks in individual creativity, though certainly there are lots and lots of bodies all together. Dancing partners aside, the atmosphere in the Moritzbastei, where our group normally meets to dance, is extremely physically exciting, and at the least, no one seems to mind if you break out odd moves on the floor (though they might not let you through!)

Ehrfurcht (Awe)

It's blurry but that's the best I could indoors.

That’s the organ!!!

Last week, we went to the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) and heard a motet of the Thomanenchor sing a musical church service. It wasn’t really religious in nature, as it was part of the Bachfest in Leipzig, but the music was so divinely beautiful that I felt my whole body shaking. This one particular minor sixth from a tenor… Oh my. Sitting in the Thomaskirche, where J.S. Bach had performed his compositions as worship every week, I could feel how pure the sung tones were, how lovely the organ piping sounded, and how full the air was with beauty. I’m a bit of crybaby, so, yes, I shed a few tears. When you feel perfect polyphony through your pew, though, it’s hard not to!

I haven’t even gotten to Hunger yet, but that will have to come later, as I’ve got a street tram to catch! I’m really loving Leipzig at the moment, but here’s hoping Prague is just as great! Till later.

Studying German in Leipzig

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Here’s a post for those interested in learning what the study is like when abroad, or at least, how Temple in Germany is studying right now. Grammar, vocab, and the classroom logistics aren’t exactly what a student marks as highlights in her foreign excursion, but they’re undeniably integral to the language learning experience—and my goodness, is Temple in Germany but language learning intensive!  Of course, vast improvement in German only comes to those who adhere to the no-English rule, which is very easy to break when with the group from home!

Temple works with the interDaF (the Institute for German as a Foreign Language) at the Herder Institute of the University of Leipzig. With 90-some students total in the program, the Temple students form a small but sizable minority in the group, spread out over various levels of German fluency. Most are from the US, but others come from South Africa, Ecuador, Columbia, China… there’s even a student from Tajikistan!

The interDaF sorts students according the European standards of language proficiency: A, B, C are the main levels, of which C is the most advanced. Each level has numerical sub-rankings of 1 and 2, as well, such that A1 is the very beginner’s level, while C2 is the level of a native speaker. At interDaF, only levels A1 through C1 are taught, as we all are foreign students of German. Each class of about 10 students has its own teacher and curriculum for more personal language training; however, students at all levels are strongly discouraged from talking in one’s native tongue (that’s die Muttersprache, in German, for those of you following along at home). Students also group themselves into course project teams, which prepare a performance to present at the end of the program, on some theme related to Leipzig or, more generally, Germany.

I’m in the C1 level, and my class has 11 students, all having studied German at least the university level beforehand. Have a look at rather typical day at school from yesterday:

9:00 – 12:30        German Class (or Phonetics)

In the morning, every day, we start class precisely at 9 in the morning, or earlier, if possible. Germans are punctual: there’s a stereotype that this program encourages! Our group mostly learns by taking a new theme daily to discuss in German. Yesterday’s theme was humor. What are the differences in humor from country to country, and is it true that the Germans have none? We pick up new words as we go with their explanations also in German, and we talk a lot. We make mistakes a lot, too (or at least I do), but whenever this happens, we must repeat what we meant to say until we get it right, in proper German. A stressful, but very effective method!

We also spend a section of the class time discussing grammar and sentence construction. Because at this level, we have already learnt most of German grammar, we use this time to discuss the proper ways of using more complicated constructions. For example, we review the role of the Subjunctive II case in giving advice or the proper order of sentence components. Yesterday we spent an hour working with verb and preposition combinations, which are entirely idiomatic usages. This makes for some of the easiest learning, says my teacher, because it is all memorization. It is, however, entirely impossible to figure out by logic. English is the same here: why is it that we look into matters to check them, and not look on? Why do we wait for friends, but do not wait after them?

