Category Archives: Germany

Los Nach Praha

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This weekend, the group and I traveled to Prague. Its antiquated center city is marked by castles and gilded Art Nouveau cafes at every corner.

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(The latter photo here, references Franz Kafka, Czech-born but German-using surrealist author)

It’s at most times an overpriced city, especially in the center, but father away one can find an absurd amount of cheap kebab diners and secondhand stores. Away from the medieval tourist traps, it seems normal to live on a dime. Much easier here than in Leipzig.

A few monuments here and there stand to honor the city’s past:

Since I don’t read Czech and the Wifi bandwidth here isn’t strong enough to do thorough research, I don’t know the meanings of these statues. But they sure look mighty.

I find myself mesmerized the most by the artistic culture here…

I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of it for the sheer awesomeness of the experience, but seeing an original Gustav Klimt at the state art museum has been the highlight of my stay here. Here are a few examples of some works I did stop for a photo though:

Ai Weiwei, famous contemporary Chinese artist with a political edge, had an exhibit open there offering statements over the experiences of refugees coming to Europe.

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The other night back in Leipzig, Germany, I got lost late at night in a city neighborhood called Dolitz/Connewitz. On my way home, frustrated that no late night kebab eating came out of my midnight expedition, I walked past a collection of shacks that I could only assume were inhabited by Germany’s migrants. There was obviously no city planning put into these ramshackle quarters. Since that’s been on my mind, this exhibit had an extra potent effect on me.

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(“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me” – Carlos Fuetes)

This quote above particularly resonated with me as I’ve passed the glossiness of international travel and realized that… everyone is the same. In the videos shown to kids in high school German students, it’s easy to think that “Oh, wow – these people are so different! So cultured! So much ahead of the rest of the world! Their systems and governments are so much better!” Likewise with other international language classes. A lot of people get wrapped in the mysterium of a foreignness and get the idea that all is good in the far off land.

The reality of it is, is that the governments of Europe are messing up hard right now. There’s a gross misconduct in the treatment of these people who, to my point, are human just like you and me. Instead of fighting over space and the nonsensical idea of “borders,” we should use the little time we have on Earth to appreciate the fact that we get to live under the same sky as these beautiful souls.

We’re all upset with the political system, the absurdity of modernity, and how long it takes for the crosswalk sign to turn green for GO. When we are able to relate on the most humane, universal level, then we can start to work towards building a healthy world for everybody to live in.

(A mural attached to each side of the hall way on the path into Weiwei’s exhibition)

Leipzig: The Political City

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(Champagne For All”)

In perhaps a less savory part of Leipzig’s inner city, a friend and I stumbled upon this graffiti while wandering a bit aimlessly. In an alcove, this message grabbed our attention mostly because of its use of the “A” symbol representing Anarchism. The message here is simple, but remarkable. Fresh spray paint indicates fresh sentiment, even though such ideas go far back…

Leipzig knows and honors its past well. With many Germans still alive today who can recount the reality of living in the DDR, there’s a healthy amount of those who appreciate the peacefulness of a unified Germany while recognizing there is still space for improvement.

 

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(Mural by Neo Rauch)

The above photo was taken on one of Leipzig’s traffic-heavy streets, right outside the central train and tram station. Heavy political imagery in a crowded area serves as a reminder to all those of the struggles of the past. Painted on the side of a Mariott Hotel, it also promotes the work of Leipzig’s most important contemporary artist. Neo Rauch, a figurehead in the “New Leipzig School” art movement, creates art that depicts realities of East German life. This mural tells the story of a people who wanted a better future for themselves, and made it happen.

That doesn’t mean the fight has been given up quite yet, though. Besides the graffiti I photographed, there are also neighborhoods such as Lindenau where punk rock music still blares from bars painted completely black. ANTIFA and Anarchist symbols fit in between street artists’ tags in this area.

Communists aren’t hard to find either, even down the street from where I’m studying German this month!

