Monday, September 29, 2008

This IS my Angry Face

ok, so maybe I am a mega-dweeb, but I kind of JUST A TINY BIT like Mondays. Think of them this way: it's a chance to start all over, and I was taking that in the literal sense of the word. Today I had redone my power point presentation (I think the cool people say PPP), I had some activities for the students (This half of the room has to pretend to be Republicans talking about gun control, and this half has to respond like the Dems)...the whole 9. I was stoked, because the teacher for the first class, Rudy, was funny, he was enthused, he said this class was "nice." This was going to BE A GOOD DAY!

So I get to school, to my wonderful desk (I have a's kind of sparce, and there are sex ed handouts in the drawers), and I wait for Rudy to pick me up and go to the classroom. And I wait. and I wait. and I--DAMMIT! NOT AGAIN! So I find out the room and go, hoping that he'll be there a bit irked that I was showing up late but in a rather forgiving place. I had hoped.

He was not.

So it's me in a hallway with the kids (I don't get keys yet), and Ulli swings by. Deus ex machina he opens the lab door, and everyone walks into a dimly lit, quiet, warm computer lab. So I started like I did last time, trying suck up time and "practice English" but this time I had a PPP and the minute Rudy got in I was ready to borrow one of his dry-erase markers, turn on that computer (I'm not given the log in information), and WOOOO!

But that never happened.

Instead a bunch of mouthy 16 year olds chatted with each other till I started trying to do the presentation, but the best way to say it is "they weren't feelin' it," so I went straight to the activity, hoping they'd learn something from it. That didn't go so awfully. I think they hated it less than me talking, and then they were supposed to go to the student council elections for second period. Come to find out, the voting took 5 minutes, and then they were supposed to come back to class. DANG IT! So I returned to the classroom in a state of shock, and no one was waiting at the door. they'd just collectively decided to skip second hour. Fine by me. That was ANNOYING. Turns out that it was "excursion day" and Rudy had gone somewhere with his homeroom class...and had forgotten me? I hope he just forgot, because this hazing is getting REALLY ANNOYING.


So I come back to the teacher's lounge FROTHING AT THE MOUTH! I mean, Rudy was supposed to be on my team. But it was ok, I found a class with which to spend some time, Henning's English class, and this was one of the good ones. They were in small groups, talking, giggling, the room was well lit and cool. It picked up from the earlier hour I was told, but I had a good time, joking with people about Springsteen.

The last class of the day that I was supposed to present to was Jon's. Jon is a Kate fan, and his classes are too, but...errr...I went to the room and NOT EVEN THE CLASS WAS THERE! I checked the tech room, but Jon hadn't been around all day, so I guess he just ABSCONDED WITH A WHOLE CLASS OF GERMAN KIDS?!?!?!

Apparently they had...somewhere else(?)

Anyway, it seems that Germany is in sore need of Kate opening a can of whoop-*** on some teachers. We'll have a come-to-Jesus meeting tomorrow and hopefully straighten this out.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Beginning of Something Awesome?

So, it's official:


Tandem- (n) a program wherein native speakers of different languages g
et together in order to speak those languages and in the process improve their own skills, normally arranged on the internet via school websites.

So in Tuebingen my Tandem was SKETCH-TASTIC! So I didn't have much faith in the program, but after a week or more in Berlin didn't yield too many new friends, especially outside of work, I decided to give it another go. I signed up and was given Az (not real name). We met in person to speak English (we alternate) at a cafe in Kreuzberg (apparently the cool people say "XBerg"...because the X is like a cross/Kreuz...haha) and we hit it off!

Az, a Short Biography of Awesome
26 and born to Iranian dissidents "underground," Az moved to Germany at the age of 7 and since then has spoken largely German, so she has no accent. She studied in Heidelberg and now Berlin, and is writing a PhD dissertation on migrants and the theater. We have a lot to talk about.

She is so interesting and smart, and her English is really out of this world.
She sends me a text saying she and some friends are meeting in Prenzlauerberg (near the Kulturbrauerei!) and would I like to join and practice my German. Chance to meet new people AND exercise my newly found cool? YES!

We started off meeting in a busy street and then wandered for what seemed like a very long time, so that we were away from the "Touris" (tourists). The first place we went to, we all sat in a nook arranged like a cave in a wall in a pseudo-asian bar. It was:

Seb- the skinny blonde with a 3 day beard who spoke fluent english and had spent a year in Paris.

Martin- the oldest in the bunch, a medical student of some variety

Sven- the one in the middle, a worker with the German senate who used to play trumpet

and Az- who is great.

They were all in their later 20s to early 30s (seems my target demographic) and all had masters or higher.

we sat around, had some beers, and then went to another couple of places, just killing time, taking advantage of the fact that there's no last call in Germany, and there were only a few of us, so people didn't feel squeemish about picking up rounds (especially when they are 10 Euros) of cheap beers.

