Monday, July 25, 2011

Home, Sweet Home

This is a bit late. I returned to the States on July 9th. My flight left from Berlin at 11 and arrived New York at 14:00 local time. I had another lengthy layover there. I arrived in Atlanta at around 23:00. Both flights were just fine and I returned safely, as many of you already know.

My last day in Germany was spent packing. Frau Luedkte accompanied me to the airport. I made it through customs in New York easily. I think travelling alone is much easier than travelling with multiple people. It seemed like the families always had the most problems with luggage and tickets and things. When my flight departed from New York around 21:00, the sun was setting and it was beautiful. It was an amazing sight to see at the end of an epic journey like this one.

I have learned a lot on this journey. This was my first trip where I spent any real time staying in one place in Europe. This is my second time visiting Europe. The first was with my sister and grandmother to Great Britain after we graduated high school. While Great Britain was a nice first time experience "over the pond" as one of my friends calls it, we rarely stayed in one city for more than 2 days. We did all the things tourists do which is not a bad thing. Because of our constant moving about, the trip called for extreme tourism. We were able to make friends with some of the people on the bus tour with us, and it was a great time; it was just very different from my experience in Berlin. In Berlin, I was able to see how the locals did things. I feel like I understand what the atmosphere is in Berlin. I am not saying that I know everything about German culture and customs, but when I was there, I could sort of feel something in the atmosphere that was different. It's one of those things that you can sense, and that you could never truly understand until you go there. This is not just the case for Berlin either, I doubt.

Upon my return, I quickly adapted back into my American lifestyle, although it took me a while to get used to the fact that every store I walked in to had English speaking employees. It was a relief to know that I could say whatever I wanted, instead of having to put my brain into overdrive before uttering three or four words. A downfall of returning, though, if that I greatly miss the public transportation. I can no longer just walk down the street and hop on an U-Bahn which would transport me wherever I desire. I have to drive now. Blah. It doesn't help that my car's air conditioner is not functional and it is in the high 90s in humid Alabama. I'll get over it.

The time in Germany flew by. I can't believe that I have already been back for two weeks. It almost seems like it was all just a dream. I would like to return someday, except next time, I will take someone with me. It was wonderful being there, and it was quite a learning experience for me to go alone. I have learned that the world is not as exciting, interesting, or beautiful unless you have someone to share it with. Not for me, at least.

By completing this trip, I have fulfilled a goal that I have been striving for for about 2 years now. When I was in high school, my senior English teacher had us create a "Senior Scrapbook" as a project. I looked through it a few days ago and found that I created a page for future goals. On it, I mentioned that I wanted to travel a lot and pasted on the side pictures of the England flag, the German flag and the New Zealand flag. I have, since creating it, completed two of those three destinations. It is interesting to know that something I have been planning and looking forward to for a few years has finally come to pass. And it is over.

I am extremely appreciative to everyone who has made this trip possible. My grandpa Tony, Pops and Study Away have been extremely helpful as far as funding goes. My mom helped me a lot with funding too, but was really helpful as far as planning things out with me. I am also glad that everyone who has been following this blog has shown so much interest in it. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback about the blog. I hope everyone has enjoyed it. Thanks for following!

Because I am back to where my heart is, I think that is the most appropriate word to use for the final post. Heimat (pronounced Hi- maht) is German for the word "home." Tschuss everyone!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A bit of tourism and a piece of home

First of all, yesterday after school I experienced the Berlin TV tower (Fernsehturm). It was awesome! It is 368m (1207 ft) tall, and the place with the panoramic view is at 203m (666 ft). Yesterday, the sky was blue and the weather was nice, bordering on hot, so there were a lot of people there. It was about an hour and a half wait, but I had a book with me so all was good. There are two elevators to take people up and a staircase with over 800 steps that every sane person would avoid. The elevators take 45 seconds to travel the 666 ft. My ears were popping going up and down. Once you go up to the top, you stay as long as you want. I stayed for about an hour. There is also a restaurant at 206m. I bet it's expensive... The main thing that I learned from this visit: Berlin is big. Really big. Here are some pictures.

