Friday, September 25, 2009

Starren aus dem Fenster

[ Staring out the window ]

It had been an exciting rush of a weekend. After the parade, Ciocia and I made some last minute purchases for things to take back home with us, and I grabbed a few things to take back to the Weber Family as gifts. After that, it was back home since Ciocia wanted to fit in a quick lunch before I had to make my way to the meeting point for my next adventure.

[ During lunch Ciocia turned on the coverage of the festival on TV. It is just like American coverage for a Thanksgiving parade - except this goes on all day for the entire fest I think... And look at the announcers - Sitting before the festival on TV in Lederhosen and Dirndl drinking beers! ]

Ciocia had made an excellent lunch, and at quarter to two [ I was departing at 3 pm in the carpool] I kept trying to calm her that I had enough time and that we could still sit and enjoy the last bit of time together. She had spoiled me so much this weekend, from letting me stay over, to the great meals she made [ she pinched homemade pierogi for me! ], to the ferris wheel ride, and bavarian lunch downtown - everything was really wirklich zu viele Ciocia! Vielen Dank! [ Really, Too much! Thank you soo much!] To which she would always smile with a response of Nicht zu danke, Krzysiu, nicht zu danke. [ Nothing to thank me for ].

Her huge generosity wasn't done however, because she sent me home with a bag filled with a bunch of ingredients and food - Kiełbasa from Tarnów, Poland, Kabanosy from Kraków, Poland [ both cities that I have relatives in! ] as well as a bunch of Bavarian specialties like Knödel dumplings and Schwäbisch Maultaschen [ a type of ravioli - the name is roughly mouth pockets... like bite sized!]. I know that with everything, my host family back home was really going to enjoy all of the regional flavors [ I even had some left over pierogi to take back too!]. Ciocia really sent me back loaded with gifts. I had such a great time with her, and I definitely hope to go back and see her this year. Hopefully we can follow through with are plan to maybe see Neuschwanstein castle together! Munich was beautiful, and I was so fortunate to have such a caring aunt living there to introduce me to the city and local culture and fill the three days with so much fun.

Everything for the mitfahrgelegenheit carpool went much more smoothely for the ride home. I met Nicolas and two other carpoolers at three o'clock sharp at the street crossings that we had planned, and Ciocia waited with me until everything was set, and then after a lot of buzi [ kisses in Polish ] the door was shut, all my food was packed away, and I drove off waving.

The carpool back was enjoyable. Everyone seemed exhausted from the weekend so talking was at a minimum in the beginning and everyone relaxed the rest of the way home. There was a lot of traffic because of people leaving Munich back home [ and Germany seeming to have too many two lane "highways"...] so the trip took over 6.5 hours. Regardless, it was still just as awkward as the first trip sitting as the token American with bad German fumbling out my stories to the group and trying to be involved in the conversations auf Deutsch with complete strangers in a tiny car. [ Which I find funny, because I am a tiny guy, so tiny cars are fine for me - and unlike Japan, where the people fit perfectly into their tiny cars, the tall German guys that usually tower over me all were wedged with their knees angled sideways to just find a comfortable sitting position!]

I have noticed already - in my almost two months of living here in Germany - that there are places where it is difficult to learn German - be it that the area is very touristy like Oktoberfest and English is almost the first language, or sometimes in a big city where the clientele and pedestrians will immediately speak to you in English if they even remotely sense that you are a foreigner. There are other places, however, where Germany and other parts of Europe can still seem extremely overwhelming and foreign. It may take a little more work searching here than, say, Japan or Finland, but being in a car with a bunch of mid-20's German guys that I have never met and communicating and being in the same tiny car for a quarter of a day is pretty intimidating. Even so, I was still content squished in the back seat with my bag of sugar frosted heart cookies on my lap wafting the warm seasonal smell of gingerbread up to me the entire ride back.

[ Some examples of my heart cookies - so typical at the Oktoberfest festival. I asked for a random selection - and I got some very sweet ones like " I mog Di" - Bavarian dialect for "Ich mag Dich" I like you. I also got the one on the left... Miststück, which literally means "piece of crap"... Angelika laughed and really like the innocent mistake. It is still hanging in the dining room...]

As a matter of fact, for the ride to and from Munich, I borrowed a book from a friend that our class has all been chatting about lately. It is the autobiography of Julia Child, My Life in France, which is connected to the movie Julie and Julia out in theaters now with Merryl Streep. The book discusses Child struggling as an American trying to learn French cooking in France and picking up the language - and essentially living a similar experience that we are all now as well. There was one part of the book that stuck out to me, and really connected with how I felt sitting in the back seat of the car driving by seemingly endless German farmland.

"... Yes, it was nice to have a bathroom in the hotel and fine service at breakfast, and I'd probably never visit those grand hotels again, but none of it seemed foreign enough to me. It was all so pleasantly bland that it felt as if I were back on the SS America. I don't like it when everyone speaks perfect English; I'd much rather struggle with my phrase book."