Everyone spoke German, but I could understand and mostly keep up with the conversation. This impressed them mightily, and one or two of the guys in a more..errr...anti-intellectual state would try to say something in English. Cute.

They'd all heard of Fulbright, and one of them at one point sat there quietly and said "Ok, vee see, you have been a manger of somezhing, you have a Fulbright, you speak German, and you already have a bachellor degree?" "'ja" and he kind of sat back a bit quietly. I tried to explain that I was manager of a school art studio, most people get Bachelors in 4 years, and yes I am a Fulbright scholar, but my german is nowhere NEAR what I want it to be, but it didn't really sink in. Then he got a little irked/confused. "You speak perfect German, Az speaks perfect English...Why are you needing to practice?!" The answer is that we are both fluent, but there are degrees of fluency, and we aren't where we want to be yet. That's why we can help each other.

For a lot of my friends who did the program, their Tandems have been good buddies, and having met Az, I think not only do I want to be her when I grow up, but I think we'll get along quite well.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Don't Show Fear in Front of the Monkeys

So, as an assistant, I'm NEVER supposed to be in a room full of kids on my own. In principle, who knows what kind of crazy stuff us Americans would do...maybe give the kids DETENTION (GHASP!). Flash forward to Friday morning, when Ulli, an English teacher for 9th graders, had booked me to give a presentation to his kids, mostly though to chat with them, like an interview with an American. That's when this starts:

8:45- First bell rings...where's Ulli? Do I wait in the teacher's lounge, or do I go to his room? I'll wait here.

8:50- Shoot! He's not here. Maybe I'm supposed to meet him at the classroom. OH NO! He's there waiting for me!

8:53- Class time begins, no Ulli, I talk about their upcoming weekends as a warmup/time filler. WHERE ON EARTH IS ULLI?!? WHAT IF THIS CLASS GETS OUT OF CONTROL!? I'm not supposed to be here.

9:05- Ok, so no Ulli yet, and we're talking about people's birthdays. I should start a lesson. What? You're studying poetry you say? Not anymore! We're talking about the American elections!!

9:10- Hey, they're listening! I need to write something on the board, but Ulli has the pens for the whiteboard. WHERE IS HE?! Kid in the front row, go get him!

9:20- Kid is back, no Ulli. DAMN! Are we in the wrong room? Don't show weakness, pretend this is supposed to happen. Oh it cool.

9:21- Hey, that kid's talking. "Yeah, you're chatting. Can you tell us what the word 'constitution' means in German? Can anyone help him?" PWND!

9:25- OMG! THERE'S ULLI! He must be so mad. I bet he was looking for me the whole time, and I've basically hijacked his class. He looks in a rush. He's been rushing to try to find me and then he'll kill me.

9:26- Oh, his bike broke on the way to school and he missed his train, but his cellphone didn't work? Ok. Yay...kinda.

9:27- Oh, he's not going to contribute to the class, just sitting there? Oh...ok.

9:30- Students approach me to chat about how they like me. No thanks from Ulli...whatever.

I win at teaching! I didn't die and it was only my first week of teaching at this school! Go me!!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You Germans are Seriously CUTE

So I had an awful day yesterday in of those days where the kids are little meanies, and I can't talk to them at all. The teacher, Rudy (not real name) was on board with my presentation, thought it was good, and after he saw how sad it made me that I couldn't get at these kids, and he was like "Look, these kids just don't do or think about ANYTHING. You were great." But I still plan to work on my delivery. I can't control those little jerks, but I can control myself.

Anyway, after this day of ickiness I went into Berlin to wander a bit and just kind of chill (secret mission: buy a thermos for coffee), and I get out at Alexanderplatz and see TONS of people (the news says 10,000 at least) in coordinated tee shirts protesting hospital financing. Some doctors and hospital personell coordinated this, and so everyone from nurses to med students from all over showed up in another protest of something that would NEVER merit a protest in the States.

I am proud of those little guys. Like any protest there were some crashers, and I was treated to the delightful sight of anarchists with flags waiting impatiently at the train ticket machine. "Come on, Brad! We'll miss the train. What? I think we're in an ABC zone, so just buy the 3 Zone ticket." Some anarchists!

Then there were Danes all over my train, which was cool, and I finally guessed right what they were accurately. Usually I ask if they're Danish but they're Swede, and oops! So the day ended well, especially when I had drinks with my Tandem partner, a girl whose parents came to Germany from Iran like in Persepolis. She loves literature and theater, and it was great to talk to her. I think I have planted the seeds for a German friend!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Movie in a Tavern/Brewery

Well, I had school yesterday, my first day of giving presentations, and it was tiring. You tend to forget how purely AWFUL being 13 is, and when I'd ask a question or try to start a fun, relaxed, "Look, teacher's sitting on the desk" thing, I was greeted with SILENCE and bored looks. Luckily I got to go out with A and R (see my Cavalry entry) and their neighbor to a movie that night. The film, Couscous with Fish, was being shown at something called the Kulturbrauerei, and from what I can tell, it's an old brewery that is now full of indie theaters, smoking Germans, art installations, small movie theaters, and a bar whose second word was "Twister" and whose first name starts with a T...THE MATH HERE ISN'T HARD TO DO!

