Monday, August 31, 2009

Englisch Unterricht

[ English class ]

Today was a very cool event for me since Klara had arranged an invitation with her English teacher at school to have me visit the class. I left my German classes at the CDC during my mittagspause, lunch break, and headed across town to Ludwigsgymnasium which is Klara's school. Walking in was a bit different from what I was expecting. I was anticipating to have to check in at an office after passing a few overbearing hall monitors and fumble through some German sentences

"Yes, I am an American visitor here to visit Klara Weber...bitte...",

but it was nothing like that. Actually, Klara met me outside and I walked right in - security-wise, it was completely different from schools I have been to, or been a student in, from America. [ I don't know if that is just Saarland, however, which is a generally safe area, or if that is a national trait ]. I must say though that Klara seemed extremely proud to be bringing me into the school, especially with 5 of her friends grinning and trailing behind her for my entrance.

The hallways were rowdy, and so was the classroom that I had entered. The classroom was rather bare, which when I discussed school systems around the world with Eva, she made a valid point about. She aknowledged the benefits of the American school system - wow, a complement I didn't have to work for here in Germany! -especially the aspect that students have lockers and switch classrooms and teachers have their own personal classrooms. She felt this added to the creativity of the classroom, and a more welcoming learning enviroment for the particular subject with posters and materials which I can definitely agree with.

Klara's classroom was rather bare, which is not so new to me since my classroom in Japan was similar as well [ remember my intrigue based off of the connections of the schools systems of these two countries. ] What was more of a surprise to me was how I forgot about what it was like to be a 12 year old - which is around 6th grade in the US. So much giggling and clickiness between boys and girls. The teacher walked in and I was able to introduce myself to her. She spoke with a pronounced British accent, yet it still had a touch of German. She told me that I would get to utilize the first 10 - 15 minutes of the class to have a question and answer opportunity with the students and they would ask me questions in English.

The class started at the bell and all the students stood up to greet the teacher [ in English of course ] before they were directed to sit back down. I followed suit and did the same, even though I was at least a half foot taller than all the students in the room.

I was very impressed that even though the students have only studied English for one year, the class was completely instructed in English - no translations for vocabulary either - which I was surprised about for the young age. I was introduced to the class as Klara's special guest, and they were all instructed to take notes of my answers as they asked me questions in English. The opportunity was very fun and I enjoyed some of the cute, and funny questions from the pre-teens, especially for the fact that they spoke in short, choppy Brittish accents!

What is your name?

How many languages can you speak?

Where are you from?

What time do you go to bed?

... ?!
[I liked that one] :)

and I think my favorite -

What do you do with friends?
... So do you like Chilling?

Hearing that slang come from a young German speaking with a Brittish accent was really funny to hear.

The Q&A was very fun, and I was actually surprised with myself how difficult it was to answer the questions with a fair vocabulary for the students to understand. Even so, their command of English at this point was very impressive for their ages, even if it was rudimentary.

The next part of the class I was able to observe. The teacher went over some new vocabulary on the board and opened disucssion in the class over words that dealt with " Going on holiday" - very Brittish already as you can tell.

The words ranged from where to go, to where to stay, and I thought it was pretty funny that one student raised his hand and said " You can stay under a bridge". I don't know about his vacationing, but I'll spare the cardboard boxes for my European travels, danke.

The 45 minutes flew by, and the students were all out of their desks again and out of the room. The teacher invited me back to the class anytime, so hopefully I can visit Klara again this month. The experience was short, but a very good opportunity for me to learn and observe. Education is something that has interested me, as I have noted before, and the differences here in Germany that I have noticed already, and some I haven't even jotted down here yet, are more abundant than I thought. After leaving the school I wasn't done learning, however, since it was back to my course across town for some more German komunikationstrainings!

Viel Glück Adam!

[ Good luck Adam! ]

This year has already begun with so many incredible experiences and I am sure that there will be many more to come, but I must admit that as excited as I am to be here, there are a few things back home that I am missing out on.