 

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(“No to NATO-Aggression! Peace with Russia! DKP – German Communist Party)

Utilizing the anti-war imagery of artist Käthe Kollwitz’s famous piece ‘Nie Wieder Krieg’ (“Never Again War”), this random sticker is a testament to the survival of ideology and political activism. Germans haven’t stopped fighting since their monumental victory over the division of mankind in 1989. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to the highly political conscious of this country’s people.

Oh, and then there’s this cool sight I was shown by my student tour guide in the city’s middle streets:

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(Bronze statues of Faust and Mephisto outside the Auerbach Keller)

… They’re, like, members of Kraftwerk, or something.

Berlin Yesterday, Leipzig Today

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My international experience began in Berlin, the capital city of Germany, in which I accidentally arrived a day early. Despite my parents’ worries that I was going to be kidnapped, I enjoyed this extra day with a sense of independence I never have before.

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(A photo of my hostel for this first night – Sehr hip!)

One taxi cab ride, some misguided wandering, and many cups of coffee later, I had adjusted to my new environment and set out to experience one of the most exciting cities in Europe.

Much to my tastes, Berlin is very Dada, and I don’t mean that in reference to the high volume of antiquated artist cafes. Rather, the city is incongruous. It’s nearly absurd, the mix of classical styles next to modern tones. These competing aesthetics and attitudes are what defines the city’s beat: a rapid tempo moving from one idea to the next. Its citizens move at a similar speed. I garnered some odd looks as I strutted down Kantstrasse, gazing wildly at everything around me. When I got cursed at by a passing bicyclist, I knew it was time to pick up the pace and move.

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(A view of the Berlin Wall’s east side, sadly obstructed)

I found the city to be hospitable to English-speakers such as myself. Unlike in Norway, where I was scolded for asking to use a restaurant’s bathroom without eating there, the locals here offered help when asked for it. Weird thing to mention, I know. But it’s in this little detail that my impression of Europe has already began to improve.

The next few days, spent with students also attending the program in Leipzig, proved to be a bit more tourist-y but still enjoyable.

Leipzig’s layout is far more segmented than Berlin’s, its neighborhoods more distinct. One can clearly define where the buzzing, consumerist center of the city ends and where the quiet, gray industrial quarter begins. Or where the suburbs that I’ve dubbed the ‘Student Line’ stretches on for miles of super markets and dormitories. This latter area is where the other Temple Owls and I reside, and where the most tranquility lies. Like I said, the city zentrum has buzz. It’s exciting, modern, and crowded with all sorts of life.

Good WiFi is hard to find here. Good WiFi is what sends pictures taken on my phone to my laptop, so this article will go devoid of any good snapshots. Next time, I promise to make this a bit more colorful with pictures of my urban activities. Until then, auf wiedersehen!

Ready? Set? No.

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Elizabeth Holleigh Christie        So I was thinking last night… You know how thoughts in your head are just kind of static? Flashes of ideas— ever so often a word or two, but mostly they’re just a voiceless shifting mess in your brain. Until, of course,  a spark hits it. It finds all its parts and translates itself into real words— a sentence. Something you can say and then… it’s real. In an instant. Just like that. It was nothing and then, materialized into something meaningful.

Right now, that’s how this experience feels. It feels like I’m just a piece of the voiceless mess, frantically trying to link things together. But I know, once my plane lands in Berlin, that’ll be the spark. Everything will fall into place, for the inspiring better or the comedic worse.
I’m hopeful. Of course I am. But I’m also prepared for the worst. “The worst” is my specialty. In fact, I’m pretty sure “Murphy’s Law” is etched in my family’s crest. Even still, I hold on to idealistic daydreams of what it will be like.

