My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

31 October 2006

What would you do?

So I was invited to a Halloween party on Saturday (yes, a bit belated, but it's easy to forget about Halloween in this country). I figure I have just enough time between now and then to make a hat. Should I make (a) a pumpkin hat; (b) a cupcake hat; or (c) a strawberry hat? (I could also knit the strawberry hat in blue/purple instead of red to make a blueberry hat and go as Violet from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)

I'm stumped. Which one should I choose?


29 October 2006

Long Night of Shopping

Oh, those Germans.

On Saturday evening I went to my favorite place in the whole world to buy some thread (I had some mending to do). I rushed to get there before it closed at 8:00 (everything in this country closes at 8; it's the law); I was in such a hurry I didn't even take time to marvel at the massive crowds on Kurfürstendamm and wonder why, literally, thousands of people were on Berlin's main shopping boulevard ten minutes before closing time. I reached the store at 7:53, only to notice a sign on the door proclaiming October 28 "Die Lange Nacht des Shoppings."

Gratuitous use of English aside, I'm actually a big fan of this concept. The stores were open 'til midnight. Midnight! That's just unheard of in this country. Stores generally have to close by 8:00 p.m. (except for Hauptbahnhof and the bookstore on Friedrichstraߟe which stays open 'til 10) and are only allowed to be open four Sundays a year, for no more than five hours, and only outside of the times of normal church services. (Seriously.)

After stocking up on thread, I went to H&M and bought a cardigan and two sweaters at 8:45, just because I could. (Well, and also because I'm always cold in this country, largely due to the fact that a German's first action upon entering a room is to throw open a window, regardless of both the inner and outer temperatures.) It felt absolutely decadent to be shopping so late.

It was pretty, too. There's some kind of "Festival of Lights" going on right now. (Go here and look for a stunning picture of the Berliner Dom bathed in light.) I don't quite understand it, but there are twinkle lights in all the trees:

I actually wouldn't mind if they kept it up all year. It might counteract the utterly depressing fact the sun sets so damn early here in fall and winter.

So, after buying my thread, my sweater and snapping a few photos, I went home to be domestic and mend the handful of garments I had waiting for me. Irony of ironies, I had to use my new thread to mend my brand new sweater.

(Note to the staff at H&M, keeping in mind Webster's defines "to knit" as "to form by interlacing yarn or thread in a series of connected loops with needles" and knowing this is done with a single, continuous thread throughout, you should be able to infer that when you puncture the thin thread with a security tag, even if it only destroys one or two stitches, you will cause severe structural damage to the garment. Idiots.)

  • Shopping is fun.
  • Security tags, and the H&M personnel who put two of them on a $10 sweater, suck.
  • Twinkle lights are pretty.
  • Although the Long Night of Shopping has its advantages, it can't hold a candle to The Long Night of the Museums.

(What can I say, other than that I'm a complete nerd?)

25 October 2006


Well, it's Friday and the second week of school is finally over. I have no class today, so my weekend has officially begun. Granted, I have a very long to-do list, but most of it can be accomplished at home, in my pajamas.

To recap this week:
  • In the course of class discussion one of my gender theory instructors wrote the following list on the board:
    I'm willing to overlook the fact they used the English/Latin "etc." instead of its German form "usw." for no good reason. What I can't ignore is their putting the word race in quotation marks. I had drafted a long explanation of why and how this was inappropriate, but I scrapped that, deciding it wasn't necessary after all. THEY PUT RACE IN QUOTATION MARKS! Enough said.

  • I have come to a surprising conclusion: German students are even more rude than American students. From what I can tell Germans are just as likely to have not done the reading and to eat and drink during class than their American counterparts. The key difference is in their tardiness. I know what you're thinking. Germans are known for their punctuality, but that trait appears to have skipped an entire generation. German students saunter into class ten, twenty, thirty or even forty-five minutes late without explanation or apology. One student came into my 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Walter Benjamin seminar at noon. Noon! (I'm not basing these assertions on one experience, either; this has happened multiple times and in every class.) I simply wouldn't put up with that in my classroom, but the Germans don't even blink.

  • I have spent a staggering amount on photocopies this week, since every class has a massive reader that is placed in a [random] copyshop somewhere in Berlin. Almost every day this week I hunted down a different reader in a different copyshop (Ooh, guess what the German word for copyshop is, go on, guess) and spent anywhere from €5 to €15 for copies of it. I miss electronireserveses, but I love that Germans have no regard for copyright laws. (Admittedly, I don't know what German copyright laws are; I'm just assuming they're similar to the laws we have in the U.S.)

  • I am finally a legal resident of Germany, having received my Aufenthaltsgenehmigung on Wednesday. I used the university's "visa service" (Yes, it's really called that, even though neither "visa" nor "service" are German words), which was definitely the right decision. It was difficult to surrender my passport for a month, but I've talked to people who are applying for the visa on their own who have to wait months for an appointment (One Fulbrighter couldn't get an appointment until December).

  • I have explored every single way there is to get to the university from my apartment. (There are many more than you might think, given the extraordinarily diverse Berlin public transit system, which includes buses, trams (streetcars), subways and trains (suburban rail).) The fastest way usually takes around thirty minutes (unless I have to wait) and involves a bus and subway. My favorite route takes much longer, though, since it involves walking most of the way. The advantage: I get to walk along a very pretty canal, across a former checkpoint and through cemeteryry.
Hmm, in reading this I realized it wasn't a very exciting week.


