Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nerds on the Spree

One week ago today I was registering for the now infamous Fulbright conference of awesome.

It was a little bit of a complicated thing, see I took off work for a week to take part, but since I live in the city in which it was taking place, I was also determined to fit in at least some social appointments. This involved on the first night quite a bit of doing, since I was shucking an NU hoodie I'd worn to see D. and S. and their son at the Weissensee:

It's actually pretty nice for a city

to a more formal cardigan and better makeup en route to the opening mixer. It worked pretty well, and it turned out that even if I had shown up in a hoodie and jeans I wouldn't have stuck out much since the first two days involved 600 PARTICIPANTS (Germans, Americans, and grantees from all over Europe). It was a madhouse. On the other hand, it was kind of good for us.

You see: nerds don't socialize well. We don't bound up to each other with a bubbling enthusiasm and ask how the other party is doing. We have to, in some cases, be forced to socialize. This goes double for "mixed nerd" company. Say you're in a room full of political scientist nerds, everyone can have something in common and be armed with certain themes and sets of facts to make for a relatively interesting conversation. If there are biology nerds, music nerds, politics nerds, etc etc., you're in mixed nerd company, and you're sort of flying blind in terms of socializing. It, therefore, is a help to mash them in close to one another, so the thing you have in common is "so, I'm kind of in your personal space...what do you do?"
The next days were full of very impressive public figures, economists, sitting politicians, old party leaders, giving largely political speeches to rooms full of people, some of whom cared, others of whom didn't. I cared though. The theme was
Germany 2060 (that is, 20 years after the Wall, 60 years since Germany was created)
and they spoke about Reunification and Germany's future. They also talked ENDLESSLY about the Crisis. It was quite scary, especially to those of us hearing a deafening chorus of "no" from the job market, but my favorite speaker, with whom I ended up speaking quite a bit, was Klaus von Dohnanyi, the Secretary of Science and Education in the Brandt administration. His introduction (after an awful and self-aggrandizing speech from some Fulbright girl talking about how great she was [audible collective eye roll]) went something like this:
I know that right now everyone is talking about the Crisis in the economy, and I am not here to talk about that today. [sighs from the crowd] I'm here today to talk about our crisis with Russia!

Well, at least it's not Bernacke

To quote Sean, "CRAP-DANG!" I actually spoke with Dr. von Dohnanyi, and he's a really smart and pretty witty guy who could NOT say enough good things about Nixon's voice (that was a little weird). I also got the chance to talk with a high-up in the German Green Party, and there's something in the works regarding that, but I'll be cryptic on that situation until I can have something decent on the topic to say.

The next day brought some real drama in the form of a Town Hall Welcome by a woman from the Berlin version of the city council. This was a pretty banal speech about how nice Berlin is and how great the universities are. The Free University was even listed on the eight elites. You'll recall, loyal readers, that this was the same program that elicited such loud boos at the lecture I attended by Judith Butler. I wanted to ask about it, but when Q&A opened up, no one was approaching the mic. This made me pretty hesitant, until LaSean whispered in my ear that I should ask. So, ignoring the look of relief on the woman's face at the anticipation of a finger-sandwich reception, I jumped up and asked
Ma'am, you mentioned this list of elite unis in Germany, but this is a new ranking and so unpopular that the students have rebelled against it. How do you address this opposition?

Not so fast, lady!!!

Well, right away 6 other people leapt up to ask follow-ups, since they didn't even know this thing was going on and they wanted to know more. Haha.

That night was the music gala, which highlighted some amazing talent, and some puzzling:
Beethoven's Trio Opus 1 No.3
Billie- For Saxophone and boombox
Eisler's Songs to the Texts of Brecht (sung by a woman in--what else--a red dress)
Bartok's Hungarian Folk Songs by a COUNTER TENOR (that one took us by shock)
The Low Quartet- For one live and 3 pre-recorded basoons
and the premier of some guitar songs dedicated to the player (awkward speculation), an NU boy!

NU actually had a great showing there with 4 alums in the audience and two up on stage (I wanted to lead a "GO U" "N-U" chant, but that got shot down for some odd reason), and I have to say, we like everyone else in the audience benefited by the presence of wine at intermission. It was a glorious thing to see on St. Patrick's Day a room full of people dressed up POUNDING free wine while still trying to talk up the small list of "wine appropriate" topics, but whatever happened, it worked. We were WITH THEM for the second half of the concert. That's not to say that you should go to the symphony drunk, but a little wine to relax you helps you get into the classical music mode.

The next day was my speech, which I will say went pretty well. Good turn out, people listened, and we were lacking one speaker, so we both spoke for about 10 minutes and then split the room into a few working groups to help us make a protocol, which I have actually received some requests for, so I think we did some good.

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