Saturday, October 31, 2009


[ aka - an unplanned adventure for the weekend ]

I think by this point, I should finally make a blog-label that categorizes posts here on Blogger and make one that groups together ' Times that Chris Crachiola has been lost somewhere in Europe '. As much as I try to orientate myself to end up in the right place, somehow a great story emerges from my unfailing ability to end up south when I was supposed to be north, and then not knowing the right vocabulary to get myself back to where I need to be.

Well, this past weekend, some friends and I wanted to plan a little trip together. We all have the semesterticket which is part of our Student ID's and it allows us to travel to many major trainstations in the entire Bundesland of Niedersachsen for free on the Regionalbahn [ the slower trains with many stops ]. The trains may take twice or three times as long to travel to a destination, but with friends, and no charge, it is really great and a lot of fun.

In any case, we all decided to use our free weekend and make a 2 day trip to Hannover, one of the larger cities in northern Germany. The trip would take a little over two hours north, and from there we would begin our little adventure.

This is precisely where our adventure took an unexpected turn... before we even got off the train. Our group was a mix of 2 Italians, 3 Spaniards and myself representing America. One of my Italian friends said that she knew the train that went to Hannover, so we all followed and got on.

It may have been the right train... but only for a few stops, since we later learned that there was a crucial change onto another train to go north.

Well, we all enjoyed the journey on the train, laughed, had some snacks, and a little over two hours later, got off the train when it stopped... but quickly realized that we were no where near Hannover.

In fact, we had gone over two hours west, not even remotely near Hannover. The station attendants instructed us to the correct train to get to Hannover, but after waiting for the longer train ride to then go north-east, it would take hours out of our weekend. So we changed plans.

What is near to hear?

Well, there is a little city called Paderborn... it might be nice.

[ The Paderborn Horse [?] Welcoming our arrival! ]

And there we were, a few more stops away westward and we were in the tiny city of Paderborn to attempt and salvage some fun and adventure for the weekend. Everyone was laughing and making light of the situation since, realistically, when else would we ever go to... Paderborn?

Entering the town, it seemed that we had a little bit of luck. The city seemed nice and cute, and it also had a festival taking place, filled with many food stands, attractions and rides.

We enjoyed walking around, seeing the sites as well as all the typical German comfort foods that were being cooked around us, and even tested our stomachs going on some pretty dizzy rides.

The city of Paderborn seemed to have a perfect representation of a small German city, complete with churches, a small downtown, a market square as well as a nice Rathouse as a central meeting point.

Once we got to the Rathouse, we realized we were all really lucky, because for some reason, this particular weekend was also a big chocolate exhibit in the city, and the Rathaus had dozens of stands giving out samples of many different gormet chocolates. With the Italians leading the way, we made it our mission to sample every chocolate available to us!

We ventured some more, checked out the beautiful churches, enjoyed our time together, and the day was nearing an end. We decided to make the weekend trip only a day trip, but no one was complaining. Our little mistake with the train turned out to be a really great day of fun. Even so, we promised ourselves that next time we actually would end up in Hannover! [ but now all of us can say proudly that we have visited Paderborn, Germany!]

Deutsch Einstufungstest

[ German Placement Exam ]

As I mentioned from my first few days in the University I had to register for my German placement exam in order to be eligible for Deutsch als Fremdsprache classes. I thought that it was a little redundant since I had my certificate from the Carl Duisburg Center that clearly stated my level and proficiency in German that matched up with the course listings, but the offices still advised me to take the test, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

Divided into two sections, the tests were held on an early afternoon and I found the lecture hall for the test with dozens of other foreign students filing into rows. I was actually quite surprised how seriously the test was taken, since no students were admitted to sit next to each other, there were checks for pocket dictionaries in the rows, and on top of all of this, there were a LOT of students - many more foreign students learning German than I initially perceived at the University.

When the exams were passed out, I knew I was in for a challenge. It was very simple - 5 paragraphs in German, and many of the words only had the first letter and a bunch of blanks. Essentially you had to complete the paragraph by filling in the right words which proved your expanse of vocabulary and your understanding on when to use the right grammar [ essentially der/die/das in akusative, genative etc. for those who know some German]. These were my weak points by far... I sat, and laughed to myself, and really started just inventing German when I didn't know the answers. I was a goner, and figured I would be placed back in the newbie course.