        But you know how I mention it not exactly being not real yet? That really throws a wrench in my ability to agonize over it, day and night. No, instead I tend to agonize over what I’m leaving behind. My family, my job, and most importantly, my dogs. They’re all pretty much the same thing. My family (my mom and two older sisters) and I run a pet care service. We walk dogs and take them to the park. We post pictures to Instagram and send silly “pup-dates” to their owners. I see those happy tails every day. I desperately try to make my sisters laugh every day.  That’s my life. The chaos of it all doesn’t change much, but I worry about missing a moment of it. I love my job. I smile and laugh every day because of it. I wonder if not having a golden retriever climb on top of me every day will affect my overall mood. I wonder if I’ll be noticeably more solemn without a lab pulling my arm out of its socket on the way to the park. It’s silly, I know. But thinking about things to come, I guess that might be the hardest. But now that I’m sitting here thinking about what could happen while I’m there, I’m finding it easier to fixate on unhappy possibilities. So, in the spirit of “What could go wrong?” I made a list. 

My list of concerns is as follows:  

  • Prez the Boston Terrier and Charlie Rooz the German Shepard not getting enough hugs.
  • Not knowing enough German and the local residents yelling at me.
  • The food being terrible
  • Blanking on what German I do know, and flunking the placement exam causing me to retake a course I’ve already taken and the entire endeavor being for naught.

  • Not being able to keep up.

  • Not having packed the right shoes.

  • Losing socks and having to wear mismatched pairs.

  • The weather being bad.

  • Longing for S’mores, but not being able to obtain or consume S’mores.

  • My classmates thinking I’m an idiot.

  • Getting lost and ending up in The Czech Republic.

  • Trying to get to to The Czech Republic and end up in Poland.

  • Finding Nemo 2 coming out and not being able to avoid spoilers before I can go home and see it in English.
  • Crying myself to sleep and my roommates hearing me…. or joining in.
  • My suite mates knowing less German than I do and no English, so we spend our days communicating through awkward and elaborate charades.

 

  • My adapter plug not working for my hair drier, resulting 4 weeks of uncontrollable medusa frizz.

Maybe I’m worrying for nothing. But at this point, simply seeing the words “placement test” make my stomach knot. I know I’m gonna get that test and forget every conjugation I’ve ever learned. I might just go into a panic-induced trance and do the whole thing in Old English. Who knows.

I have a whole week left to stress out about convoluted circumstances. But here, in the U.S., it’s a holiday weekend, which means dogs, dogs, and more dogs! Maybe even hotdogs!  I’ve still got a lot to keep my brain from spinning too fast around the possibilities. The spark isn’t here yet. But I spend more and more time with each passing night, lying in my bed, marinading in uncertainty… What? I’m sorry. That was weird way to say that. Uh…. I still have time to deliberate over the forthcoming unknown…. Ugh. That wasn’t much better. Okay. Well, then without a proper ending. I’m gonna call this one quits. The next post will have lots of pictures and… I don’t know, probably some funny stories. Stay tuned! I’ll catch you on the other side of the Atlantic!

Wiedersehen, Leipzig!

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The view of Leipzig from the roof of its tallest building, the Panorama Tower.

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One of the many DDR-era buildings in Leipzig. This is in the “Alte Messe” section of the city, where exhibitions were held in the past.

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Bicycles are more popular than cars in Leipzig. Here, a row of bikes sit outside of a bike shop on Karl-Liebknecht Straße.

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The view of the city from high up on a large monument called the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. I took this photo at 5 am with some German friends. The “Völki” was built in 1913 for the 100th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat in Leipzig at the Battle of the Nations.

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The view from my window of a double rainbow that appeared after a quick but intense thunderstorm.

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“Graffiti Society.” We saw this being painted during the day, as we rode the train to school.

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Clarissa, David, and Webb sit in Augustusplatz before our Gewandhaus Orchester concert on Thursday night.

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Veronica waits at Augustusplatz before the concert. The Gewandhaus Orchester is one of the best orchestras in the world, and as a music theory major, it was amazing for me to be able to see them perform.

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The market at Augustusplatz occurs two or three times per week. You can buy fruits, vegetables, flowers, baked goods, and other food items there.

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Here’s Veronica on the steps of one of the dormitory buildings.

Dresden and Week 3 in Leipzig

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Steve and Webb read up on Dresden on the train ride there.