It's really cool. Here are some picts!

This is a map of the's HUGE! PLUS it's on Schoenhaeuserallee, which my family lived on in 2004 for two weeks, like, BEFORE it was cool to do so. That makes us PRE-COOL!

This is a view of part of the interior, huge, brick, cool looking, but HELL on high heels.

Exterior: Brauerei

The movie was a French movie, so it seemed at the beginning like that movie Soul Food, which has a MODERATELY HAPPY ending, but by the time you remember, "Hey, this is a French movie!" things have taken a turn for the worse that just keeps going...and going...and you can't look away, and it's just sad. Don't go see it. But DO go to the Kulturbrauerei! It is--as they say--THE HAMMER!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Welcome to Germany...Take a Number

So at last I can stop doing all the nuts-o paperwork to make up for all my stuff being stolen! YAY!

...and now I can start on the nuts-o paperwork that is meant for just everyday foreigners! Yay?

This is what I brought with me when I showed up to the Citizen's Office (BUERGERAMT), including my "wait in line" number, passport, rent form, certificate of fellowship, etc etc etc. I have, of course, edited out my name and information from the pages

So I wait with my number until it is called (like being in the DMV and of course just as heartening), and then I go to this frighteningly cavernous hallway where I wait for an inscrutable Frau von M to open the door, let me in, and process my paperwork

So there I sat, with papers full of information in German, and she goes to town without really acknowledging me, the human behind them. As I sat there I noticed the stamp on her orderly desk, sitting in the ink, the thing that defines her job. Germans LOVE to stamp stuff, I have to say. I figured, since she was kind of ignoring me anyway, and I was tired of schwitzing the whole affair, I would just draw, which I did, and which she didn't seem to notice:

I included a bit of text in this, but the funniest part of the writing is actually under the picture, but it has a swear word, so we're not going to include it. Anyway, now I have registered with the police, so I just have to register with the Foreigner Office (AUSLAENDERAMT). Woot?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Visite from Le Suisse!

NOTE: When I get visitors it becomes harder for me to update, since "Hang on a few minutes while I update my blog" doesn't really fit for an ideal hostess

Phil was the official photographer of the weekend, and as such it was all the more a disaster when his camera battery died, so I'll just paint a vivid picture of the weekend myself.

Thursday night he came to town (early! Yay!) and we went out to an american diner to have dinner before going to see a movie. At the diner the waiter heard my accent and decided that he should speak English. I find this behavior annoying, so I eventually pointed out that I could in fact speak his language. When I did this, he began speaking quickly and with a thick accent, like "I'll show her," but I showed him showing me by replying in an equally impenetrable Swabian (Tuebingen-style) accent.

Friday and Saturday are kind of milling in my mind, swooshing in between till I can't really remember "when WAS that?" SO I will try to name off as close as I can what I did and when.

Friday started off with some breakfast and a bit of wandering around locally. I don't remember a whole lot about this day except that we went to see the partially rebuilt new Synagogue, which is gorgeous and golden and the security guards are really nice.

Phil and I also went to Alexanderplatz to try to get some tickets to this jazz concert, but they weren't being sold, so we chose for a quieter night here. On our way out we ran into a protest (because you can't be in this town without protests). This one was actually hilarious becaue it was a frothing crowd up in arms about--get this--DATA PROTECTION PROTOCOLS FOR GERMAN INSURANCE COMPANIES!!!!!!!! Those b@#($#$! I couldn't believe they'd gotten that much enthusiasm together for it, but hey, more power to you guys. Sometimes I wish we could be more political, but then the endpoint of such things are protests like this, street puppets of AOK Insurance Presidents and masses of people burning insurance card forms.

The evening was actually pretty chill. For example, the two of us managed to cook a real dinner together, of more than one type of dish. Then we went to a relatively local bar, FOGO.

Fogo is a weird bar. It has smoking inside (how is that legal? I have no clue at all), beach sand on the floor, and weird, Aztec style murals of Che and Jesus on the walls. The big upswing of this place is that the drinks are 2-for-1, so I could feel THRIFTY! Haha.

Saturday was a bit more tourist. Phil and I went to the Gemran version of Capital Hill, Unter den Linden, which apparently my subway car goes right to. We saw Humboldt, the Spree River, the Pergamon (but the weather was too nice to justify a trip in), a small art market, and then we went through the Brandenburg Gate, where the Germans didn't disappoint by providing us ANOTHER protest. This one had a bit more of a point in that they wanted the troops out of Afghanistan. The protesters had signs and stickers and Mexican women yelling LOUDLY but having to be translated and rainbow banners. We just passed through them on our way to the Reichstag, which is as beautiful as ever with its glass dome and heady "we make big decisions in this building" feel. Then we joined up with the protest (don't worry folks, I haven't gone radikal yet) so we didn't have to wait at the traffic lights and got off the protest train at the new Holocaust memorial.