I was very surprised how many students were taking the exam, and looking at everyones faces afterwards, I think everyone felt the same. We just needed to wait a few days and the postings in the language offices would tell us our placement.


[ Freebies ]

For those who know me, when there is free stuff being given out somewhere, odds are I am scoping out the scene. One day this past week, I was heading up to the Mensa - the main student cafeteria on Campus - to meet up with some friends. In the main vestibule was a large crowd of people, stacks of boxes, and more people happily walking away digging through a bag filled with free stuff.

I didn't have to hesitate, I got in line, received my bag, and only then took a moment to realize what it was for.

I am pretty sure the free bags came from a local book store or other business since there were coupons and other ads inside the bag. There was also a trial shampoo -always nice - a chocolate bar - another bonus, and ...

A bottle of beer?

What?! [was I supposed to show my ID somewhere? ]

Now, this wasn't normal beer, but some lime mixed beer drink - and I checked that the alcoholic percent was a bit lower than normal beer - but nonetheless, this was given out for free.

It doesn't matter in the states if it is only a few percent of alcohol, you will still be carded at a store to prove you are over 21 years old [ a concept that I have received a lot more comments about here in Germany than I was anticipating ]. It is generally understood that alcohol is not necessarily carded as heavily here in Germany, and tolerance for young adults and teens making purchases is higher, but this situation with the freebies took me by surprise.

It most definitely is something I think only an American can really be shocked about, but no ID- checking aside, this alcohol was just handed out like candy. I know for a fact that something like this would never be able to be distributed publicly at UofM or another American University, even if it is just a few percent alcohol content.

With little surprises like this, university life, even in these early first few weeks, is already proving to be more different than I first anticipated.

Friday, October 30, 2009


[ Social Politics ]

Today was my first lecture that was completely in German – I have decided to take [through somewhat random selection and a bit of curiosity] a course called der Staat und die Socialpolitik. It is a course discussing the functions of a state [country/government] through sociology and political science. Sounds neat – but I got the wake-up call that whereas I may be able to have a nice, grammatically incorrect chat with friends over dinner in German, I can’t fluently follow a university level social science course.

I was able to get the gist of what was going on – imagine understanding 40% or so of the words… but then there is just the problem with what they all have to do with each other in the sentence to make sense…

The syllabus came around and there seems to be a lot of reading, but ironically some of the materials are in English since they are about Britain or the US, so maybe at least some of the lectures –even if they are still discussed in German – will make some sense to me.

[ A view in the streets of Göttingen ]

We will see how this goes. As of now I have 6 classes – 3 in English [about European or American culture/government] 2 in German [this social science course and my German as a foreign language course] and 1 in Deutschanese [My Japanese course taught with German explanations of Grammar].

I have set myself up for an interesting few months.

My first German class consisted of me tuning in for a few minutes trying to translate, then minutes later catching myself day dreaming, and then a few minutes later realizing on the syllabus that the lecture is 2.5 hours long… This will be something to look forward to everyweek…

The class finally ended with the students knocking their knuckles on the desks – I guess in place of clapping for the professor. I guess this is a German thing, because my Erasmus friends are just as confused – we just do as the Germans do and flow with it.

Versuch und Irrtum

[ Trial and Error ]

On Tuesday my classes were once again later in the day, but I was up early since I had to get to the Rathaus before noon [another place that closes before noon]. I had to and take a few more documents to solidify my registration in Göttingen with my visa [why is there SO much paperwork in this country?] It seems that I will be registering for something here in Germany all the way until my departure day back to America!

Fortunately everything went smoothly, just more waiting, since I do have to return to the south part of town sometime in November to pick up [what, I don’t really know] something for my visa/passport.

[ Some of the sister-cities to Göttingen including Torun in Poland! ]

That afternoon I stopped into the library a little after one o’clock to use the internet until my classes later in the day – which got me thinking about the entire business of transferring credits back to UofM and making the most out of my experience here at a German university for one semester. I scanned through the course listing again seeing tons of classes with long titles in German that I didn’t even think to search deeper into. Then I saw “Cultural Studies”. The title was in English… maybe the class is taught in English. No additional information… just a room number and a time – 2:15. That was only a few minutes away, so I added the course, packed my bag, and within minutes of selecting “Cultural Studies,” I was taking a seat in the classroom on the 4th floor of the VG building.