Tuesdays, we have Phonetik, or phonetics, where we work with a speech coach to better our pronunciation. We get very personal attention, as pairs of students with similar pronunciation problems receive a half hour at a time to practice consonant sounds, vowel qualities, and whatever else may prevent from sounding native. My own problem happens to do with vocal melody. Just as in English, German stresses certain syllables and gives them tones that shape the rest of the sentences. Should the tone be lower, it sounds more assertive and manly. If the stressed syllable sounds higher than the others, then the sentence sounds like appeasing or feminine speech. I have a voice that tends to go very high, and so in German this reads as überfeminine, very friendly, and overly cheerful. To prevent sounding annoying or like a whistling bird, I have to focus on deepening my sound. Learning a language takes more than just grammar and vocabulary!

14:00 – 15:30     Project Groups

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we meet with our project groups to prepare our end-of-program presentations. Some groups have themes like “Leipzig, City of Music” or “Leipzig, City of Art,” while other groups focus less on local culture and more on German mastery, like “Creative Writing.” I’m in the Wir spielen Theater or “Let’s play theater!” group and we’re composing our play at the moment—I can’t tell what it is yet, though, because that’s a secret to everybody!

20:00-22:00        Visiting the summer theater to see “Treasure Island”

Nearly every day, there’s one event or another planned into either the interDaF or the Temple schedule. Last night, the whole interDaF group went to see “Die Schatzinsel” (Treasure Island) together in an open air theater. The night was chilly, but the play was so funny that laughing kept me warm. (That might just be because I cannot resist puns of any sort). It definitely helped to know the story beforehand, because that let me recognize some vocabulary I wouldn’t have known otherwise. To quickly review the play: there were some directorial decisions I disagreed with, such as making scene changes into dream sequences; however, the actors were so good together, playing multiple roles, exchanging witty banter, and making the whole thing fun, that I’m sure everyone with at least a minute interest in pirate would have enjoyed the play. And these days, who doesn’t like pirates? As a language learning exercise, it was really good, because the actors enunciated so well, making easy the incorporation of some good, colloquial German into the memory.

End of School Events for the Day

More often than not, our days are similarly full from morning to night with the scheduled German learning program. That leaves less time than you might expect for the mundane things like cooking, cleaning, washing, and homework study—though we (the Temple group) still manage to play hard, with plenty of free time excursions to clubs, cafes, and concerts. I’ll have to tell about our enjoyment of the city’s play areas in another post soon. Until then, there’s a concert of the Thomanerchor at the Thomaskirche I need to get to! Till later!

(Let’s see if I can add pics to this later, I forgot to bring my SD card reader to the computer lab!)

Let’s Play Horticultural Doctor in Berlin!

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This was on the Museum Isle.

The Bode Museum.

Before our group from Temple settled into Leipzig to study German in earnest, we spent a few days in Berlin to acclimate ourselves to the German environment and time zone. It seems our program leaders favor very aggressive tourism as a method to introduce the young’uns to a foreign culture. We walked and walked from one notable place to another, including the Reichstag (with complementary Dome), the Pergamum and Jewish museums, Kreuzberg (a quarter of the city that best described as hip), and a length of the Spree river, which runs through the middle of the city. Will I tell about them now? Ah, no. While the museums and city neighborhoods were marvelous and deserving of their own blog post, I have to say being constantly driven from one place to another has left me feeling rather passive regarding what to do with all this sensory input.  Rather, what inspired me most to write was actually something nobody had planned to show: the remarkable presence of green everywhere in the city.

Is this a stink bug?I’m not talking about use of the color green, or the desire to be environmentally friendly, although both are clearly evident everywhere in Germany. When I say green, I mean exactly as the Germans do when they say the translated word, das Grün—that is, that particular kingdom of nature characterized by leaves,  flowers, and, yes, the color green. Plant life is present everywhere in the city of Berlin, much more so than in any American city I’ve seen. When I first flew in, the view from airplane first indicated just how much nature and the city intertwined. There were many enclosed complexes with large courtyard spaces, presumably residential buildings; these already differed from their American counterparts, which tend toward block shapes set in rows. Both within and without the complexes grew tall and leafy trees that brushed right up against the buildings, lined the streets and had little copse-complexes of their own, even in the middle of the city. From the airplane I wondered how the trees could grow so close to such tall buildings without interfering with the architecture. After all, my upbringing tells me that trees ought to be pruned when their branches approach walls and windows.