It is AMAZING! Lots (over 2000) of finely compressed concrete blocks standing in a series of hills, so up top they only look about a foot different in height, but as soon as you walk in you can disappear into them. They are also at slight angles, so they aren't perpendicular to the ground, but they are in a perfect grid, so you disappear into the rows and columns. I don't know if it's ok to say this, but it was actually rather great to walk around inside it. After that we went back home for a bit of a rest, because we were going out proper that night.

Where we were going was a concert for Alexander von Schlippenbach's birthday at Radialsystem V. Yes, I know, that sounds complicated. Let me explain it another way: we went to a massive concert to celebrate a German jazz pianist held at a converted pumping station, which looks SO COOL AND MASSIVE inside.

The first part of the concert was Alex, looking like a high school football coach/history teacher (high waisted pants, squarely cut hair), wailing away free-jazz style at the piano. The next act was him in a trio of equally normal-looking but ROCKING older gentlemen, and then came a big break.

During that break another band was playing in another room; this band had the night's only woman, but we didn't go in, because we wanted to get some brews from concessions. when I didn't order the pilsner, the girl at the counter went "ARG!" like "Not again!" and I said "well, we could order something else" but she was just bemoaning the fact that so many people were going for Weissen beers, which they didn't order enough of. The last act was a 14 piece band going CRAZY! They were loud and exciting and filled the cavernous pumping room with sound. It was so loud and wild that some of the more...errr...traditionalist folks (that's a nice way to say it) couldn't take it and left the room. We stuck it through all the way. They didn't play in songs exactly, more like one long song in which each person got to get up and play loudly or quietly whatever the heck was in their minds, and that was seriously amazing. After the concert I ran into one of the three trumpets, and all I could say was "wow," to which he responded "Vahs eet loud enuff?" Yes. And awesome.

Today the weather was nice (rare), so we went out on an adventure to find this brunch place I'd read about on the internet, but let me say, it was well worth getting lost (people are nicer on Sunday, too, so they directed us around), sat down for a fantastic, non-melon-centric brunch and coffee (I was getting grumpy without my coffee, Philippe can attest),

and then, to kill some time, we went on a safari through a hip corner of Berlin for an ironically-made cupcake (we could have also ordered a Dr. Pepper float!), and a swing through some cool but edgy places. One great scene was a sign that said "welcome to the HARZ-IV Arena" with a homeless man sleeping right on the wall with the sign as well. HARZ IV is like the German form of welfare or labor reform, so it was kind of an EXTREMELY ironic situation. I then had to take Philippe back to the station, so he could go off to Lausanne. Even though he'll only be gone 10 days this time, it was still sad to see him off, and I was a pouty little southern mess on my way home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kate Goes to Work...kinda

So I kind of HEART the English department at my school, which we'll call MBO. I went in today to be divied up amongst the teachers, who wants me in what class and when. This part is actually pretty important, so I was slightly nervous, but not nearly as much as the first time I was there. I arrived on time and walked into the teacher's lounge where I was greeted by a pack of English teachers sitting around complaining about coffee and being sarcastic with one another. I didn't really jump into the fray as it were at first, but when it became clear that this was also ok on my part, I did.

A Word on Teacher's Desks: We were told in our training that teachers in their lounge were sometimes quite territorial about their desks, so when my BL (BetreuungsLeherin--German (n), someone who keeps me out of trouble) let me sit at a teacher's desk, I was worried, and when the owner of said desk returned, I popped up. This was for a relatively young teacher, and he found this VERY amusing.

Our teachers' room is kind of like this but without the cross and the organization

Apparently, due to a malfunctioning heater, the first 3 classes of the day have been cancelled, so there was much Sturm and Drang about that, but for me it just means I can wake up at a more reasonable hour, not that I'll be coming to school anytime before Tuesday, though!

So we got me kind of in the schedule for the next week at least, not the 12 hours I'm supposed to work, something a bit less (don't tell Condi Rice, she'll open a can of whoop-ass on me!), but I'll work to make it a good run. When this was over I got to caucus with some of the students, just to figure out how much English they knew. This turned out to be a bit awkward, since we didn't have a set theme, and so we stuck to a few themes:

*the marks on one of the kids necks (what's the German word for those?)
*Hasselhoff (two of them serenaded me)
*School and the general lameness of everything
Very topical things.

