Twenty One Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Germany

1) The Germans watch television in German. Obviously. The amusing part is that they watch American shows (the favorites are “Two and a Half Men” and “How I Met Your Mother”) that are dubbed. And for some reason, they always hire the same two or three people (OK, a few more than that…) to do the dubbing. So rather than hearing Charlie Sheen, it’s the same voice as Brad Pitt in some other movie.

2) When participating in gym class, it is important to know more about the sport than how to play. This became clear to me in October or so when I had to take a written test on soccer. The rules. The size of the field, goals, diameter of the middle circle, names of all the different lines (in German). When the German Soccer League was founded. Who the president of the League is, and how long he has been president. You get the point. Essentially, things that I don’t know the answer to. Let’s just say it’s a good thing my grades during my time at school didn’t count. I got 24 of 51 points. With cheating.

3) German trains do not live up to their super-duper on time reputation. I would say approximately half the time my train comes late. Given, it’s only by about five minutes most of the time, but still.

4) If you’re going to play the song “Hangover” incessantly on the radio, it would be good to know what it means. Please.

5) According to a certain percentage of Germans, the United States is warm. “Have you seen snow before?” “Yes, I live in Colorado, we have mountains.” “Oh, but I thought it was warm in the US!” “That’s Florida.” I don’t blame them for not knowing we don’t have snow in Colorado. But the WHOLE United States? Come on, guys.

6) I think the tradition of a 4pm cake and coffee is a good one.

7) Living in the US, I was aware of the fact that my knowledge about American pop culture (movies, music, actors, who’s married to who) was less than adequate. Is it normal that the Germans also know more than me?

8) In my defense (to number 7), the Germans watch different shows and know different American music from Americans. I think, at least. I don’t get the feeling that “Two and Half Men” is a big thing in my homeland.

9) Your eighteenth birthday in Germany is a big deal. In the US, turning eighteen means “cigarettes, voting, and porn” (otherwise known as sex, drugs, and rock and roll). In Germany, it means that as well. But it also means, for the most part, that you are completely independent from your parents. You’re an adult now. Do what you want. None of this “as long as you live under my roof you’ll live by my rules” nonsense. I don’t know if I like that or not.

10) I was watching the Super Bowl a couple days (nights) ago. I laughed when the commentators explained what the electronic yellow line on the field means. It made me feel educated despite my lack of knowledge of American culture.

11) Speaking of the Super Bowl…I think commercial spots here cost less than 4 million per thirty seconds. I saw the same ones over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

12) Germans drink out of bottles. Drinking water out of the sink just doesn’t happen. I don’t know why. I have to remind myself to drink water, because when it’s bottled, for me that means it might as well be soda. Also, water with bubbles is lovely. I don’t know why Americans don’t like it.

13) I’ve gained weight since I’ve been in Germany. About twenty pounds, to be exact. When I tell Germans this, they laugh and say that doesn’t make sense because Germans are less fat than Americans. However, I read somewhere that the percentage of fat Americans is something like 65.7%. Percentage of fat Germans? 65.5%. Better watch out, Germany.

14) In Germany’s fatness defense, they have REALLY good bread. Even the French think it’s better than french bread.

15) One of the songs I play(ed) in my oompapa German band has lyrics. They go more or less like this: Franz went to the beer tent/ Because he likes to drink so much/ The beer was nice and cold/ a few more lines that I don’t remember exactly what they say…/ When he arrived in the morning, Franz was doing well/ But in the evening he lay under the table. Yup, that’s German beer culture for you.

16) In movie theaters, you get reserved seats (they all cost the same though). And the popcorn is usually sweet.

17) In tenth grade, my math teacher, Mr. Saracino, taught me SED (Saracino’s Enlargement of Dot Theory). It goes something like “If you are drawing a graph and the line doesnt go through the dot like it’s supposed to, make the dot bigger”. I used this theory on a math test earlier this year. It didn’t work. I guess that’s an American theory.

18) Why would the school’s English teacher think it’s a good idea to read the original version of Macbeth with the twelfth graders? Even I don’t understand Shakespeare without thinking about it. And I thought the point of learning English was to be able to use it. As far as I can tell, no one talks like Shakespeare’s characters any more. Probably never did, it’s too poetic. All I can say is that my classmates are lucky the internet and things like SparkNotes’ “No Fear Shakespeare” exist.