After landing in Berlin, I had a day to myself in which to wander around my bit of city, which included both the main train station, a hotel and hostel park, a shopping street, and a beautiful, little park full of walking paths, trees, and flowers. I’ve gathered some observations and hypotheses; perhaps you, dear reader, would like to review them? Humor me as I play at horticultural doctor and speculate about German tree-and-city engineering.

Along some main streets there were few trees, and the cobblestones were immaculately paved, but there were almost always green spaces visible from the road. In the alleys by my hostel the paving worked deliberately around the trees, and buildings often maintained stretches of soil, not with grass, but rather with hardy brush and low-growing plant life left, more or less, on its own to grow. I saw much that I recognized: trees of heaven (a notorious weed tree), holly with bunches of still-green berries, as well as blue cabbage (the flower), and dandelions (everyone’s favorite!). These are all also relatively common in temperate areas of the US. Why is there so much similarity between plant life in Long Island, where I live, and Berlin? It could be the similarly wet and temperate climate—but I wonder how many plants we consider normal in the US were originally stowaways on ships from Europe. There was, however, another very common plant that I couldn’t identify; perhaps it was a native German plant. When bruised, it bled orange milk! I have never seen that in a weed before.

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Here is a weed that grew everywhere in Berlin. Can anyone reading identify this?

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Above: A young specimen with lobed, palmately compound leaves. Below: seed pods, seeds and an open bleeding stalk.

But to get back to those trees… A large, leafy tree grew every 3 paces or so on the sidewalks. Those I saw were mostly lindens, although I saw one oak and a couple maples. Perhaps the prevalence of lindens in Berlin is what allows such close proximity between wood and concrete. Now, my descriptions may not representative of the species, but I observed that lindens exhibit a very erect growth habit, and seem to seldom branch from the ground or form thick lower branches or trunks. This prevents them from interfering with people’s passage on the sidewalks or with lower windows. Furthermore, while leafy, the trees have a rounded, narrow, tall shape. The branches droop instead of spreading, and so they mostly stop short of the neighboring walls. On the ground level, the lindens seem perfect for city dwelling, as the roots seems to stay well under the surface, even when standing alone in a square of soil. In stark contrast, one of the maples’ roots so completely filled its square that they had melded together into a lumpy layer of organic pavement. More roots, reaching out underneath the cobblestones, distorted the surrounding sidewalk.

It'd be nice to have a floor like this.

Wow,look at those roots!

Lindens seem a bit better behaved in comparison. Of course, as a variable, the influence of horticultural care shouldn’t be forgotten. Perhaps the lindens are simply very well pruned and parted and paved around! They don’t exhibit as many pruning scars as other trees I’ve seen on sidewalks, but perhaps they also heal very well.

But lindens are so popular in Berlin, that to imagine they are naturally regular and suited to urban growth makes sense. Why else would they be so beloved, that they line a major street named after them, Unter den Linden? That would be a pragmatic, quadratic, and good answer (one such as Germans love, I’m told). Of course, they are also beautiful in their own right, with silver color under the leaves, and attractive long sepals cupping their flowers. They also have popular folklore celebrating them (as in the story of William Tell, though that a tale from Switzerland). In any case, Berlin loves its linden trees, for whatever reason. Here, the lindens are the biggest visual indicator of how much Germans appreciate nature.

Sorry it's not quite in focus.

Linden leaves and flowers.

On an unrelated note, here is some graffiti found on a park bench. Some questions are pertinent across cultures, it seems!

Nobody has answered yet! Sadly, I too did not.

Translation: “I love you. Answer, please. Answer: ___.”