Saturday, September 13, 2008

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:

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