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Monday, January 26, 2015

Today I went back to the train station to reserve specific seats on my trains next weekend…

Me: I would like to… reserve a… seat??
Deutsche Bahn Lady: Ok. For the way there or back?
Me: um… *internally: Both? No. 都?No. HELP.*
DB Lady: Beide?
Me: Ja. *nods emphatically*
DB Lady: Ok. And do you want a table or a [insert unknown German words here]?
Me: *waves arms around a bit* I’m sorry……
DB Lady: *chooses for me* Ok, 9 Euros please.
Me: Thank you so much……

We also had an InterDaF Karneval party at the Moritzbastei tonight. Armed with my purple cloak and some silver glitter, I was as ready as I was ever going to be to attend a Karneval party at a student club. Although I didn’t stay for very long, I’m glad that I went for a little while. It was fun to see everyone in their costumes!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do anything of particular interest today. After class, I went straight back to my dorm, where I spent the rest of the evening because I had Skype meetings and interviews scheduled regarding a club that I’m taking over this semester and a student assistant position I’m hoping to get at the Confucius Institute.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Today we went to see a movie called Wir sind die Neuen. It was a comedy about three older people who were roommates in college, and they decide to move in together again to save money. They end up renting rooms in a house where three uptight, stressed out college students live upstairs. They start out feuding and being annoyed at each other, but by the end, they realize that they need each other. Even though I couldn’t understand very much of the dialogue, I thought the movie was funny and well-made. I hope that someday soon I will be able to watch it again and follow along better. It seemed like a great movie that I would enjoy if I could actually understand what the characters were saying.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Today was our last day in class, which was sad. I really enjoyed having Mr. A as a teacher, and I’m definitely going to miss him! We took our written final after lunch, and though I’m sure I made a couple of mistakes, I think that I did well overall. I’m pretty proud of how far my German has come in such a short time. It’s still not particularly good, but it’s so much better than when we got here.

After the test, I went straight to the train station to wait for my train to visit my friend Annie for the free weekend. I found my car and seat pretty easily, and wound up sitting across from a friendly man with whom I attempted to have a conversation. He had the score of a Frank Ticheli piece called Cajun Folk Songs out in front of him, and was listening to it and practicing conducting it, so I asked if he was a conductor. He said, “Um, yes and no,” and then proceed to explain, but I didn’t really understand most of what he said… I think it might have been something about how he was learning to be and the regular conductor wasn’t there so he was going to do it. Maybe. But when he noticed me continually checking the time and my tickets and looking around for where we were at every stop, he was very nice and showed me the pamphlet he had that listed all the stops the train was scheduled to make.

Three trains and several hours later, Annie and her host mom picked me up from the train station and drove me to their house where I met Annie’s host dad and host sister, and their dog Mona. Annie’s host mom heated up some leftovers for me, and we all sat kind of awkwardly around the kitchen table talking until I finished eating.

Friday, January 30, 2015

This morning I went with Annie to her English class. I was very surprised at the lack of control and discipline that existed in the classroom. Most of the students in Annie’s class don’t like their English teacher, and they constantly talk over him. It’s a pity because the students he called on to speak seemed to be very good at English; it’s too bad that they don’t enjoy the class. They were discussing Brave New World, which I haven’t read, but it sounds like a very interesting book that I think I may try to read now.

After class, we went home and had breakfast with the whole family, including Annie’s host grandma. German breakfast is apparently pretty extensive. There were rolls; various spreads such as Nutella, jelly, and Weinachtshonig (honey with cinnamon and vanilla!); and cold cuts such as cheese and ham. Even though I couldn’t understand most of the conversation, I enjoyed listening and getting a feel for real spoken German – the rhythm of it, what words they use a lot, and so on.

Annie and I took the train to Essen after breakfast. We saw the Essen Cathedral and the town hall, and we spent a lot of time in the Old Synagogue. Aside from being very pretty, it contained a museum about Judaism and Jewish life. One thing they had that I really liked was an installation with two giant gears that you could spin and it would line up corresponding dates between the Jewish and Gregorian calendars. Annie and I also liked the setup they had where they played music and projected videos of traditional Jewish dances onto a screen, and then they projected another video to try to teach you the dance, and then they played the first video again so you could try to dance along. We didn’t dance, though; we just enjoyed it because of the music!

We also stopped by an old coal mine called Zeche Zollverein. It used to be a large industrial site, but now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum. We didn’t have enough time to actually go into the museum, but we walked around the site, and it was actually quite pretty.

From Essen, we took the train to Dortmund. We had hoped to visit several places there, but we didn’t really get to because it was already 5pm when we got there, so it was getting dark and things were closing. We did get to see St. Reinold’s Church from the outside, and then we stopped at an Asian supermarket and then went back home.

When we got back, we had dinner – bread and cold cuts – with Annie’s host parents, and then Annie’s host mom got the dog to demonstrate some of her tricks. Mona stays put while Annie’s host mom puts her food bowl down and doesn’t go over until she’s told it’s ok. Then when she’s finished, Annie’s host mom tells Mona to go get the bowl, and she brings it back! She also knows “up” and “down” in English, and she can shake hands and play dead. Mona is a very food-motivated dog, and she’s very cute and funny.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

After breakfast Annie’s host dad took us with him to do a few errands. First we went to a recycling center to drop off an old washing machine. That in itself isn’t a very interesting thing, but it was still interesting in that I haven’t seen anything like it in the US before. In most cases in the US, you have to go to great lengths to recycle much more than cans and bottles. Though many schools and other community organizations run regular recycling days, many of them charge for the service or at least ask for a donation, and after just one day, the recycling drive is over. But where we went was a permanent, extensive, and very efficient recycling center. One worker told Annie’s host dad where to drive to, another helped him get the washer out of the car, and then we were on our way. Next we went to the market. Aside from fruits and vegetables and bread, there were also all kinds of clothes and accessories. A lot of the people selling clothing items seemed to be foreign – Turkish, probably.