[ Georg-August Uni's answer to Wolverine Access at UofM. Registering and searching for classes is hard enough in English on the UofM system... now it is a different system, and in German!?]

The professor started speaking in English [sigh of relief], and then posed the broad question of “What are cultural studies?” to open discussion for the comparative literature class – everything was still going fine – until the syllabus came around.

Cultural Studies Group 1: Comparative British Literature

The reading list seemed immense.

I was in the wrong class.

I painfully sat through the rest of the hour and a half lecture [served me right for the hasty decision], did participate in the discussion however [ just for fun, as the token American's opinion on these cultural issues! ] and within minutes of finishing, was back online to un-register from the course. I am still going through the process of figuring out what classes to take, and this was just an example of the trial and error process that it entails – In the end, I should have a decent schedule to try and get some credits to take back to the states.


[ Classes ]

With Poland only a day behind me it already felt like a lot of time had passed since I was moving full speed ahead into the next phase of my year. Monday was my first day of lectures at Göttingen – and, while I should be giving a sample list of my courses now, I can’t… I really don’t know officially yet. Since registering from my Einführungswochenende, I had been adding, dropping, searching and pondering over which classes to take, and how difficult they would be to study for.

[ The grounds of Göttinger Platz Sieben - one of the main student zones of the city right in the middle of the campus, with many students enjoying the last days of moderate fall weather. ]

Many of the other CBYX students are in a different situation than me. Most of the participants are older and are either graduated and using this scholarship year as a bridge between work or higher studying, or they are just upperclassmen that already have a stable transcript at their university. I don’t even have a declared major yet – something I must do through some overseas communicating later this year – and ever decision I make here in Germany has me thinking how it could impact my curriculum and transfer for credits to the University of Michigan.

I have some classes I am looking into that are auf Deutsch, some in English that could be interesting [but the variety here greatly decreases]. I even found Japanese which I am going to definitely try and fit in!

Monday started early for me since I had to make it to the international office by noon. [ why are so many university and city offices closed by noon here in Göttingen?!] I had to register to take my German language exam to find a placement for my Deutsch als Fremdsprache [German as a foreign language] courses here at the Uni.

[ In front of Cafe Campus, one of the central meeting places at the Uni for students ]

For the gap in the day [ why are so many of my classes in the late afternoon?! ] I walked around and covered some lost time getting myself acquainted with the campus again. I enjoyed the library, and, whereas it isn’t as comfy as the cafés of Saareguemines, it was where I caught up on much of my blog writing.

Finally the late afternoon rolled around, and it was time for my first class. The building was right across from the library, so I had no searching to do. I got to the room and there were students waiting outside the classroom – so I also waited… when in Rome… I had no idea the protocol for the German Universities, and I was just going to do what everyone else did to prevent any embarrassing mishaps.

The class was United Nations, which I figured would be a great way for me to familiarize myself with international politics. It was going to be in German and English, since English is used for much of the vocabulary and one of the main languages of the United Nations council. Even with this advantage for understanding the course, taking my seat in back corner by the window was still a little nerve-wracking for me. Then the students began to flow in… and I realized… what if I made a mistake and this is the wrong classroom. This made me regret my seat wedged in the back, now blocked by many sitting students. If this was the wrong class… it will be so embarrassing to have to leave – why I felt this way, I don’t know… since I checked my schedule over 10 times to make sure I was in the right building and classroom. It is funny how nervous I make myself in these foreign environments.

Luckily it was the right room. The introduction to the class went well. The class will familiarize us with the processes of the United Nations councils and we will have an especially close overview of the delegations over Afghanistan. We will learn how to write proposals and research arguments to represent different nations points of view. Overall, I think that it is going to be very exciting, and with one class down, hopefully the rest of the week would go just as smooth.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Refleksji o Polsce

[ Reflections on Poland ]

Here I am now, sitting in the first class booth on a Deutsche Bahn ICE train [my ticket to Poland was part of a coincidental special ticket package from DB!] trying to tie the loose strings on my writings about Poland, constantly refering back to the great photos that I took with everyone to remind me of my great time there.

Departing from Kraków Głowny, I was sent off after some big hugs with waves from Kaśka and Ania. They stayed until the train pulled away, and Kaśka rubbed a smudged smiley face onto the window before the train started up. My time spent with them was really exceptional.