19) Whoever made up German and English was incredibly mean with the verbs “to become” and ‘bekommen’. Bekommen means “to get”. And in German, ‘to become’ is ‘werden’. One of the girls I tutor in English can attest to the incredible meanness of this fact.

20) Germans are good at making windows. Why Americans haven’t caught on to the ‘closed’, ’tilted open’ or ‘all the way open’ style of windows, I will never know.

21) So far, I’m the only one I know here who likes Dr. Pepper. And lemonade doesn’t exist here. And root beer is NOT alcoholic.

That’s it for the moment.

Oh, and since when are Tupperware parties a thing? I thought that was like…1950s America. There’s more Tupperware here than I’ve ever seen.

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Transitions

This is not the Christmas post. That one will come in the next couple of days.

This is the “I’m moving into a completely different phase of my life in Germany” post, For more reasons than one.

First off, I have now been here for six months. Six. Half a year. And it feels like I just got here. I’m halfway through my exchange already. It’s a really wierd feeling to have been here for that long already, because I’m just starting to get settled. I know I’ve said that before. But I’m past the point of just “having friends” now. I’m to the point that I have some really good friends. And it’s sad that I’m leaving again in six months, so soon after I met them.

Secondly, I’m moving from the school part of my time here to the internship part. (This is sort of a life-change as well, as I will never again be a student in any sort of school except college). Thursday was the last day of school before break, and as the teachers and everyone figured that people wouldn’t really be paying attention anyway, it was a day of Christmas parties and cleaning the room before break. It was wierd for me, because it was also my last day. I think that it’s difficult to know what it will feel like to leave until you actually leave. And it’s sad, in this case. I had a really good time at school. I don’t remember if I mentioned this in one of my early posts or not, but the other kids were way more welcoming than I had expected and that’s not something that’s easy to leave. My German is a lot better than it was in August, (thanks to, among others, Mr. Paul Weiss who has a special talent for improving my accent), and I can truthfully say that the entire time I was at school I felt comfortable, and not like people were annoyed that the American was there or like I was just an foreign oddity. And now I’m leaving that. Leaving that comfort zone.

To go where? I haven’t written about my internship in…a long time, partly because it was still unclear what exactly I would be doing. But, the plan at this point is to work three days a week in a place that is right across the street from the school I as going to.It is a mix of a nursing home and a place for disabled people, some of whom live there and some who do not. There are also workshops in the back where the disabled people build and repair things-baskets, tables, etc, etc. I’m going to have a couple days to do different things before I decide exactly what I want to do and in which section I will work. I’m really looking forward to it, in any case. The other two days a week I will be here in Bad Kleinen working at the school, like I had originally planned to do five days a week. That will be a mix of tasks as well, and my exact schedule has yet to be determined as well.

As it’s Christmas, I think I’ll leave off here and go do Christmasy things. I hope Santa brings everyone joy and presents this evening.

HOHOHO!

Katherine

Die Frage Nach Gott

Literally translated, “The Question of God”. Does He exist? If so, then in what form? Is He good, loving, and kind, like the Bible says? What about all-powerful? You could write a book about it. Or teach a class about it.
And, (suprise!) the subject matter for my religion class this semester was exactly that. Die Frage Nach Gott. When I first arrived here, I was a little skeptical about the fact that German schools even have religion class in school. What about separation of church and state (which all Germans claim to have, although I’m not so sure if I believe them)? Doesn’t having religion class mean forcing religion on the children? But being the curious person I am, I chose religion over philosophy (the people who don’t take religion take philosophy instead) to see what it was like. And what I found was not religion being forced upon the children, but an entire semester devoted to Die Frage Nach Gott. Given, this particular teacher is not the most…timely or organized or strenuous teacher I have ever had. He’s actually probably the least timely teacher I’ve ever had. Nonetheless, I got something out of it.
Class was run (when it was run) as a discussion. Every once in a while I would contribute, but most of the time I would sit there and enjoy listening to everyone else. This is a country that is fairly lacking in racial and religious diversity. Everyone that attends my school is white. Other than fellow exchanger Andrew, I don’t think I’ve really seen anyone who is not white. And Protestant (if they are religious at all) There are a few Catholics, but they are definitely in the minority. In any case, the white sometimes-Protestants in my class are not so sure themselves about God’s existence. That’s not particularly interesting by itself, I think it’s fairly normal. But what I thought was interesting was that Germany is devoting time IN SCHOOL to talk about it. To encourage kids to look at God from an intellectual point of view, rather than from the Bible’s point of view. To encourage them to ask questions, and to notice that not everything in the Bible is perfect. It was almost like two hours of time to reflect in a somewhat guided-discussion. Everyone had the right to their own opinion, no one tried to change anyone’s mind, but everyone participated.