20 October 2006

What's in a name?

My first week of classes is over. Well, almost. I do have class tomorrow, but it doesn't really count, since it only meets three Fridays and Saturdays throughout the semester.

I'm feeling completely overwhelmed, but, I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am a complete nerd and am actually very happy to be back in school. On Monday I have to go to three separate copy shops to get readers for my courses and find time to get caught up with my own research.

On the plus side, someone did ask me in class today if I was from England. Apparently British and American accents are pretty similar when you're speaking German. Who knew?

The first week has given me lots to think about, but most of all I've been thinking about names and hierarchy. In America we don't hesitate to use someone's first name. Our waiters, flight attendants and cashiers all wear nametags with their first names only. In Germany, they usually don't. If you need to call a stranger by their name, you say Herr or Frau LastName.

Germans are known for being formal, deferring to authority and having a thing about titles. I expected to face a shock when classes start. When speaking German in the US, I use the informal form of address almost exclusively. I call all my professors by their first names. Hell, I've been to most of their houses. So I expected to face a culture shock when I started at the University. I pictured myself tripping over my neglected Sie-form and all the "Frau Doktors" and "Herr Professors."

I suppose part of studying abroad is having all of your preconceived notions about a culture undermined and challenged.

Three of my four classes have had starkly different philosophies about the level of formality:

  • My first class was taught by two graduate students clearly influenced by feminist pedagogy. They introduced themselves with their first names, used the informal, du-form, had us go around the circle and introduce ourselves on the first day (name, major, year, why you're in the class, just like in the US). They didn't even bother with last names and actually had to send an email to the class, asking for a distinction between the two Marias

  • The second class I attended was taught in a traditional style. The professor used the formal, Sie-form the entire time and didn't even ask us our first names. He'll be Herr Professor (or, perhaps, Prof. or Dr. _______, but Herr Professor is considered more polite here), and I'll be "Frau Gallagher" the entire time.

  • The third class was taught by another graduate student. On the first day she said, "If it's all right with you, I'll use your first names. You can call me Frau _________ ... or, well, Sabine, but I think it's better if we use the Sie-form."

I'm curious what people think of this. Which would you use in your classroom? Which do you like least?

(My preferences actually surprised me.)


18 October 2006

Today's random, weird, inappropriate and/or incorrect use of English

It wasn't until I got home from the drug store that I noticed the product name on my bottle of bubble bath:

What do you think they think "careness" means?


15 October 2006

A fun new game

We have a Fulbright-Berlin listserve, and I received an email the other day that I wanted to share with you:

Hey Name,

whats up? is ben harper coming to berlin? if so, where is this at? id be interested.

firstname surname
fulbright english teaching assistant, berlin 0´6-07

Now let's play "Count the Grammatical Errors."

Including capitalization and punctuation, I count a whopping 18 errors. (In my generosity, I didn't count his failure to capitalize his own name as a mistake; I also assumed the misplaced apostrophe in "0'6-07" was a typo and counted only one error, since it should be '06-'07, as I'm sure you all knew.) Eighteen errors in 28 words! That's a "Fehler-Quotient" of 64! That's really bad!

Let's step back and think about this for a minute. If you look at the competition statistics you will see that there were more than 200 applications for the 80 TAships to Germany. If the author of the atrocious awful embarrassing email above was selected as an English teacher, I shudder to think what the other 133 applicants were like.


10 October 2006

Look who was creative this weekend

I thought my walls could use with some brightening up, and a trip to my favorite craft store inspired me:

Here's another view:

And a detail:

What do you think? I'm quite proud. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be, but it's nice to have time to do things like this. I knit a hat last weekend. I likely won't have time to do that again until winter break because classes are starting soon. This is my last week of freedom, and on the way home from the library today (Yeah, I know, it's sick to spend two hours a day at the library during my "last week of freedom," but I can't help myself) I realized this is the longest break from school I've ever had. I've taken summers off before (two of them, I think, in six years of university...or maybe it was only one?), but the lag between the start of the school year back home and the start of the school year here means that it's been more than five months since I've been in school. Granted during my summer "break" I wrote forty pages of my thesis and almost sixty pages of comprehensive exams, but I wasn't actually in class.

But who am I kidding? I can't wait to start school, with all that entails: a crazy schedule, a big pile of textbooks, living at the library, school supplies, oh, the school supplies. Just look in my drawer:

I can't wait to use them.


06 October 2006

Only in Germany

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02 October 2006

Adventures in Knitting

Classes still haven’t started here, so I’ve had to find other ways to occupy my time. This is what I’ve been up to lately:

It’s an iPod nano sock, and it’s one of three that I’ve made since I’ve been here, although the other two aren’t as fancy. (I got the pattern here, in case you were wondering.)

I have plenty of places to knit: on the train, on the bus, at the laundromat. I’m currently working on a hat and a scarf, but I’d love an excuse to make another iPod sock. I’m a complete and utter knitting nerd and I love double-pointed needles. Plus, it’s so small that it knits up super-quickly, even using sock yarn and size one needles. Here’s another of my new iPod socks:

You know what the coolest part about it is? It’s seam-free.

Most of you reading this probably won’t appreciate that, but some might. (Are you reading, Dr. Lyons?) I love it when I can start something, knit and then be finished. No sewing, no grafting, no blocking, no making up, no piecing. It’s like magic. The Turkish Cast-On totally rocks my world.

And, yes, I do go out occasionally: