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This is really long but I did try to go through it and change the German words that I used into English…

Monday, January 19, 2015

Today I learned that I need to work on German vowels and that I’m terrible at making the German R sound. I understand the concepts, and I hear the differences, but I’m struggling to replicate them. We also had the Länderabend (where the students from each country did a presentation or performance), where we performed a skit about not knowing what to do for a skit and consequently deciding to do a skit about not knowing what to do for a skit (all of this because we really didn’t know what to do for a skit). All of us were nervous about it, but I think it turned out well. The other presentations were really good too. Some groups brought food for us to try, and it was delicious! I think my favorite presentation was by the group from Australia and New Zealand. They made fun of and explained some of their mannerisms and idioms, and it was really funny and entertaining. I want to start using the expression “as cross as a frog in a sock” and see what happens.

After the Länderabend, Nate, Steve, Viktor, and I went to a restaurant and played foosball in the basement. Or, rather, they played and I contributed what little I could with my “outstanding” ability to spin the handles as if my life depended on it. In the middle of our game, two German guys came down and knocked on the foosball table, which we assumed to mean that they wanted to play when we finished our game. When we looked confused, however, they explained to us that that meant they wanted to challenge whoever won. One of them was a law student, and it was fun and interesting to talk to them about differences in law practice and in universities between the US and Germany. When we told him how much we have to pay for school, the law student said, “I feel rich!”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Today I went to a museum called Zeitgeschichtliches Forum. Although I struggled to read most of the information, I did learn a few things. For example, I didn’t know much about the history of the press in Germany and didn’t realize that the Allies initially banned all newspapers and magazines in West Germany. I also thought it was interesting that when they referred to the Allies, they said “the victorious powers” or “the victors”. That definitely makes sense, but I had just never thought much about what words Germany might use to refer to the countries that won World War Two. I wish that I could have gotten more out of this museum than I did, though. My German vocabulary wasn’t extensive enough to pick up more than a few words on most of the placards. I did use my cell phone to Google a few key words and names, but it was generally difficult and discouraging. There were a lot of interesting-looking artifacts and photos that I wish I could have learned more about. The section that they had about the Stasi was interesting; I could understand it better than some of the other parts because of the background information I already had from the Stasi Museum. Overall it seemed like a very good museum. Maybe someday when my German is better, I will have the opportunity to go back and pick up on all of the things I missed today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Today we were supposed to take a trip to the BMW plant after class, but InterDaF cancelled the excursion because PEGIDA had a massive protest planned for today. Authorities were expecting 100,000 people including counter-protesters, and we would have wound up returning to the city center in the middle of it, when it would have been difficult for us to get home and maybe not too safe. So Steve and Nate and I went to go look for costumes for the Karneval party on Monday and then go get some lunch. Nate and Steve both bought costumes, but I didn’t find anything yet. We ate lunch at a café near the old city hall and watched out the window as police vans poured into the market square in preparation for the protest. When we left and headed back toward Augustusplatz, we saw that there were police cars and armored police officers literally everywhere. None of us had ever seen so many police all in one place at one time! And naturally, the trams had already stopped running, so we just started walking. Nate lives in the dorms closer to the city center, so he got home first, and Steve and I kept walking. I thought we would have to walk all the way out to Lössnig, but luckily we caught a tram that was running some odd combination of lines 10 and 16. They must have been running trams to some of the farther areas to help people get home. When I got back to my dorm, I read some articles on the protest and watched some of the live stream when it started. Though I couldn’t read all the comments on the live stream, many of them – from both sides – were really terrible and at times immature. A lot of people were commenting, “DEUTSCHLAND ÜBER ALLES” which I’ve heard is often a frowned-upon phrase. It started making me angry, so eventually I shut it off.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Today I had my first Döner kebab ever for lunch. It was really good! I’m not sure why it took me this long to get some! After lunch I went to the train station and bought train tickets to go see my friend in Duisburg on the free weekend. At first I tried to buy them myself at the machine, but then I decided that since I’m not so familiar with trains, it might be better if I just went to the counter and asked them to do it for me. I wandered around for a minute before I realized I needed to take a number, but eventually I was successful. I also went to the musical instrument museum today. I enjoyed it a lot! There was no English at all, and I didn’t get an audio guide, but even so, I got a lot more out of it than I did out of the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum. For example, I was able to read the whole paragraph about Werner Fabricius without a dictionary! (Werner Fabricius was the organist and music director at the University Church from 1656-1679 and the organist at the St. Nicholas Church from 1658 on.) Here are some other things I noticed, learned, and thought about while I was there:

1) There were lots of instruments I had never seen or heard of before, such as a zink, a kit violin, and a contrabass saxophone. It was really cool to see these and wonder what they might sound like; I definitely plan to look for some videos online!

2) So many of the instruments were beautifully and intricately carved or painted. It’s amazing that all of that was done by hand!

3) Looking at some of the old sheet music, I noticed differences between how sheet music used to look a few hundred years ago versus how it looks today. For example, on one piece of music, the stems of the notes were always on the same side; now whether the stem is on the right or left side depends on how high or low on the staff the note is written.

4) They had on display some conventional instruments made with unconventional materials, such as a crystal flute, a red Plexiglas flute, and (what I’m pretty sure was) a porcelain violin. I can’t help but wonder what those would sound like, and if a porcelain violin would even be playable!

5) I didn’t see any metal flutes or a lot of other familiar-looking wind instruments until the section for the mid/late- 1800s. Even instruments such as the oboe and trumpet that did appear earlier in the museum looked very different from modern ones up to this point.

And then tonight all the students from InterDaF went to the Gewandhaus concert hall to hear the orchestra! They played Tchaikovsky and Mahler, and it was incredible. I was excited about this concert since before we even got here, but it totally exceeded expectations. The violin soloist was unbelievably talented. And I was glad that the concert hall was constructed in such a way that even though we were sitting behind the orchestra, we could still hear well and it still sounded great. It was also fun to be able to watch the conductor.  A lot of conductors I see when I watch videos of orchestras seem like they take themselves too seriously, but I actually enjoyed watching Riccardo Chailly conduct; his face was always expressive, and he seemed to be interacting and collaborating with the musicians as they played rather than expecting them to follow his lead all the time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Today we left for Berlin early in the morning. When we got there, our guide took us to see the Reichstag (the parliament building) and Chancellery, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Holocaust Memorial. We then spent a lot of time in what had been the Jewish area of the city, where we saw a beautiful synagogue that had not been burned during Kristallnacht because a police officer stopped the arsonists; and where we learned about Stella, a Jewish girl who cooperated with the Nazis to save her parents, but then near the end of the war, her parents got deported anyway. We saw the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon when he visited Berlin, and some of the little plaques to honor people who were deported during the Holocaust that people can sponsor and have placed on the street where the deported person lived. We also saw learned about Otto Weidt, who helped Jews, most of them blind, during the Holocaust by employing them and bribing the Nazis. When they got deported anyway, he sent them packages with food.

After we were done touring for the day, I went with John, Ryan, Steve, and Nate to a restaurant called Weihenstephan, which claims to be the world’s oldest brewery. The food was amazing, and although I didn’t try any, the beer was apparently really good too. I also managed to find a shiny purple cloak to wear as a costume for the Karneval party on Monday.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Today we met with our tour guide again, and she took us to different important points along the Berlin Wall. First, we saw the East Side Gallery. It felt very strange to stand in what used to be No Man’s Land, where not too long ago it would have been dangerous and illegal for any of us to set foot, and see businesses and graffiti. When we went to the other side, the actuall “gallery” part, there were a lot of interesting, beautiful, and meaningful paintings that real artists had been commissioned to paint. It made me sad that a lot of those paintings were graffiti-ed over. While we were there, we learned that a section of the wall that had been there had been removed because an investor wanted a clear view to the west from the O2 World arena that he was having built.