That’s the first half of this post.

The second half is a little more personal. This whole “Frage nach Gott” idea got me thinking. I’ve never been particularly religious. I wasn’t raised to be against God. I was never told whether to believe in Him. I’ve been to church, but not for an extremely long time. I’m baptized, but it wasn’t a main event in my life.
But then I arrived here. I think religion class started the whole thought process, but I’m not sure, it might just be the fact that I’m in Germany by myself and therefore have time to sort things out on my own. I was standing in front of a bonfire a month or two ago and I realized that I do, in fact believe in God. Or a God of some sort at least. I find it hard to believe that I applied to seven colleges and got rejected or wait listed at every single one of them (one did let me in in the end), and then applied to come here on this scholarship and got in without trouble. This is what I’ve wanted to do for…a long time. And suddenly, something (I’ve chosen to call it God, some might call it fate), made sure it happened. And not only made sure it was an option, but made sure it was the ONLY option. Sometimes I start to despair. I’m sure my readers all know the feeling-whether it was just a bad day or school isn’t going well or family drama is seemingly unending, despair happens. And when you’re in it, it can seem like it will never end. In these situations, I tend to think to myself “what is the absolute worst thing that could come of this”? Then I answer. “I don’t know, but it definitely will not result in my death”. How beautiful is that? To know that no matter how bad things get, I still get the chance to keep on living, and to somehow or another make it right? That means that (to a point at least) I can’t really make mistakes (by the way no one should take this as a license to go do something really stupid like commit a crime), because I will always have the chance to make it better.
The problem of course in this theory is the starving people and the poverty stricken people and the people for whom the answer to the “what’s the worst thing that could happen” question really is death. Maybe it’s just a personal God. A guardian angel of sorts. But I believe there’s something out there, bigger than myself. And it’s quite relaxing.

Furthermore, when people ask me if I believe in God, I now have an answer. That has happened twice in the past week, by the way. Interesting anecdotally, but I’m not sure what other commentary I have about it.

Despite the lack of organization in religion class, I’m glad I was here for the Frage Nach Gott semester. Let the children make up their own minds, for goodness sake. It’s a free country, after all.

The world be large

I think it’s sort of a given that it takes a while to get to know your surroundings when you’re new in a place, no matter where that place is. Three months have officially gone by since I arrived here in Bad Kleinen, and I’m finally starting to feel like I know the way the system works well enough that I can get by.
That’s why I decided to stay in school until Christmas instead of starting my internship right away. I’m at the point where I know how the school works, I know the teachers, and I am getting to know more of the kids now, too. It’s at the point where I’m comfortable there, and leaving right now seems stupid because I just recently figured everything out. In addition, the teachers are for the most part healthy again, which means that class is taking place and I’m not just sitting around the whole day.
On the topic of my internship, suddenly the whole world seems to be opening up to me. A couple weeks ago I had an interview at an English school which went well, although the woman who runs the school does not have nearly enough to keep me occupied as much as I need to be occupied. Then last week I went to the normal Realschule (one level under Gymnasium) and had an interview/conversation with the social worker there who also runs the youth club here in town. Since I’m nowhere near qualified to be a social worker, that part of it is out for me, but she has a lot of other jobs as well (including baking once or twice a week, selling the food she makes…) and also said there would be opportunities for me to teach/tutor in English and French once or twice a week. A third opportunity has presented itself through my choir, where there is a woman who is also a teacher and who could also use help. The details on that aren’t as clear right now, but that is another possibility. It seems like there are other things on the verge of opening up as well, but I can’t say exactly what, so I won’t mention any of them right now.
All in all, I’d say my life is pretty good. It’s definitely a learning experience to figure out how the internship-getting process works and who to talk to, but it’s interesting as well. I feel like I’m figuring out how to navigate in the grown up world, and that’s a good feeling. Part of that comes from the fact that starting at age 18, you are considered to be an adult here. That means no parent signatures needed at school…you have complete control over your life and are expected to be able to handle it. It’s a little weird because I’m not used to that, but it’s good for me and I’d say I’m doing a pretty good job of handling it.

Two blog posts in two days. Score.

🙂

An Ode to Cherry Creek High School

OK. So maybe it’s a little bit cliche (and nerdy…) to write an ode to a school. But then again, maybe not. Since I’ve arrived here in Germany, I’ve realized what a good education Creek gave me and have been grateful or thankful or just happy that I got the chance to go to such a good school.

It’s hard to know what the definition of a ‘good education’ is without experiencing both good education and bad education. I wouldn’t say that the education at the high school I’m at here is BAD, but it’s not as good as at home either.

Let me make a comparison. English class in the United States (take your pick which year). First day of class, the routine is to walk in, talk about the summer reading book and either write and essay about it that day as a ‘welcome back from summer gift’ or select a date no longer than four days in the future to write an essay. Per semester one reads between three and five books, and writes essays on those as well. And probably tests of some sort too. And probably other essays that aren’t about the books. Oh, and the books are probably looooong. Now Germany. First two weeks of school, the German teacher is in the US on an exchange sort of thing (this isn’t particularly uncommon, and I hold nothing against anyone for contributing to exchange programs, I was just surprised it was the first two weeks of school). While she was gone, she assigned everyone a book to read (that must have happened at the end of last year), and we discussed it in class when she got back. However, since the beginning of the year, there has been exactly one essay, and we have read exactly one book (the one that was assigned at the beginning of the year), a few poems, and have started one other book. Way more relaxed than I’m used to. I’m not saying the kids don’t learn. They do. Just in a less panicky way.

And class is LOUD. It’s normal for people in the back of the room (or the front…) to be talking to each other, to get off topic, and not really pay much attention to what’s going on. And a lot of people don’t do their homework. And,

As I said before, I don’t get the feeling that the kids aren’t learning anything. It’s not a bad education. It’s just not as good as the one I got. And I think a lot of that is because of the teachers, as well. When the teachers are gone, there’s no substitute (the teachers are gone a lot lately…enough that on Monday I don’t have school because ALL of them are gone). When the teachers are finished teaching, they leave the room, even if it’s ten minutes before the end of class. It’s a bit of culture shock for me, because I have never had a teacher that says ‘OK, well, I have a meeting now, I’m going to leave’.

So, Creek. Good job. My four years there weren’t spent just hanging out doing nothing, it turns out. I actually learned a thing or two (or possible even more). I feel well educated, and that’s more important than I thought.

Settling Down

The gerundial form of the verb ‘settle’ is intentional. I’ve officially been here in Bad Kleinen for three weeks now and I’m starting to feel more like it’s home than at the beginning. I’m starting to get a routine and the system (or systems, as there are many things that are different here) is starting to be less of a system to figure out and more of a system to accept, embrace and live by. But I’m not all the way there yet, there is still a lot of new and a lot that I’m not used to.

On the topic of school, I’m starting to understand a lot more than I was at the beginning which is good and bad. Good because it means that I’m not going to have to carry around my bulky German-English dictionary forever. Bad because it means that I’m starting to realize how much I still don’t understand in day to day happenings (joke-wise etc.) I know it’ll come, but I wish I knew it already. On the other hand, it’s definitely a good feeling when I realize how much more I am understanding and able to talk now than a few weeks ago. Class here is sort of funny for me coming from Cherry Creek High School because it’s a lot more relaxed. I hardly have any homework at all, and class is from 7.40am until either 1 or 3pm depending on the day. And no substitutes, so class is just cancelled if a teacher is gone, which happens more often than one would think.

Since I haven’t posted in so long, I guess I should go back a couple weeks. I went to Hannover two weekends ago to 1) shop, and 2) visit the VW factory. It’s about a three hour drive from where I am, but it was definitely worth it. Shopping is shopping…not much to say about that. But the VW factory was really cool to see. It’s about a kilometer long, and since it was an open house sort of day, we could see where all the parts are made and then how the cars are put together, all of them with different options etc. Jan, who is my host brother who lives in Hannover, works at the factory, so he was able to show us around and actually knew what we were looking at. Apparently the factory in Hannover is the small one. Amazing to think about, because it’s giant.

This past weekend I was invited to (and attended, of course) a birthday party for one of my classmates. The actual details of the party are not particularly interesting (except for the German songs sung around a campfire), but I was glad to be invited because it means I’m starting to meet people and that is a good feeling.