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We spent a day in Dresden, mainly in the beautiful Altstadt. There were street performers of all sorts everywhere.

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Steve and David joke around as we pause our tour in the Markt area of the Altstadt.

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Dr. Waskie showed the group through the city, stopping at each important building to tell us a little about its history.

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The ceiling of the Frauenkirche, which is actually a reconstruction. The Frauenkirche was almost reduced to rubble after World War II, but now stands tall in the middle of the Altstadt.

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Steve and Dan climbed to the top of the Frauenkirche.

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Back in Leipzig: Last week there was a protest at the university against the cutting of some programs, such as archeology. The protest ended up including about 7,500 students. It was really inspiring, but also a little sad for me; we have been dealing with similar problems here at Temple (namely the attempts to cut the African American Studies program) and protests against our program cuts are not nearly as large. It seems that civil unrest is more widespread here, and people aren’t afraid to protest against what they believe is wrong. I feel like in the US, we often just take what we are handed with the mindset of “oh, we’ll never be able to change it.” It’s really a shame.

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Johann Sebastian Bach’s grave in the Thomaskirche. As a music theory major, I’m a huge admirer of Bach, who spent the last 27 years of his life here in Leipzig. The day I took this picture I also visited the Bach Museum across the street from the church.

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This guy was spotted in the Connewitz neighborhood, laying in the middle of the sidewalk on a sunny day.

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Dan, Webb, Steve, and Alex in the hallway after classes ended for the day. Tonight the US is playing against Belgium in the WM, and Dan is already prepared for the game!

 

First week in Leipzig

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On Saturday the 14th, we went on an excursion to Eisenach, about two hours away from Leipzig, with the entire interDaF group.

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We took a tour of the Wartburg castle in Eisenach.

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It’s exciting to be in Germany during the Weltmeisterschaft, or World Cup, since football (or soccer) is so popular here. Steve and Dan even bought the official shoes of the German national team.

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On Sunday the 15th, Veronica and I ventured to a nearby park for Leipzig Ökofete, an all-day environment festival. It was tons of fun! We are both vegan, and of course there was plenty of vegan food available, including this awesome chocolate-apricot cupcake!

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On Monday, the day of Germany’s first game in the Weltmeisterschaft, the interDaF group went to a Biergarten in a western neighborhood of Leipzig to view the game.

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Steve and Dan rooting for Germany in the game against Ghana.

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I took this picture on our way to the Biergarten where we watched the game. Like Berlin, Leipzig has a lot of gritty urban scenes and tons of graffiti. At the same time it’s quiet, safe, and laid-back.

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Steve and Alex playing football at a Spielplatz down the street from our dorms.

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On Wednesday we took a tour of the BMW factory in Leipzig. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the factory, so here’s David and Veronica waiting to go on the tour.

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Steve with the keys to his new electric BMW that was hooked up to a charging port in the parking lot.

Willkommen in Berlin!

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On our second day in Berlin, our third item of the day was a tour through the Reichstag building, home to Germany’s government.

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We explored the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburger Tor.

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Dr. Waskie and Steve on top of the Reichstagsgebäude. The roof offers an incredible view of the entire city.

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After dinner on our first day in Berlin, we did a little bit of exploring through the streets near the hostel.

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Students take pictures in the parliamentary chamber of the Reichstagsgebäude.

 

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Berlin has an amazing amount of street art and graffiti, as we were quick to find out.

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On Monday, after touring museums on the Museumsinsel, we explored Berlin by ourselves. In addition to graffiti, Berlin has many large murals, not unlike Philadelphia. Here, Veronica and Steve take pictures of one.

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The Brandenburger Tor, photographed from the roof of the Reichstag building. It was really amazing to be in such a historic city and to finally be able to see up close the buildings and monuments that we’d only ever seen in pictures.

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Sunset from a bridge in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood, where we ate dinner on Monday night.

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Here we all are on the steps of the Reichstag building.

 

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!)