We also went to the Berlin Wall Museum and the area around it. There had been a church caught in No Man’s Land that fell into disrepair because of disuse, and it was demolished shortly before reunification, when there would have been money to repair it. Now there is a new church there, and we visited that. We also saw a memorial there that had the names of people who had died at the Wall, and photos of most of them. Many of the people were very young. I wish I could have had a little more time there. Inside the museum, they had a lot of photos and videos of when the Wall was just starting to be built. If it felt terrible to see pictures of friends and family crying on opposite sides of barbed wire, I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to actually be one of those people.

Afterwards, we went for lunch as a group, and then I went with John, Ryan, Steve, and Nate to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. They had a lot of interesting items and information, but it’s hard to know if I got to see everything because it was crowded and had a very awkward setup. It was definitely fascinating to see some of the things people used to use to try to escape the East. One of the most interesting things to me was a Swiss passport and some seal furs that a woman had used to disguise herself and pass through a border checkpoint. The story said that the woman had had to learn a lot of background information about the lady the passport actually belonged to in case they questioned her, but that she was nervous about not being able to speak any Swiss German. It also said that just 10 days after she made it through, someone else trying to use a Swiss passport to escape was caught and arrested.

Tonight as a group, we went to see a musical called Hinterm Horizont. It was based on the life of rock star Udo Lindenberg and a girl named Jessy from East Berlin who he fell in love with. It was extremely cheesy, but I thought that for what it was, it wasn’t too bad. Even though I’m sure there was some artistic license taken, it was interesting to see examples of the lengths the Stasi went to in order to bribe people and get the information they wanted, rather than just hearing about it from a tour guide in a museum. It was funny, the acting and singing was good, and the people in charge of all the effects and lights were really on top of things. Also, I was glad that they provided English translations of the lines, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had been able to understand the German being spoken. The screens showing the English were in awkward places, so if I tried to read I couldn’t watch, and if I tried to watch I couldn’t read. I’m sure I missed some things because of that. I also noticed that I would laugh before everyone else, because I had read to the end of the joke before the line had actually been spoken. Overall, I felt like it was one of those things where you should see it once to say you’ve seen it, but there’s really no need to see it a second time. The only reason I might consider watching it again would be to get another chance at understanding it in a few years when my German is better.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Today we went on a tour of the Reichstag. I really enjoyed it; our tour guide was thorough and informative, and it was interesting to compare it to the tour I took of the Capitol Building a couple years ago. Even though the building looks quite old on the outside, the inside is really modern, with a lot of glass and metal. I liked the way that they incorporated the building’s history into its modern appearance. They left the holes from drywall and from bullets in some of the walls, and they also left the graffiti that Russian soldiers wrote on the walls. In the assembly room, our tour guide pointed out which political party sits where, and said that seats are added or taken out depending on how many people from a particular party get elected. He also said that there are no assigned seats, but that the party leaders sit in the front two rows where the desks have telephones. (I was kind of surprised that the chairs were purple; it seemed like an unusual color for anything in a parliamentary assembly room.) Then our guide showed us which seating areas are reserved for journalists, visiting politicians and dignitaries, and regular visitors. After our tour of the building, we went up to the glass dome. Even though the weather wasn’t too good, I enjoyed being able to see out over Berlin. While I was up there, I also heard the Carillon being played, which was cool.

When we finished at the Reichstag, we took the S-Bahn to go see a palace in another part of the city. We didn’t have the time to go inside, but it was so pretty! We took some pictures, then went to a café, and then we had to take the S-Bahn back to the train station, get our things from the hotel, and catch our train back to Leipzig.

I enjoyed our time in Berlin, but I also felt glad and relieved to return to Leipzig this evening. Leipzig has become more or less “home” for me this month. I know where things are and how to get to them. I know where I can go to eat and what there is to do when I have free time. Berlin was also very strange for me because there has only ever been one Germany in my lifetime, so it’s very easy for me to forget that it was still divided up until just five years before I was born. Being able to stand in what used to be No Man’s Land, or put one foot on either side of where the Berlin Wall used to stand, or see differences between the two sides in something as simple as the number of trees, was a very unusual experience.