Then back to the lounge, where another one of the teachers repeated the Hasselhoff song (THREE TIMES IN ONE DAY, PEOPLE! IT'S NO LIE!), and then, having nothing better to do, about 4 of us went to lunch. This was actually pretty fun, because the art teacher offered to show me around Berlin, and I told her that, though Philippe is in town this weekend, I will take her up on it at some point. Who knows? Could be cool. One teacher was talking up his facebook account where he cleverly inserted a picture of a monkey for the profile, and the other teacher, whose desk I invaded, Texas style, turns to me and says "See, he does this because he has no kids. He REALLY needs kids" After lunch I just headed home, kind of tired but with a very optimistic outlook on the next year.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lazy Sunday...but Sans Cupcakes

So when I was in Tuebingen, the very first Sunday I was there, I went to church, and the young adult group there invited me to make lunch with them. They were the first Germans to be kind and sociable to me. I came to church here hoping for the same. Karen, a neighbor, had showed me where the church was, and I'd gone in to check and make sure they weren't allied with some enemy Lutheran organization, and--though they were on the extreme liberal end of the lutheran spectrum--they checked out.

This is the church, not 5 minutes from where I live.

It turned out to be Confirmation Sunday, so the place was PACKED, and in a circular space, the noise REALLY echoes, kids, teens snickering, wheelchairs groaning against the floor. The Confirmants didn't have to wear hugely embarrassing cloaks like us; they didn't wear fancy clothes at all, just jeans and tee shirts!!!

Directly in front of me sat a young couple, perhaps a bit younger than I, who were related to one of the confirmants who had picked Micah 6:8 for his verse, so he couldn't be THAT bad. These two, however, had clearly never heard "Save some room for Jesus" and they kept kanoodling IN THE CHURCH! I kept wondering if "Pssst! Make place for the Holy Spirit" would translate well, but I didn't say anything. Because it was such a big day, no one really noticed me, which was fine. The organ plugged away at modern-ish tunes that no one actually sang until the drama queen player stopped, turned around, and said "Does everyone know how it goes? Let's do it again!" so we obliged and mumbled along slightly louder. This annoyed even the lady pastor who kept rolling her eyes and dropping her shoulders like "Oh, jeez. Who let Manfred play this week?"

When church got out I went to Bergmanstrasse for a crepe, but the crepe place was closed (grrr) so I went back to the garlic joint, got a plate of salamis and cheeses (who knew there was more than one type of salami!!? Hands up...No one? Ok, me neither!) along with a simple coffee. On the way out I grabbed a Bacio (Italian hersheys' kiss...but yummy, classy, and not herseys, and with a fortune inside in like 6 langauges) and walked slowly back to my place where I settled some things with Kirsten before she left for Mexico (YAY!).

Today I'm just hanging out. Was quite productive in the AM hours, but now the temperature is cool and kind of windy, all the offices are backed up or closed because of the strike, and I just kind of want to sit back in my room with a coffee and listen to music.

some good news

So to live in Germany, I first have to register with the police, then the Citizen's Office, and lastly with the Foreigners Office, and I had planned for today to be the day when I--you know--do all that. I have a ton of forms with official stamps on them, lots of numbers I can fill in blanks with. So I call them up to make an appointment at the Police Office, and we have the following conversation:

Me: Hello, I was wondering if I could make an appointment for an "Aufenthaltserlaubnis" (residency permit)
Lady: Not today.



Harpy: Today the Officers are striking

Me: oh, so I can't even make an appointment today like for another day?

Harpy: Exactly. Goodbye.

What the heck, guys?!?! I was told at my school that Beampte (public servants) aren't ALLOWED to strike, and WHY are they striking today and I come from America where WE have something to strike about.

<-- This ain't happenin today, volks!

there are two sides to every coin

and today I decided to use this break and do everything BUT register. I opened a bank account , deposited my leftover moneys for safety, and now the Department of State can start giving me moneys.

Double plus: I have a whole afternoon to write letters and a blog post about Sunday, so hang in there everyone and you should be hearing more shortly. Don't go on strike when I'm away!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I am Beginning to Love This Town

So roomie and I took out our bikes today. I insisted on wearing a helmut, but I'm glad I did because people here ride their bikes quite aggressively. We found this great place, Bergmanstrasse in Kreuzberg, not 5 minutes from here, just down a hill. It is so cool, I don't know how they let me in there! I mean, everywhere is a wifi signal and a coffee shop full of the same crowd you'd see in Belmont but perhaps a bit scruffier. Finally, a place I can wrap my head around and love...and get a cheap coffee!

This street reminds me of Copenhagen, but it's just a side street. Wanted to give my fair readers a feel of the place. I live 2 blocks behind (but Germans/Europeans don't have blocks, so...whatever you call that distance)

This is what Bergmanstrasse looks like, lots of hip shops. I had breakfast at the big yellow place today with roomie; it's a store devoted solely to garlic and stuff like hummus and pasta...with garlic in it. They serve a mean Turkish coffee though, and you can get a breakfast, coffee, and two pieces of chocolate (one for you, one for your friend) for under 5 Euros.