Writing about Poland was hard. The weight that the trip carried was immense, and the posts that show for it are lackluster at best. Going to Poland, as I had mentioned before, has been something that I have wanted to do my entire life – and just like Paris, you get off the bus/train and you think… “what the heck… I am really here?” as if it isn’t true from the spur of the moment decision to travel there.

Similarly on a whim with my fortunate college scheduling, I was able to go to Kraków much like Paris – no planning, just going and we’ll see how things happen. I didn’t want to write about Poland like Paris however – In Paris I was a definite tourist and I observed and wrote like one – In Poland I was living with family, exploring my roots, ultimately being escorted around and checking out the city like a tourist, but I didn’t want to reflect like one. I really wanted to see Poland and learn about the life, and analyze the history and the people, and where my family’s history fit in … and in essence do exactly what I am doing in Germany now.

[ Blessed natural water for drinking, with minerals. It tasted like scrambled eggs... so much sulfur. I guess it was healthy though, thats what the sign said ]

I had to admit to myself that the short trip may have introduced so much to me – and I would actually toss in bed thinking about what I wanted to compare next, but I held back. It just didn’t fit – not yet at least. I wasn’t there long enough and I wasn’t living on my own. There are still many stories or cultural mishaps that I wasn’t able to share –

One of which was with Wujek’s mother, the other Babcia of Michał, Kaśka and Ania, who may not be blood related with me – but heck, with all the family that I met in one rapid weekend, she might as well be. Well, at the door, I was introduced as Zosia Partynska’s grandson from the states and she knew where I fell then in the family tree and I reached back into the think tank and greeted her with a polite “Bardzo mi miło pana poznać” … only that is the greeting for a man – nice to meet you sir… I needed to say panią.

And it is little quirks like this, or observations from TV or people in the street that I wanted to note, but my trip was too short and the observations still too premature. There have been scholarship opportunities to study at Jagelloński University in Kraków, and I really would like to work hard, study for some decent Polish skills and experience a year in the great city.

But maybe I am ahead of myself – what else is new – I have an internship in Germany to find, my first political science lecture auf Deutsch this week, as well as a night course for Japanese language ... with Grammar taught in German, go figure. One step at a time.

Seeing so much of Poland, however, in such a short time really was like jumping in two feet first. I was surrounded by the language – my listening improved quickly, my speaking not so much from my cowardice to refrain from grammatical mistakes – but I gained a little more confidence that I could one day actually pick the language up if I really tried.

Poland has so much culture and things to see, from the performers in the street, to the great museums [ and surprising ones like Manggha]. The history really captures my thoughts of what government, law and politics really are at their roots and theory, and I feel would be very beneficial to learn from. The people are extremely hospitable, and really just like my family back home, which was something I was so happy and humbled to find. It is a great feeling to know that you have these kinds of roots to discover and so much to learn if I just work to understand it.

[ Lots to discover - Kinda looks like the DaVinci Code, yeah? ]

I have many goals and desires – like seeing Poland from a new perspective side by side with my Babcia, or seeing Poland and being introduced to things with my Mom who has never been – but speaks fluent Polish. Someday I can learn the complex, but beautiful language, possibly take some courses at Jagelloński, document my family’s story, see more pictures, write down more recipes, explore the great night atmosphere and wrap up the information-packed days getting a kiełbasa at 2 am from one of the friendly vendors creating makeshift coal-fire grills on the street corners as everyone heads back [or out from] home.

From hundreds of meters above overlooking Zakopane, to hundreds of meters below Welicka, I really went all over with Kaśka, Michał and Ania and I am really so fortunate to have them as cousins, to have gotten along with them so great, and I really can’t say thank you to them enough. Like Michał said – it was nice to meet you – all of you, and I am looking forward to being in very close touch in the future. A new close bond in the family has been bridged and I hope it will lead to many other great gatherings in the future!

Pulling into Berlin, I had a bit of a shock that I was back in the German speaking world – and I had to brush up again with my entschuldigung’s and Danke Schön’s , since even after a few days, now, Przepraszam and Dziękuję want to slip off my tongue. I start classes tomorrow so I need to get that dictionary back out and get back to work. Sitting in the train, I still have that smudged smiley face from Kaśka grinning at me as a reminder to just enjoy it as it goes.