Sunday my younger brother, Adam, packed up all his bags and headed off to Michigan State for his first day of college. As the older brother, I would have loved to have been there to help him move in and experience the nerve-wracking and exciting time that moving into college is. As a matter of fact he will be done with his first year of college before I even return to the states, so I won’t get to visit him once.

It is one of the things that I am missing out on, and I want to wish him [and Louise too!] all the best with his first exciting year at MSU. It may not be UofM ;) but I know that it is the best place for him with what he wants to study. Study hard! Viel Glück und habe Spaβ! Good luck and have fun!

[Klara is here with me as we are watching TV and she says Good Luck too!]

politischen Parteien

[ Political parties ]

Being here in Germany during the exciting time of local and national elections has made me very interested in researching further the political culture here in the country. I have been introduced to many new political parties just by seeing the signs around town with slogans and faces, which is common in America as well since we have a lot of political parties too, but Germany is different. The country is not exactly bipartisan, and easily divided between two distinct political groups like the Republicans and the Democrats. There are quite a few political parties, and they all make up the national government together, and this results in many different ideas, and many coalitions – mergers and agreements between political parties – as well, which makes things complicated to understand.

For starters, I think it is safe to say now that I have learned that Liberal, in German, has a completely different meaning than its North American English counterpart. Liberale in German, when discussing politics, typically refers to a politician that favors smaller governments, lower taxes and less government involvement and regulation. This is almost the exact opposite of the Liberal views in America, and almost matches more with the American viewpoints from Republicans. Liberale tend to favor free-markets, free-trade and more private initiatives. This is just one of the first differences in viewpoints in German and American politics, and it is interesting how this plays a role in a country in which, from the American perspective, leans more left [ since I can’t say liberal anymore without creating some waves in understanding] Confused yet?

To discuss any election, one must first understand the parties that are involved and what they believe in. This has been the trickiest part for me balancing out where each stands [which I learned the hard way by drawing a spectrum line with conservative and liberal for Eva, and her being confused when trying to fill it out – see above paragraph ]. There are many political parties in Germany, but four that really make up the majority of the government.

[ Some of my classmates lucked out with some free breakfast from the SPD party one morning! ]

The SPD, Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands – Social Democracy party, believes in a party platform where "freedom, justice, and social solidarity, form the basis of social democracy. They believe in a social market economy with output distributed fairly, and see that system as the key to ensuring fair treatment for the entire population.

The CDU, Christlich Demokratische Union – Christian Democratic Union Party, is a Christian based party that believes in applying the principles from the roots of Christianity and Christian Democracy for the "understanding of humans and their responsibility toward God." In Germany this party is more conservative, but rejects coalitions with parties that are extremist. They believe in a social market economy, which has been the norm in Western Germany since after WW2, and is a plan that does not wish to implement a fully planned and controlled economy, but not a socialist or laissez-faire either. It comprises of private enterprises with government regulation to create an economy with fair competition, low unemployment, low inflation and standards in the working environment. The CDU is noted for having strong ties with the USA, which serves Germany as a strong ally in promoting international peace and freedom. The SPD is a strong opponent of the CDU – something important to address for when I elaborate on the role of Chancellor, Angela Merkel, later.

The FDP, Freie Demokratische Partei - Liberal International Party, believes in the values of a government that is "as extensive as necessary, and as limited as possible. In other words, a government that is only big enough to accomplish what it is meant to do, and not become any stronger [reflecting the fears of the Federalists from early American history, which is my best connection]. This makes the FDP a close ally to the CDU party. The main differences of the parties are their views in social policies. The CDU, being more conservative, is a supporter of stricter punishments in crime, utilizing the Bundeswehr [The Federal Defence Force of Germany] in regards to issues of domestic anti-terrorism and natural catastrophes, and creating more programs to assist initiatives of integrating immigrants, such as language courses. The FDP respectively is skeptical of such conservative policies and public intervention. It is worth noting that the FPD is significantly less represented than the CDU in Germany.

[ Good jobs, good pay for everyone! ... Unmöglich - imposible? or a socialist dream? ]

The Left PartyDie Linke – strives for democratic socialism, and has more radical views than the aforementioned SPD party. I should note here that, Oskar Lafontaine, the leader of this party and also up for election here in Saarland, used to be a member of the SPD in the 90’s but has since moved to this new Left Party which was officially conceived from a merging of a few extremist parties in 2007. Even in today’s world of globalization, the Left party includes members ranging from social democrats, all the way to extremists, including communists. For this reason, discussing die Linke with some Germans can cause them to tilt their heads to the side and look a little uncomfortable having to admit that this party still has such a standing within the national government [around 9%]. In terms of fiscal policy, die Linke believes in a redistribution of weath, and a heavy taxation on corporations, big businesses and wealthy individuals. They reject privatization, believe in a minimum wage [ it is interesting to note that there isn’t one here in Germany! ] and generally would prefer to overthrow high power institutions, often citing the philosophy of Karl Marx.

Coalitions are where the politics become complicated – especially since the complete government is not comprised of a majority made up of a bipartisan party system in America, like I mentioned before. Put simply, the CDU and FDP relate to each other, and the SPD, die Linke, and the Grüne [The greens – a smaller political party favoring international peace and environmentalism] also share ties. This became a little more complicated as I researched more to understand the current political state of Germany over the past 4 years.

Overall, this post may seem completely confusing already, or just quite frankly boring, but I think that it is important for me, as a student here in Germany during this time of elections, to really work to understand what it going on around me. It allows me to see what issues are truly debated upon here in Germany, and what the people’s values are. To me, it is interesting to see where the relatable American values lie within the beliefs of German political parties, and how they contradict themselves, or completely overlap in regards to social politics or fiscal beliefs. This post is a good reminder for me to strive to be knowledgeable of the political culture around me, and also try and share it – albeit, here in a very generalized and condensed form – with American friends and family back home, so that we can understand what is happening in the world around us as well.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

9:30 ; Hochamt für die Pfarrgemeinde

[ 9:30 - Mass for the Parish ]

Sunday morning I woke up rather early, and normally the Weber family utilizes their Sundays to catch up on rest, so I knew that I had a few hours to myself. It was a little past 7:30 [ I am kind of intrigued that Germans have name for this time of the hour - 7:35 translates to fünf nach halb acht - five after half to eight... you can become a bit twisted when you start having to think about it in quick translation]. I checked my e-mails, had a bit of breakfast, took a shower, and didn't know what to do. I went over my mental checklist of things I want to do in the city - I wonder what time church is?

I got online, and within a bit of searching I found 9:30 ; Hochamt für die Pfarrgemeinde which was the perfect amount of time to walk over and find the church. It was a perfect morning for the stroll through town and it was kind of exciting going by myself.

Now, being a Sunday here in Germany, the city is deserted, especially this early on a Sunday morning. The shops are all closed with the exception of a few bakeries and many people are probably resting from long weeks, or even longer Saturday nights out. I don't want to cast a negative immage on my host nation here, but it was kind of ironic walking to church of all things, and sharing the streets with only a few winos and three women hanging out a window wooing with hallo mein lieblings, mein Schatz! [hello my favorite, my little deary...] - I guess for me it was early Sunday morning, but for some it was still late Saturday night. I actually think one guy that seemed to have quite the difficult Saturday night said to me in German, from what I think I understood as - sunny day, isn't it - in a grand slur. I guess it was, Danke.

With those humorous crossings asside, my brisk morning walk was quite enjoyable hearing church bells in the distance which was quite cool to hear and definitely gave me a sense of location being in such a typical town in Europe.

Walking into the church, I slipped pasted the main door, trying not to make a loud noise. I was one of the youngest people there, and possibly the youngest visitor there solo. The mass had just begun and I slid into a pew. I was instantly welcomed with the nostalgic incense of the thurible, and the sunlight from all the glass windows beaming through the newly rising haze. The mass was very reminiscent of growing up and going to the Polish church, Our Lady of Częstochowa, back in Michigan with my family as a child. Very traditional, and whereas I didn't understand what was spoken around me, I still understood everything going on. I think that is the beauty of the Roman Catholic Mass around the world, and I can assume the same could be said for other religions and denominations as well.

I was able to pick out the important words, and I surprised myself how much I understood [ giving credit, however, to my expectations of what was going to be said in the prayers ]. The elaborate church made the experience very unique, and the organ music that filled the church was very beautiful as well. One thing that was a little comical to me, but maybe only a practice at this church, I can't solidify the statement just yet, is that during communion, especially ironic here in the land of Ordnung, there was no order to get up for the communion procession. Once the communion was ready, people stood up and just walked from where they were, and from there a line was collaborated amoungst a lot of traffic. It was funny seeing the little Omas and Opas wedging their way to get into the communion line - I gladly waited until the end.

The mass seemed to stick to the basics, since it only lasted a little more than an hour, but it was very nice. I would like to attend church as often as I can [to which I know my Catholic readers are nodding as if it is a given ;) ] and hopefully see as many different churches as I can, because it is a great experience, and definitly a very meditative time ( especially when I don't understand every word spoken around me). Even so, I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to reflect upon.

During the walk home, I fortunately encountered a lot more people up and about. Many people on morning jogs, or riding their bikes, but also people heading to the polls. Today is the day for local Bundesland [state] elections in Germany.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I have forgotten to introduce the final member living here at the Weber house. The family cat - Sushi ! I know my host family likes sushi, and I think the cat recieved the namesake. At least you know he is well loved.

zwölf Jahre alt

[ 12 years old ]

Sometimes it is hard for me to realize that my youngest host sister, Klara, is really only twelve years old. She may look older, but in the end she is still a normal, very giggly twelve year old girl. Today she had a friend over, Lea, and I noticed them running around the house with a green face-mask treatment and trudging around with high heels [to which Adriane rolled her eyes, and Eva motioned a gun to her head]. Klara was having fun, and it was definitely another reminder to me that I was in a house of girls.

Later in the evening Klara and Lea were whipping up some batter, and had the crepe maker hot since they were making some late night crepes. I joined in on the fun, and I think made the whole event a lot more silly. Remember, this is the Auf Deutsch sister! Klara made the first crepe that was dribbling down the sides, zu viele!, and Lea was a champ at rolling them up like burritos. I can't say mine were any better.

My flip turned into a folded pile of thin pastry, not a crispy, elegant sheet. The girls started laughing at me - Ich bin kein Witz! - literally translated, hey, I am not a joke!

Well, after another eruption of more laughter I realized the hard way that I just made up some German. I tend to be very good at that. Apparantly you can't be a joke in German - but it often seems that I am the butt of one.

After the crepe making experience the girls rented The House Bunny, and I joined and watched it with them. I guess I can be a kühl brother sometimes too.

Oops, another mistake - that means cold...

I guess cool, with the same meaning as the American word, is still spelled cool. Learned that one the hard way too...

[ The next morning - oh look, a note slipped under the door!

you have to love twelve year old girls. ]


Friday evening the Weber family had some guests over for a very fancy dinner at the house. Stefan, as I have mentioned, is a Lawyer, and the people coming over were clients but also friends of the family. Angelika and Stefan invited me to join the dinner, and a little after 8 I came back upstairs with some dress pants on and a button up shirt, dressed for the occasion.

The food was set up and was very nice - ingredients I have only heard of on TV, let alone tasted in real life - truffles, saffron, pesto sorbet, monkfish...

I was a bit nervous, as I normally am having to introduce myself and spark some conversation in German. The couple actually had mentioned that their son was studying in Canada, and they have two friends that teach in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan.

Dass ist meine Universität!

I said that a little too excitedly and subsequently wacked my glass of Crémant that we just toasted with. Now I had foamy champagne dribbling down my dress shirt...


Well, I think you can see now that I am part Italian ... I like to talk with my hands.

At least that cleared some of the awkwardness. The rest of the dinner went more smoothely. I got to help Angelika serve the plates, and, as stressful as it is, tried my best to listen to the German conversations and join when I could.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Die Kanzlerin kommt

[ The Chancellor is coming ]

It is campaign season here in Germany with major elections taking place, much like we had in America just last year, and I get to experience the excitement of a election environment once more. Tuesday, while coming back from my daily bus trip home, I saw one of the many campaign posters along the bus stops and corner posts. However, one particular poster caught my eye. It had a picture of the current chancellor of Germany, the very well known and internationally acclaimed Angela Merkel, Germany’s current chancellor and highest political figure.

Once home I had to share the information with my host family.

Die Kanzlerin kommt! Morgen kommt die Kanzlerin!

The Chancellor of Germany was coming tomorrow to a rally for the current Christian Democratic Union [CDU - one of the major political parties] representative campaign for local Peter Müller, apparently a favorite to win for the region. Her guest appearance with the local candidate from her own party seemed to be rather spontaneous, and even broadcasted discretely – I did not notice the new posters with the information about the rally until the day before [reminding me how spontaneous – and thrilling – it was when, then still democratic party candidate, Barack Obama came to Troy, Michigan and I was able to attend the very exciting rally]. I think this surprised many other people because Saarland is a small Bundesland in Germany, and I don’t think many expected the Chancellor to make an appearance during her own campaign trail in this part of the country.

Adriane was also very interested, and the next day both of us planned to go and attend the rally. Wednesday was very exciting since many of us Americans were discussing the event of the afternoon during class. When I got home and met with Adriane, we both headed off to the Congresshalle of Saarbrücken where the event was filling up fast. Once there, volunteers in yellow PMT [Peter Müller Team] t-shirts were passing out posters and flags and after being handed one, Adriane and I did our best to wedge our way in to be as close to the excitement as possible.

[The colors of my outfit - ... and shoes - were merely a coincidence. But I did match the campaign colors!]

The event was crowded and hot since many people were coming to hear some very prominent politicians speak, and most likely also catch a snapshot of the Chancellor herself. The event started at six with some entertainment, and a band came out and *tried* to get the audience pumped. At first I was trying to comprehend the environment. Adriane and I were definitely some of the youngest people there other than the volunteer workers. Everyone was an older generation, which was possibly because of the fact that the CDU is one of the conservative parties in Germany – but maybe also just the fact that I was used to this past 2008 election in America being so inspiring to people in my generation, and thus very loud, highly attended, and ultimately, very celebratory.

The Germans were initially pretty stone-faced during the first band [which was admittedly very entertaining – being inside the concert hall, it was like attending a concert!]. There was not just one group that entertained, however. The next group was a pop group – very reminiscent of the 90’s with their style… and lip-synching – but very cool with lots of acrobatics, stunts, jump roping

… and

… fire?

Yes, this campaign rally finally started heating up, and with the next entertaining group, the German audience began to clap, cheer, and bop in their seats.

The final entertaining group was a bit humorous for me, but sang some good motown oldies very well. Introducing – The American Divas! No joke there, but the American Divas came out and sang some classics. They spoke in English, and very cheesily introduced the man of the hour, Herr Peter Müller himself. How?:

We all know we are one big family here. Let’s hear it for Peter Müller!

[* Cue – We are Family*]

As lame as it sounds, the whole crowd started clapping away – Peter! Peter! – all to the beat of We are Family, and then the yellow t-shirt clad volunteers made a human tunnel for him and many other political figures to make their walk to the stage.

The chanting and excitement finally reached a peak, and it was what I was hoping for. The rally may not have had that inspirational spark, that was so special about the Obama rally, but this was pretty cool itself.

There were two speeches made by different politicians at this point. One was the mayor of Hamburg, and the other was a prominent politician from Luxembourg, a very important neighbor to Saarland. The mayor from Hamburg was able to get some good laughs out of the croud.

I have officially helped the economy in this region – I purchased a new jacket today… for 72 Euros. But I will admit that the food and scenery is much more beautiful here in Saarbrücken.