Has anyone seen Ghost World? Does this look familiar? If not, then it's just weird, and it probably is too if you have seen it.

OMG! They drive Hybrid cars here too! And what a hybrid it is!

It looks like an octopus wrapped itself around the building or something. Check out the green tentacle with the pearl-looking thingy on the end. I don't know why or what it is, but I enjoy it quite a lot.

Yes...let us rock...let us rock the hizz-ouse with our Engrish.

Yeah...weirder still...

Nerd Camp

7 September 2008
Dave had been in Augsburg, the very Lutheran penultimate step of what had been two months of what, a century ago, would've been labeled The Grand Tour. He'd been through the fire when his things were stolen-- all but his passport. I one-upped him yet again! It was so nice to see him again, hear familiar names, converse casually like we weren't on the cusp of the next big thing; it was also the first time we'd hung out in Europe together, so double plus! After dropping things off at the Hostel Fortress of Solitude we booked it to the Italian place in the East Mitte area, not too far from the Thai joint, and carbed the heck up. At the next table sat a trio of blondes and a dead ringer for the head vampire in Frostbiten, so we debated whether they were Swedish or not, loudly enough that they switched to French (haha, didn't fool me!). On our way out I asked, and they were from Stockholm, and how the hell did I know Riga?! We talked over dinner, falling into our same repoir of inappropriate snarkiness, and it was good all around.

We had a plan afterwards to catch a movie at the SONY CENTER, an amazing wonder of colors and sky and glass:

so we got tickets to The Dark Knight, leaving some time to sit around in the courtyard though little was actually open.

The theater was very posh, high-backed soft chairs and the like with a giant screen. Die ot the emptiness, we elected--no, I elected--to sit in one of the seats we weren't assigned to. This was a bit of a gamble because Germans fuss at people who sit in their places; nearly every one of my friends have gotten grumped at in an empty theater for this transgression. The movie was great...dark...but great. AND in English, which was nice. It was PG-13 but managed to be very twisted, so I'm wondering about the next film to come. We emerged at 2AM, and at 2 on a Sunday, you have no choice but a cab home, even if you don't want one. Luckily I was close, and his hostel wasn't too far, so I got back in decent shape, and Dave survived to catch his flight 48 hours later to the States.

8 September 2008
Thanks to Berlin transit I could get a few hours of sleep (yay) before packing off. Utterly nothing of note about my trip, truly. I read Bonfire of the Vanities next to a napping businessman. That's it. The nice bit, however, was being in Cologne too early, so I had time to lock up my luggage and poke around the city. I first bought a small shampoo (I couldn't go through security with my big one) and then wandered quite a ways to the north, to very fabulous jay-borhood, where a little German teapot poured me some German tea. This cafe is familiar to my friends, who've accompanied me there before [in this square]:

After some time there I felt like a nosh, so I walked back by the WDR building

where Sendung mit der Maus is broadcast to German child-couch-kartoffeln, to a cafe near the Dom, a big ole church

where I had a mango parfait that somehow still only managed one scoop of ice cream

for 2 euros. Then it was off to the train station where 130 Americans, 30 Brits, and 2 Canadians with overfilled bags (this was their first stop in Germany clearly) blocked hundreds of Germans' ways where they milled, rosy-cheeked, polite, nervous. Kyle appeared at last, our American camp counselor, sachetted through the multitude, yelling "GO OUTSIDE FOR THE BUSES!" which we did en masse. We then loaded up, but there was a problem: the third bus was 30 minutes late, so a bus chock-a-block full of Fulbrighters and British teaching programmers fried in their seats for a full 15 minutes before we got he nerve to WAIT OUTSIDE! We got going though, and eventually reached Altenberg, an ex-monastery, still retaining the church

amongst fields of pretty cows. We were greeted with a speech and then the parsing out of rooms and then another speech, dinner (camp food: prepared for mass numbers, tasting like very little actually), and then some get to know you time with the captains of our state. There were 30 of us in Berlin, mostly English and every single time we said where we were going, the inquirers from other states would say just this: aw, you're lucky! That was my first choice! How I got here, I don't know.

9 September 2008
The pleasant part of us having to be up by 8 was the food-- full German breakfast! We ate with the alums (2 Kiwis, a Londoner, Kyle, and an American girl, and a Scott named Callum) while the tutors (teachers from each state who'd been together at this camp for years) ate apart. The coffee buoyed us through our state meeting and into the body of the day: learning how to teach--A Crash Course.