This week is the twentieth birthday celebration for my school. That means that there is no class (except on Friday I think, but I only have French and Music on Friday so it doesn’t count…) and instead we are doing fun stuff. Today was a sort of field day in the gym. They set up a bunch of different stations and then there was a competition between the classes and somehow points were added up and winners designated, although I didn’t totally understand the point system. As much as I would like to say my class won, we didn’t. The only thing that we won between my class and the other twelfth grade class was hanging from a bar for the longest (thanks to me, but I don’t like to brag…). Other activities included holding weights for the longest in overhead arm-clap position (for those of you who know what that is), tug o war, throwing things at cones until they fall down, a relay, balancing acts of some sort, balancing poles on two fingers. There may be more but I don’t remember at the moment.

Tomorrow the Jubilaumswoche will continue. Each class has chosen a country and is making some sort of representative something or other. My class has Greece, and we are making togas, painting a flag on the wall, and…I’m not sure what all. The other 12th grade class has Italy so they are cooking.

For the moment I think that’s all. I’ll try to be better at posting… 🙂

Katherine

A Weekend of New

Well. I am certainly no longer in Munich. My new town is called Bad Kleinen, and it’s on the Baltic Sea (or about 20 minutes from it in a car). The whole town has the same number of people in it as Cherry Creek High School, but so far I really like it.

I arrived on Saturday, which happened to be my birthday. The train ride consisted mostly of me sleeping due to the necessary pre-departure from Munich partying until 6am. I had no trouble finding my family due to the very large number of suitcases I was carrying, and we went directly home. Home is really lovely. My bedroom is bigger than the one I have in the US and the bed is VERY comfortable (although that might just be because I’ve been really tired the past couple days…)The house is right next to the forest which means there’s bad internet connection but deer come into the yard randomly. Good and bad. There are three cats which I’m happy about and some guinea pigs and a hare too. 🙂

Once I had settled in a little, I was tricked into thinking we were going out to dinner, but when we arrived at the dinner place there was a big sheet that said Happy Birthday and Welcome. So there was a party of sorts for me. There’s another girl going to the US for 10 months with YFU on September 8th so it was a co hello goodbye party for us. Lots of names but everyone was really nice and I had a really good time.

Sunday morning is pancake morning. This is a tradition I think I’ll be able to get used to. Since not much is open in the way of shops, Sunday is a long breakfast day and then a rest day. I think that’s good for my style of life. This weekend was a little different because in Wismar (the city nearest me), there was a Schwedenfest going on to celebrate (or at least recognize) the fact that the Swedes used to live here. That was a few hours of the afternoon and then back home to eat and unpack and go back to bed.

Today was my first day of school. Everyone was nicer to me than I was expecting, which is good because I wasn’t expecting them to be mean. People came with me to find the principal or dean person so I could figure out what my schedule looks like and they weren’t clicky which was really good. Today started with English class where we read an exceprt from Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, which I thought was an interesting assignment. The German teacher is in the US right now so that was two hours break where I could talk to people. Then came four hours of science. Two biology and two chemistry. Oh my goodness. I’ve never done biology in my life as it is, so today was a little…difficult. Partly because it’s in German and partly because I don’t know what a membrane is. Chemistry was a little better, but my fatigue level at the moment is quite high. Tomorrow I will be brining a dictionary with me. Random other thought that belongs in this paragraph-I’m going to Gymnasium until Christmas, so I’ll have time to get to know some people.

Perhaps a little about my family. I don’t know how the whole selection process for this Congress Bundestag Vocational Program thing works, but this family is great for me. The two oldest brothers have moved out already, but I met both of them this weekend and both seem really nice. Madita is my host sister. She’s 14 and in 9th grade. We get along really well so far. She goes to the same school as me so she showed me around today and helped me with the bus etc which was wonderful because it’s always difficult at first. Meike is my host mom. She works in a store of some sort (where I’m currently using the internet) that sells yarn and also seems to serve as a post office of sorts. It’s a good place to be if you’re me. I think I’ll probably end up helping out here after school sometimes. Robert is my dad, and I really like him as well. I’m still working on figuring out exactly what his job is but it has something to do with weapon disposal. He’s very friendly and just a nice guy. I think what I like best about my situation at the moment is that it’s fairly low stress. I’m here, but I feel like I just fit in without really needing to try. It’s really lovely. And, in case you were wondering, everyone is REALLY tall. I feel incredibly short. But that’s just if you were wondering 🙂

All in all, I’m happy. Good luck to everyone who’s just starting college! Have a good time 🙂