If there is anything I have learned about myself spending half a year of my life [2 months Japan, 2 months Finland and now 2 months in Germany] it is that I think I thrive off of that excitement - and stress - of feeling stranded and confused in a foreign environment. It is just so much fun. Even when you are in those situations and learning new things, and new vocabulary at rapid pace, you actually are constantly reflecting and finding connections to reminisce to other memories as well.

It is hard not to compare my excitements in Germany to meeting my host family in Saga, Japan in the airport for the first time, or my fast-learned humility nude in a Finnish sauna, but as the sun was setting over the rolling hills of southern Germany, and I didn't really know where I was going or what direction was home, it also reminded me all the way to memories like I was a toddler or young kid again eagerly staring out the window like I would on roadtrips to Chicago or Florida with my family. Nicolas, the driver, also had an airy sounding whistle through his front teeth that he would follow along with the music on the radio and that only could give me a little nostalgia thinking about my dad doing the same and a bit of homesickness wishing I could have shared the great weekend I had with Ciocia Zosia with everyone back home as well. I think that is why I take so many seemingly redundant pictures. Everything that catches my eye is usually in mind of someone that I would love to have shared that moment with.

When I arrived back home in Saarbrücken, it was so nice to walk in the door late at night and greet everyone for the first time being gone from the family on my own. It is unique to feel like you are part of the family and that you were gone for a while and everyone wants to hear a bit about your weekend. I shared my gifts with everyone and within minutes the fragrant candied walnuts and almonds were gone and the huge pretzel was ripped into portions. We hung the heart cookies on the chandelier [ they would serve as a perfect decoration for an Oktoberfest themed party that we would have at Am. Triller 2 later in the week! ] and I downloaded my pictures to talk about the funny stories with Ciocia and the cool sights we saw together.

The weekend captured so much excitement for me and really exhilarated me, sometimes challenged me, and also really inspired me to keep searching and enjoying the great situations and events that I could find myself in struggling in German, and ultimately truly learning so much about Germany and myself.

Den ersten Wiesn Sonntag

[ The first Sunday of Oktoberfest ]

Ciocia was very anxious to head down the street to find a spot to view the parade, and now I know why she enjoys seeing it so much. The parade has so many costumes and music, and really so much variety to see. This post will be a representative collage of photos from the parade, since it was seriously huge - the entire procession was probably over 2 hours long.

[ He must be pretty special having four guys carry a wreath-crown around him ]

The parade in known as the Oktoberfest costume and riflemen's Parade. It is always on the first Wiesn Sunday. Die Wiesn is what the locals in Munich call the Oktoberfest since the festival takes place at Theresienwiese. The parade is an extremely long showcasing of various traditional costumes and military wear throughout the many villages and towns of Bavaria [ and different eras as well I think ].

[ Great music the entire parade ]

[ Light blue and white diagonal checkers - symbol from the Bavarian crest ]

[ Yes... those are Germans in blackface makeup... definitely could never do that in the states... even when representing trade rout culture in Bavarian history ]

There were many musicians tooting and banging traditional Bavarian tunes, always seeming to have that festive "oom pah pah" bounce to them. There were Germans dressed up, young and old, in a variety of different costumes. The entire environment really captured the essence of Oktoberfest, with all kinds of people dressed in outfits - tall and blonde, small children in Lederhosen in tiny flower covered wagons, busty Frauen in their Dirndl, Germans with rosy cheeks [some even carrying their Biers in the Parade], men with mustaches that curled into tremendous loops at the end [ Ciocia and I tried to find the longest 'stache], and when you were lucky, a man or woman would let out an energized yodel for the crowd - Yoooooooweeeeeeoooo.

[ These peasants were totally in character - look, they did the parade barefoot! ]

[ This cop was constantly running around trying to stop people from crossing the parade... here are some people sneaking behind his back! ]

Ciocia and I probably watched the parade for over an hour. We had a great time pointing, oohing, ahhing, [laughing when people would try to run across the parade, and the cop chased them down - only to have more dart behind his back]. I had a great time seeing so many of the outfits and the culture of Bavaria, and I was also so glad that Ciocia was having a great time as well.

[ Got Bier? ]

Das Riesenrad

[ The Ferris Wheel ]

The huge Ferris-wheel at the end of the fair was definitely a great backdrop behind all the amusement stands and beer tents. It was very cute as well, decorated like little Bavarian mountain houses.

When Ciocia and I were in line, she kept pushing me forward to make sure that we had the prime window seats. When we were inside and up in the sky, it was then that I realized why.

The view was incredible. You saw the entire festival thriving beneath you, all the people, and the huge Bierzelten around. Then, in the distance, as a grand background, you had the beautiful skyline of Munich with its churches and Rathaus along with other buildings. It was so sweet, and I could tell that Ciocia was truly enjoying the beautiful views too.

Actually from above, we could see the crowds of people preparing for the parade below! Ciocia was also excited to see that since she was talking about it earlier in the weekend as well. Once back on solid ground, we then weaved our way over to find a spot along the barricaded street to see what was going to march along towards are way.