The biggest part of this camp was making a whole lesson plan as a group of three (something we learned shouldn't happen if the teachers we're with follow their rules) and give the lesson the next day. My group was very chill, and we had our plan ready in an hour, sitting outside in the warm sun

The alums soon joined us because they were just as bored, and we got a lesson in swearing ala Britain from Callum. After an equally noteless dinner we had a Q&A session with the alums in which everyone was mad. The Brits were mad because we kept asking Fulbright questions, the alums because they were redundant, unanswerable questions, and the Americans from the West Coast who sniped "You're being disrespectful" to the alumni. We were all glad when it was done, and we could get a beer, served in the church courtyard because the gates closed and LOCKED at 9:30PM. I sat with a jolly group of Brits, here as a part of a language study. I loved hearing them talk, their accents slipping into THICK and impenetrable slang. The same language my arse!

10 September 2008
I was decidedly in need of coffee when the church bells woke up me and my roomies. Luckily for me, after breakfast I had 45 minutes of one lesson plan to zone out. We were supposed to be German ids, but only a few even aped the accent. I, for one, doodled...a lot.

Then came my group, which I'd say went well. My philosophy is to tell the students "Hey, you take the tests, not me," and it seemed to draw praise from a few of my peers who were at one point real teachers. Then another lesson, lunch, and some outside time

and a boring but useful speech on our insurance, during the Q&A for which, several smarties revealed embarrassing medical/psychological conditions in excruciatingly-detailed "what if" questions. Then came another two lesson plans and a post-mortem on the whole thing. At dinner an admin found me and put me at ease, telling me to see the Fulbright office in Berlin (the only one in German not 5 steps away from my place!) if I needed more than what they were advancing me. All that remains now is LOTS of stamping and registering for things. Like any good summer camp we ended it all with a talent show that kicked off with a singalong to "Hallelujah" followed by a coordinated dance by the counselors/alums involving the kind of groin thrusting and dancey enthusiasm only the girls and Kyle were capable of. A guy from Moorehouse (a PMA!) came next with a beautiful aria filling the whole room and then 3 chord guitar noodlings, a stand up comedienne, and me. What was my talent? I remembered a children's TV show song from the 90s, so obscure only 5 people there knew it existed. In introducing my act, I made some subtle jokes (checking the acoustics like the singer, calling people who said "football" heathens), and because they came after a comedy act I got real laughter. The song was the real high point though, eliciting hoots and clapping. The last act were all the tutors (over 35) trying to rock/rap along with a song about Germany. CUTE! Over that nights' booze I networked with the Berlin people and ended up in a clump with an Okie girl and a Baylor alum talking. They were both really cool ladies, but all conversation petered out about an hour after the beer did.

11 September 2008
The Brits were gone by the time we had breakfast because it was Fulbright Day and we had the Berlin Fulbright rep, Rohr, coming in to answer all our questions and give us all a purpose.

His speech was very technical but also needed and informative. I didn't know they could help us as much as they can/do. The 20 of us in the "Diversity Initiative" program had to stay after for coffee and to figure out what we're doing. During this break, PMA found me to say he appreciated my humor and we were surprised to be in sister-brother institutions. He's awesome and talented, and having things in common only made it cooler. The first thing we noticed with DI was...we were the diverse ones. If you were moderately ethnic or knew how not to anger a room full of ethnic people, you were there. This made us warey. Would we be pygmies in a sideshow? No. It would seem we were put in schools with decent non-German numbers to be ourselves...because us being non-Germans too and largely sweet would be enough. Somehow that took two hours to figure out though then lunch and our trip back to Cologne. On the way, someone had to call their sponsor for a ride, identifying themselves approximately thusly "Well, I'm tall, I'll be wearing a hat, I'm black" causing giggles. Cologne was warm and sweaty, rather unpleasant, so I was pretty happy to pack myself up on a TUI flight and get away from summer camp with a few new and friendly contacts. Rohr said it best:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Cavalry Arrives! And has wicked accents!

My friends are ridiculously cool.

I'm not kidding. I spent all of yesterday trying to figure out how to work the trains. There was much crying and gnashing of teeth, but then we finally decided to abandon Deutsche Bahn and just fly to Cologne. I'm leaving tomorrow and won't be back until the 11th, so don't flip out anyone if I'm not on for a while. This really sucked though, the whole process of trying to figure out what's going on, so I was wiped out when A and I were supposed to go out.

A word: A is not a fan of her name being plastered online, so I'll just use a letter for her. Anywho, she and her boyfriend, R, picked me up at the train station--no joke-- "Spittelmarkt," but nothing was up there, so we went into a really nifty part of town whose name sort of escapes me at the moment, but it's on the east side.

We first went into Pasternack, a kosher place, but it was full of older types, and most of them were tourists. Plus, it's a little up market (who charges 11 Euros for LATKAS?!!?), and we're kind of...not that type, so we went on to a hip little Thai place where it seemed the waiters had has a long day and were just as ready as us to go home. Joy of joys, though, I got to drink a mango lassi! They were both so unimaginably sweet to me, to the point that they'd gotten me the hook up with a cell phone (handy)! Like, who does that?!? Additional WOW moment: R speaks english. He's a German, and I always thought he just spoke German with his English girlfriend (she speaks every language known to man--even SWEDISH!!!), but he spoke well and with a nifty little accent. When he said "caaan't" it sort of reminded me of every time Heidi Klum on Project Runway says "coooool", which I think 2 of my readers might know. It was so nice to see the familiar face of A. We had met in Tuebingen two years ago (is that right? Was it that long? 2006), and she was always thoroughly cool, and R, her beau, lives and works in Berlin.