It was really a spectacular view of the city. And here is a short video of the traffic:

Thing number two: it seems that I am falling into some of the habits I've practiced at home on a few occasions. I've just made a few mistakes... Here's the run down from the past few mornings as well as this morning. Sunday night: I got in bed, turned off all the lights and laid there for a few minutes, and thankfully remembered that I needed to set my alarm clock. So, I set it for 8 because I have class at 10 on Mondays. Monday morning, I wake up at 8:15, thinking "what? Why didn't my alarm go off?" I looked at it with my early morning, clouded consciousness and realized I set it for 8:00pm. If only we operated on a 24 hour clock like the Germans, these things wouldn't happen.... I'm glad I just happened to wake up at the time I needed to. I made it to school early as usual.

Monday night: "Okay, I'm going to get it right this time." I set it for 8:00 AM. Tuesday morning: "Oh, yay! It's not raining today! Today will be a great day. I'm going to get up right away so I can take all the time I want getting to school." Wrong. Why? Because today is Tuesday. Class starts at 9 on Tuesday and every other day of the week. I realized this after I left the apartment. I looked at my watch, saw that it was 9 and proceeded to book it. I made it to my classroom around 9:40. That gave me another 50 minutes in my first class which isn't too bad. The teacher, Stefan, was teaching reflexive pronouns (himself, myself, ourselves, etc) which Frau Rinker taught in 202 last semester. It was easy to catch on.

Tuesday night: Toni is back from her summer trip with her friends, yay! And I think, "I've got it this time!" 7:00 am. "I can't mess this up tomorrow." But I did, somehow. I'm not exactly sure why the alarm didn't go off, but I think I must have turned it off when I grabbed the clock to see what time it was when I woke up early this morning, around 5. This resulted in my not waking up until around 10:00. I could have gotten up and gotten ready and made it to the second half of my second class, but apparently some decision of the fates wanted me to not have perfect attendance here.

This afternoon, Toni will take me to see a few places as a farewell tour. After today, there are only two more class days. My flight leaves Saturday at 11:20. I am really looking forward to being back home, although I have enjoyed my time here. I think my German has improved and that I know more about German culture, but these are the sort of remarks one makes in a closing blog... This is not the last.

Because we are nearing the end, your German must be much better. I believe it is time for a more difficult word. The TV tower, the Brandonburger Tor, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and so on are all the popular sights in Berlin. The word for these things in German is Sehenswürdigkeiten. Break it down! Sehens- würdig- keiten. Or even more! Se- hens- wür- dig- kei- ten. Good luck!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Last Weekend

Today is my last Sunday in Berlin. Next Saturday morning, I will be leaving on a jet plane back to the the world of driving cars and unbearable summer heat, but I still have one week left to enjoy my time here, and I fully intend to.

Friday and Saturday, I went on excursions with the school. Friday was a walk around Schoeneberg, a very beautiful district of Berlin. Many Jewish people lived here during WW2. There are signs posted up on many of the street poles giving information about what it was like to be a Jew during the war. Some of them described general rules the Jews had to follow such as they weren't allowed to be out after dark and they always had to wear a star marking them as a Jew, and some of them described more detailed, individual stories. For example, one of the signs told about a man who was keeping a small bird in his apartment as a pet, because he really loved it. It wasn't allowed. One day, he went out and later on a Nazi was sent to his house to tell the man's wife that if she wanted his ashes, she could pay five marks for them at the crematorium. Very sad.... Here are a few pictures from the walk:

"Jews are only allowed to shop for food from 4-5 in the afternoon." (July 4, 1940)

the Schoeneberg City Hall

On Saturday, I went with the school to Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, which used to be an old Stasi prison. The prison changed hands many times, but it ended up with the East German Ministry of State Security in 1951 and was used until 1989 (when the Wall fell and the city was reunited). It was mainly used to keep prisoners who opposed anything that was East Germany. Many outspoken political figures were kept here.

Unfortunately, the tour was (of course) given in German, fast German at that, even though most of the students that went were not that advanced. Most of us couldn't understand, but our guide from school insisted that the tour guide at the prison give it in German. Oh well. It was also cold and raining and my converse were soaked and my socks were wet and I didn't have an umbrella. A kind soul I met from America offered to share his umbrella. I don't think the experience was worth it, though. If only I could have understood... Anyway, here are a couple pictures:

So, those were my two excursions this weekend. Today it was raining and cold again, so I stayed inside. I took some time to plan some places to go for my last week. The school posted their activities for this next week on their website, and it looks like there isn't anything I am really interested in. So instead, I will plan my own sightseeing adventures.

Here are a couple pictures of some good food I've eaten this past week:

A salami pizza. The guy made the crust from scratch after I ordered it, and I ate the whole thing. :)

Berlin's famous Curry Wurst. It is popular for a reason. 

I am looking forward to exploring on my own this next week. I will write about it soon. I am also looking forward to returning to sweet home Alabama.

So, because the weather has been so crazy during my time here, that will be the word of this post. It is das Wetter. Again, 'w's in German are pronounced as 'v's so it is pronounced "vet-ter." Tschuss!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Chill Week

Today is Thursday. This week has been relaxing for me because of the extra activities I have chosen to participate in. Monday I just went to class. Monday's are nice because the people who are there for their first week must take the placement test. They schedule this around 8:30. They must have time to take the test, have their results processed, and talk to one of the teachers and maybe go on a short tour of the school. This means that the other students (me) don't have to be there for the first class until 10:00. :)

So, Monday, I just went to class and came home and did homework. Tuesday, after class I did my homework and read until 15:00. Then, I attended a seminar given by one of the teachers called "Berlin for Insiders." It was given in German, of course, but I could understand most of it. The teacher told us the places that Berliners like to go, like some of the most popular clubs, theaters and places to shop. She also gave a brief history about the Berlin Wall, which was the most interesting part of the seminar, in my opinion.

Then yesterday, I did the same thing after class. I got Curry Wurst for lunch and did my homework and read until 15:00. Yesterday they showed a popular German movie called Sonnenallee. It is a comedy about the DDR during the '70s. I suggest it to everyone. It is  highly entertaining, even when the teachers at your German school make you watch it without English subtitles. It's very funny. Watch it.

Today I decided to not go to the political museum... The weather isn't very great today. It's grey and chilly outside, so I came home after class and here I am. I will be taking part in two excursions this weekend: one tomorrow and one Saturday which I will describe more in a later post.

Pertaining to the movie, here is the word for this post: lustig. Lustig is an adjective meaning funny or amusing.

A Tour with Toni and German Football

This past weekend I decided to opt out of the school trip to Dresden because it was pretty expensive. Instead, I went on an evening bike tour with Toni. It was much better for me personally compared to the big group tours. Toni helps me understand her German and makes it much more personal and interesting. She knows a lot about Berlin, and I think she would make a great professional tour guide.

So, we rode bikes. Toni rode her mom's bike and I rode Toni's. Problem #1: They are much taller than I am; their legs are much longer than mine. Problem #2: the bike seats do not adjust. It took a little while before I got the hang of it. I had to have the right pedal at a certain height for me to be able to push off from the ground, mount the bike and pedal to gain enough momentum to keep going and prevent myself from falling off. I got better as we went on.

Most Berliners use public transportation and bicycles to get around. It is not uncommon for a person to not own a car. My family doesn't, that I know of. The great thing that the city of Berlin has done for bikes is create extra wide sidewalks and occasionally a bike lane on the roads. On every street I have come across, there has always been an indicated place for bikes to ride, either on the street or on the sidewalk.

So Toni showed me around Potsdamer Platz. This is a popular area for theaters. They were having the premier of the new Transformers movie at one of them. We got there when they were in the process of rolling out the red carpet. We didn't stay to watch, because neither of us cared to see any of the actors. Potsdamer Platz was also the first place I saw the Berlin Wall. Amazing.

We also rode through Tiergarten and by the Brandenburger Tor, where most of the celebrations for "Christopher Street Day (CSD)" were taking place. CSD is the day that Berlin celebrates homosexuals. It seems that Germany and the US have similar views on homosexuality. Berlin seems to be very accepting of it, because Berlin is a modern, new aged kind of city. I have heard, though, that many of the smaller towns in Germany don't take too kindly to homosexuals. So, we rode through all the celebrations and whatnot, and Toni pointed out many important buildings like the Reichstag and the Kennedy Museum while giving me little tidbits of history

We were out for about 2 or 3 hours. After I got used to the bike, I found that it was extremely comfortable to ride on. The seat was big and it rode very smoothly making the 2-3 hours seem effortless. Why don't we have more bikes like these? Berlin is also very flat, which might have contributed to the effortlessness.

That was the tour with Toni. On Sunday, Toni had a bunch of her friends over to watch the "football" game. Football being soccer of course. It is really much more sensible to call American soccer football instead. They use their feet all the time. How often do players use their feet in American football? Field goals, kick-offs and punts. That's not even 1/8th of the entire game! Anyway, I digress....

There were people over for the football game Sunday. It was the first game of the FIFA (women's) World Cup. It is in Germany this year, and of course the first game was in Berlin with Germany playing Canada.

When Germany is playing football in a situation like this, it is popular to get together with a bunch of friends and watch it on TV. So, this is what happened, except none of Toni's friends were really watching the game. We were all gathered around the TV, and I think I was the only one paying attention. I think they just use it as an excuse to all get together. They talked the whole time, and I was the silent one because they talk fast... I was trying to follow what they were talking about, but I couldn't keep up. I caught words and phrases every now and then, but it wasn't enough to understand the bigger concept.

After Germany won (2-1), they all left. It was quite the interesting experience. That was the extent of my weekend.

The word for this post is Fußball, pronounced fooz-ball. This, naturally, means football which is known in the U.S. as soccer.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Second Week

Sorry it's been so long. I am still alive, however, and staying very busy.

This past week was good. I feel like I can almost completely understand my teachers and I feel a little more confident in my speaking German.

The public transportation has become second nature. I have even almost become an expert at my route to school. I know that on the first U-Bahn ride, it is better to be in the first car because when I come to the station to change from the U-Bahn to the S-Bahn, the tunnel connecting the two stations begins on that side of the train. I also know that when I get onto the S-Bahn, it is better to be in the last car because of the direction I need to go to leave the station towards my school. I'm getting the hang of this.

This week, I participated in two excursions with the school. I also wanted to go to the seminar of German pop music from 1970-2010, but the teacher was detained for some reason and it was cancelled. The first excursion I participated in was on Wednesday. We went for a three hour walk from Alexanderplatz to the Brandenburger Tor. I can't seem to find a suitable map to illustrate this, but the street we walked on mostly is called "Unter den Linden."  It was exciting to finally see some of Berlin's most well-known landmarks like the Berlin TV tower, the Berliner Dom, Museum Island, the Reichstag (German's Parliament), the Weltzeituhr (world time clock), Humbolt University and the Brandenburger Tor. It was quite an interesting tour. Here is the group in front of the Brandenburger Tor. Do I stand out as an American?

Then on Thursday, I went with a school group to visit the Pergamon Museum. It was not as interesting to me as the Jewish Museum last week, but this is what was there.  There are three wings in the museum and they are the antiquities collection of the architectural
 halls and the sculpture wing, the Near Eastern Museum 
and the Museum of Islamic Art. Here, I saw Shahnameh, the Persian Book of the Kings, as well as the Quran. There was some very interesting architecture inside the museum as well. However, when I stored my backpack in the locker that cost a euro to use, I forgot my camera. 

Friday, I took my first test. It was very easy. I know for certain that I answered everything on two of the four sections correctly. Another section I feel extremely confident about and the last section, I am not so sure. I am still having a difficult time remember the different genders for each noun. 

Before the test, we played a game in class. We were going on a trip and packing our bags and we had to tell what we would bring. We had to use at least one adjective with our item. The catch is, we had to remember what everyone else was bringing too. The teacher started it off saying that he was going to bring his broken glasses. Then the guy from Norway who sits to my left must say, "I will take your broken glasses and my empty coffee mug." And then I say, "I will take your broken glasses, your empty coffee mug and my boring book" and so on. There are 10 people including the teacher in my class and we did two rounds. I was the next to the last to go on the second round, so I had to say 19 things altogether. 

The difficulty about doing this game in German is the genders and adjective endings. When you say "my" in German, the word you use  whether it be mein, meine, meinen, meiner or meinem depends on what case you are in and what gender the noun is. Luckily, we were always using the accusative case during the game, so the case was not changing. Accusative case is simply the case of the direct object in a sentence. For example, in the sentence "I drive the car." the direct object is the car. What am I driving? The car. 

And now, the adjective endings. When you use adjectives to describe nouns in German, it has to have a certain ending. Where in English, we simply say blue pants, a blue dress, a blue skirt, blue shoes, it is not as easy in German. My teacher often says how boring English is because of the simplicity, but that German is so interesting!For the accusative adjective endings, for masculine nouns the ending is -en. Blue in German is blau so when using an adjective with a masculine noun you must say blauen. For neuter nouns it's blaues, feminine blaue and plural blauen. And these endings are just for the accusative case using articles like "a" and "an." There is a whole different set of endings for adjectives when using nouns with a "the" article. So, in my opinion the test that I took at the end of class was much, much easier than the game we played. 