[...what does that mean for me when I move to the north in a few months… ]

Other than a few puns, and some vocabulary here and there, the speeches were difficult to follow. But I still was able to take in all the excitement of the event – finally the chancellor was making her entrance.

Welcomed with a very impressive introduction – I was able to catch and understand “Forbes Magazine most powerful woman in the world 4 years in a row” – The chancellor made her entrance to very large applause.

Angela Merkel was the first female leader of her political party, the CDU, and is now the first woman to hold the office of Chancellor in Germany. Amongst her accomplishments include being the second woman to ever chair the G8 summit as well as sustaining a low unemployment rate in Germany during times of economic slumps. As of now, with the current economic struggles in the world economy, as well as other international issues, she has many things to address to her people as she vies for her reelection here in Germany.

[ Quieting down the very excited crowd. ]

It was a very surreal experience since this woman really was one of the most powerful and important people in the world. She is the highest political figure in the German government, the nation with the largest economy in Europe and the 3rd largest in the world, and has earned very high approval ratings within her own country as well as abroad.

Her history is unique, and her political views and standing have even a bit more drama, and I would like to incorporate a bit of those details later as I cover more about the elections taking place over the next few weeks. Listening to her speech was difficult for me to understand still at this point, but even so, being just yards away from such a high political figure was exciting. What was very unique to me was hearing how she spoke, very clear and punctuated, but also seemingly down to earth and humble. Many people in the crowd had signs that read “Angie” and people would chant when she finished speaking.

The event was very fun, and a very unique and special thing for me to witness here in Germany. It is one of the special things that I could only experience this year here in Germany during the elections, so I consider myself lucky. The event was something I was not expecting to experience at all this year, let alone this soon, but it has definitely inspired me further to research a bit more about the German political scene and observe what the people here really believe in and expect out of the politicians they vote for. It gives a great perspective on the mind frame of the collective German people.

Monday, August 24, 2009

ins Kino gehen

[ going to the movies ]

Later on Saturday, after the great trip to Metz and a run with Adriane, I thought the day was nearing an end. However, I was invited by Olli to go to a movie with him and Adirane at the local theater. I figured that something like going to a movie would have been commonplace and wouldn't offer any writing material, but I was wrong. There were a few surprises.

We saw the movie Inglorious Basterds, the new Quentin Tarantino film. The film was ironically about an alternative ending to WW2 and the downfall of the Nazi party and Hitler. Being a typically crazy Tarantino film, it was a confusing mix of humor, gore, sadness, craziness, and overdramaticness. I think the movie is only meant to be unsetling, and I guess it was especially unique for me hearing jokes about Hitler, Jews, Nazis, Americans, the French, all in the setting of WW2 and it being humorous to the audience still, and I would suppose, acceptable. I don't know if I would recommend the film, but it was definitely a unique viewing experience while living in Germany.

The first surprise:

The movie is American, but it was dubbed in German...
Unlike the movies that I saw in Finland, that were kept in English and had Finnish and Swedish subtitles, Germans stick to their own language and prefer it dubbed. This made me have to watch my own language being lipread while I heard very complicated German... I still understood the story though.

Second surprise:

The previews were long. There was one commercial about ice cream bars, and Olli leaned towards me and said they were going to sell it after the commercial. I wasn't sure what that meant, but after the commercial, the lights came back on, and then, as if it were a baseball game;

Eis! Eis!

men came around selling the ice cream to those that raised their hands... in a full theater.

Third surprise:

The laser show! Thats right. Since this movie is a new release, right before it started, a curtain covered the movie screan and the theater filled with fog. Then all the sudden this really loud and trance-like techno music began to play, and a very high tech, 3D laser show started. Really, I liked it so much, I think I would have paid my €8 just for the laser show! It was pretty cool.

After the movie, we went out to town and met a bunch of Olli and Adriane's friends and chatted the rest of the night away. The Sunday after was going to be nice and slow which was going to be nice after a very event filled Saturday.