After dinner we went to a quieter bar in the POURING RAIN, where we watched a guy enthusiastically playing guitar while another equally enthused, properly fuzzy student-type kissed his girlfriend. I couldn't say how long we stayed, just that we got to R's apartment around 1:30ish. He was sick, had something like Ebola of the Throat, so he crashed while we chatted over tea and chocolate till 3AM. It felt like one of those sleepovers you have in junior high where you just stay up talking about boys and stuff, but we talked about women's rights and her world travels...ok, so not like in junior high. Then I crashed on their couch, wearing a night gown which she'd provided, proving the theory that vikings are, in fact, excellent hosts!

This was my 11am wakeup, which was divine. Imagine--Chocolate in the morning! Then she let me have a bath in the tub there...a real bath! I don't always take baths, but this one was so wonderful, really. It's regenerating, and I put bath oil in it, and I just lay there, soaking, listening to arabic music echoing through the high ceilinged apartment, relaxing. It was soooooooooo nice. So I emerged feeling 100% better than the day before, and, breakfast and 2 cups of coffee later, I was perky and ready to tackle anything. This is the greatest part of Germany though:

Nothing is opened on Sunday, so you won't be tackling anything, so you have all this energy and nothing to do with it but have fun or relax or just chill.

I stayed with them till like 2, and then I had to go home to pack and stuff for another flight out. Tonight Dave is coming into town, and I am looking most forward to seeing another friend.

Why I am still lucky: My friends are nice, attractive, and so smart they can fry people with their powers (just try em!)

R's neighborhood

5 semi-random things to know about A that I might have already told you:
She is...
1. super-smart
2. soon-to-be-published children's book author
3. model-pretty
4. a speaker of Arabic, Swedish, English and German
5. English...northern English...I don't remember the town name

Friday, September 5, 2008

adventures in paperwork

To to get to the American Consul, you walk a while, until you start to wonder where the heckthe Consul General is, and then you see this...

It's fortified like a jail, or like we're still fighting the Cold War. You stand in line for a long time, and then go in (leave iPod, cell phone, everything moderately entertaining behind) and stand in another line. the first day I was there for the whole day and still couldn't get a passport. All I could see to get was a WAY to get a passport. I went home unhappy, but that kind of took a turn when I went to introduce myself to my landlady's neighbor, Karen. Karen let me into her house and sat me at the kitchen table with her 3 8 year olds and 12 year old son. They were all kind of studying english, but mostly just used curse words. They were a loud sea of boys that bred a domesticity that it can be nice to be around. She would be trying to talk to me but would interrupt herself to yell "NO YOU CANNOT PLAY WII! IT'S ONLY 5!!!" And then you'd hear little boys yelling angrily. I didn't stay long though, since I was tired and hungry and really just wanted to listen to NPR and sleep.

Today was much better. I woke up early again, left before I could eat breakfast, and dropped off the last of my papers at the consul, eliciting a response of "Come back at 2, and you can get your passport." 2??! YAY! That also meant I had a few hours to kill, and I was already in the city, so why not go and make a morning of it? The first stop was in the Zoo, where I went to a bakery with which I had remembered I'd at one time had a good track record. The counters were swarming with yellowjackets, but that didn't really deter anyone, largely because they had dishes that looked like this:

i got a turnover of some kind and a cup of coffee and settled down outside the Aquarium to munch slowly.

The granulated sugar crunched so well, and the coffee had had some time to cool down just a tad. The cheese in the turnover was sweet but with some lemon and a consistency of risoto, which doesn't sound good, but I was a fan

Then I wandered around Berlin for a good while. I mostly hit the tourist sports, but I did go to Hackischer Markt (that's not the right spelling, but whatever...I'm jetlagged!)

This is pretty typical of what I saw, lots of familiar places, which I wandered through while listening to music, which suited me just fine. When I got done with that, I still had some time, so I went "Hoff Hopping," where you go from one courtyard to the next, discovering cool new things. My favorite discovery would have to be this place:

Full disclosure: It's not a new one, I had been looking for it a bit, because Raysh and I had been once.

The cool Kafe Kula isn't there anymore, but they do have a MAC cosmetics, and it's fun to look through their window at all the colors. I had a sandwich near SchoenhaeuserAllee and then went off to the consul...

Where I waited some more...2 hours more to be exact, but the very competant and alarmingly sweet consul himself (imagine the GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ with a crew cut) delivered my new emergency passport from the United States of America himself. I'm a person at last.