Friday evening, there was a street festival a few blocks down the road. I went with Toni and some of her friends. I don't think I've ever seen or heard of a male belly dancer until this day. He did one song by himself and then was joined by four girls for the next song and they only wish they could dance like he could. 

At the festival, there were many stands set up selling alcohol, t-shirts, dresses, souvenirs, food, purses and anything you can think of. We walked around and looked at the different things and also listened to some of the music being played on the two or three different stages. It was fun. 

I have been eating well this week. Here are a few lunch pictures:

McDonald's in Berlin tastes exactly the same as McDonald's in Birmingham. The portion sizes are smaller here though. I got a small drink and fries, and it seems like the drink is the same size as the water cups they give you in the U.S. and the fries are the value size. I am not complaining at all. I wish we had smaller portions like this in the states. I haven't seen many fat people here at all. Everyone seems to be in good, healthy shape. I think I've lost 5 pounds since being here too. 

So, when I am going to and from school and taking part in all of my excursions, I always make sure I have a water bottle with me. The German word for this blog is "Wasser" which means water. In German, there is no "w" sound. The w's are pronounced as v's. So this is actually pronounced as "vasser." 



Monday, June 20, 2011

The Last of the First Week and the First Weekend


I finished school for the week on Friday. There was no test. It seems that we will have a test every other week rather than every week.

On Thursday, I stayed at school and read after class. I signed up for the short excursion to the Jewish Museum. We left from the school at around 3:30. We took a tram to a stop close to the museum and walked the rest of the way. When we got there, the person from GLS who was taking us talked to us a little bit about the museum and then let us go. I think I left around 6:30. It was a really huge museum displaying the history of  Jews; it wasn't just about the Holocaust. Luckily for me, all the descriptions for the displays were written in English and German. The architecture is what really amazed me though. It's some really creative stuff. Here's what the building looks like from above:

Very cool. Here is the website for the Jewish Museum and Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the newer building (on the left).

That was Thursday. Friday was a regular day. I came home right after school. It was a long week.

Saturday, I went on a day excursion with GLS to Potsdam. For those of you who are curious, Germany has 16 different states. Three of them only consist of one city. Those three are Hamburg, Breman and Berlin! The city of Potsdam is southwest of Berlin and it is the capital of the state of Brandenburg.

On Saturday, we met at a bahnhof at 9:45; there were about 25 of us. We arrived in Potsdam at 10:45 and met our guide at 11. He was a very old, very German looking man. I would estimate him to be in his late 60s. We walked all over the city. It was about a 3 1/2 hour tour, and the guide didn't sit down or drink any water a single time. Unfortunately, my brain was functioning very slowly and I missed a lot of the historical information he was talking about. Sigh.

It was a very pretty city. I'm sure its steeped in history, but I didn't catch most of it. We spent about half the tour in the Sanssouci Park. It was really beautiful. The landscaping was incredible. Here, there was the Sanssouci Schloss (castle) where Frederick the Great preferred to spend his summers. He enjoyed his private life so much that he had a guest house built in the garden a good distance from the his summer home so he didn't have to deal with them. Here are a few pictures I took.

Sanssouci Schloss  

In Sanssouci Park

Frederrick's old horse stables

The Brandenburger Tor (in Potsdam--this one's older than Berlin's)

Nikolakirche (a protestant church built in 1830)
Sorry for the long format. I would have put some of them side by side, but it wouldn't let me. So, that was Potsdam in a blur. The tour went by fast as he was trying to get as much in as possible. It didn't help that Mother Nature was PMSing during our time there. The weather was changing between sunny, overcast and raining every 10 minutes. After the tour, we got lunch and left shortly afterwards. My legs were about to fall off when I finally made it back to the apartment. 

On Sunday,  it goes without saying that I slept in as long as possible. This had me waking at around 11 and getting up at 11:30. I didn't go outside at all because the weather was bad and I didn't really want to go anywhere. My brain and my body needed the rest. 

Today is Monday which means it is the beginning of my second week of school. Classes went well today, and it seems that we have lost two students and gained four. There are nine people in the class now. Tomorrow begins the week's after school activities. They are all free of charge this week. I believe I will take part in the events on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday which I'm sure I will describe in detail in a later post. Saturday, the excursion is to Dresden and I think I am not going. It is expensive, and I would rather try to do something around Berlin either by myself or with Toni and/or Frau Luedtke. 

The typical informal way Germans, especially Berliners, say "bye" is  "tschuss" pronounced 'chu sss' and it rhymes with juice. So, tschuss!