From the market, Annie and I caught a bus to the train station to meet her friend Lina and travel to Cologne together. As soon as we stepped out of the train station in Cologne, the Cologne Cathedral was towering over us. Even though I’ve seen some “mega churches” at home, I still think that this cathedral was probably the biggest church I’ve ever seen. Even though there were some repairs being done, the Gothic architecture was beautiful, and when we went inside, the sun coming through all the stained glass windows threw colors on the walls. We also went and bought tickets to climb the tower. The stairs there were terrifying! Not only was it a seemingly endless narrow spiral staircase, but it was also the ONLY way up AND down the tower, so people were constantly going both directions. It was especially frightening on the way up because the people coming down had unspoken rights to the side where the steps were wider and where there was a handrail. Every time someone coming down passed me as I was going up, I had to move toward the center of the staircase, and… Well, it was scary. So I only went part of the way up and let Annie and Lina climb the rest without me.

When we finished at the Cologne Cathedral, we went to Hohenzollern Bridge to see the love locks, and we visited the Great St. Martin Church. We also went to the chocolate museum, and although we didn’t have time to go into the actual museum, it was, of course, absolutely necessary that we visit the museum shop. And then we stopped by the town hall, and then headed back toward home. We made a stop in downtown Duisburg so that Annie and Lina could show me around, but there wasn’t much to see there, so the “tour” didn’t last long.

Back at home, there were guests over for a birthday party for Annie’s host dad, her host brother, and her host brother’s girlfriend. Everyone was quite friendly and nice. Aside from the food being a little different and everybody speaking German, everything was pretty much the same as any house party I’ve been to in the US: The drinks were outside to keep them cold; there was a “kids’” table and an “adults’” table; and because it was a Saturday, a lot of people stayed up talking until some ridiculous hour. A couple people tried to talk to me for a little bit, but mostly I couldn’t understand any of the conversations. It was fun though.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Today I had a late breakfast with Annie and her host family, and then I had to catch my train back to Leipzig in the early afternoon. A delay in Duisburg made me miss my train out of Dortmund, but the lady at the information counter was very helpful and put me right on the next train. I found it and got on with no problems, and it was only 20 or 30 minutes later than my original train was supposed to be.

Spending the weekend with a German family was a very interesting new experience that I’m glad I was able to have. It was nice to be able to meet and interact with some actual German people, not just teachers or wait staff or salespeople, and see how they use their language and how they live their regular, everyday lives. I also liked being able to see some of western Germany and comparing it with the east. One difference that I noticed is that there seem to be a lot more houses and other free-standing buildings in the west, where in the east there are a lot of apartment blocks and big, long, connected buildings. There also seem to be a lot more areas in the west that are run-down or even abandoned. Some of the “stations” where the regional trains stopped appeared questionable and in disrepair. Finally, the western part of Germany seems to have a lot more foreigners than the east. Even in cities such as Essen that I don’t really think of as big, famous German cities, I noticed several other languages being spoken, including a lot of Chinese, which I almost never hear in Leipzig, except from InterDaF and university students who I see on the tram or in my dorm.

Monday, February 2, 2015

This morning we had a speaking class with Ms. L, and then we had our oral tests in the afternoon. I was the fourth person to go. I was a little nervous, but I wound up getting 100% on both the written and spoken portions of the final. I do wish that I had chosen to take the A2 test rather than the A1 test; Mr. A said I probably still would have gotten 100 on the writing and probably a 98 on speaking. But at the same time, too, I think just doing A1 was ok. I’ve only been learning German for 4 months, and even though I’ve learned how to do a lot of things well, there are still plenty of basic communicative tasks that I can’t handle. And I think that being able to call my German a good, solid A1 feels better for me than saying I passed a test at the A2 level when I still don’t even know how to say that I want my gelato in a cup instead of a cone.

After my test, I finally went to the zoo. It seemed like poor planning that all the paths were dirt, because the entire zoo was a giant mud pit. But other than that, I enjoyed it. The exhibits were well-designed, and they had some animals that I had only ever heard of but never seen, such as tapirs and Przewalski’s horses, and some that I have never heard of before, such as Chinese muntjacs. And I got to see the pygmy hippos like I wanted to!

Anyway, I guess this is my last journal entry. I can’t believe how fast it went. Tomorrow is going to be a whirlwind of tying up loose ends, and then we leave early on Wednesday morning. I’m going to miss Leipzig, and Mr. A, and of course, having only two classes to worry about and being able to focus on German, rather than having to balance a full course load. And I’m going to miss being able to see the Monument to the Battle of the Nations out my bedroom window and the convenience of the tram. But I think I’m also ready to go home. I’m ready to understand what’s going on around me and to know what kinds of food and drinks I’m buying without using Google Translate. And I’m ready to meet my new roommate and start a new semester. But I am definitely not ready to figure out how to pack all of this stuff and get it home!