Thursday, October 1, 2009

And then it hit me


There is that feeling that one gets tapping the table recklessly with your fingertips, jumping out of your skin with too much caffeine, regretting that you had that extra cup of coffee. I only had one cup of coffee this morning, but that caffeine feeling - an unnerving feeling for the unknown evening and living situation ahead -has lingered for hours afterwards. It is departure day and I had no anticipation whatsoever how I was going to feel.

I had woken up far too early given the fact that I didn’t get to bed until around 4 o’clock after returning with Adriane from my extremely enjoyable outing to the surprise party the evening earlier. At 6:30 sharp my Nokia ring went off – my daily alarm for Deutschkurs at the CDC – Darn it… why did I not turn that off. Something – maybe already the adrenaline of “last day nerves” – lifted me from my bed and I headed to the shower and just got ready for the day – a day that really serves as the first turning point of this year.

It has been a stressful few days to say the least. I have most definitely been having an exceptional time with my host family helping host parties or heading out to other events and parties in the area, but along with that I had other things I my mind, like completing my resume in German to submit to my program, my final German exam, figuring out how to transfer luggage and get train tickets here in Germany, anxiously wondering what Göttingen will be like [… is this the first time I am mentioning Göttingen here in the blog?! Ja... I recently learned that is my next host city, living there with the Graf family and attending Georg-August Universität… now you know as much as me – let’s go buy a train ticket!]

Being up so early, I was able to see Klara off to school, and then have Frühstück with Angelika, Stefan… and Boris and Aunt Gaby spent the night here last night?! … Essentially an entire part of the family. Everything was normal, with just a bit of a solemn mood- heck, even the weekly house cleaner seemed a little bummed I was going and hoped to see me again during the holidays.

Angelika and I skimmed through the blog together and looked at some of the photos – many of which she hadn’t seen yet and had a great time reflecting and also had a few laughs. She especially liked the post about the “shitting paper is over” as the whole situation came back to her, and then she made another priceless comment in German – In this family we always have good champagne but you never know when there won’t be toilette paper. She then asked me, like she would any morning we had breakfast together “Was soll ich für Abendessen machen?” – what should I make for dinner, until it struck her again that I wasn’t even going to be there and that realization made her frown.

Everyone went along with their daily tasks, and I got my luggage together and took one last trip downtown to get some flowers for the new host family I would meet in the evening.

I had mentioned a few weeks back that I found it odd that I felt no anxiety about being in Germany for a year, let alone any realization of how long that was. Today changed that. The caffeine-like anxiety was running through my veins the entire morning… I woke up at 6:30… my train was at 1… how many hours do you need to pace by your bags to see that they are zipped up alright?

Anytime my departure time would cross my mind however, I had another anxiety jolt – another new host family… I don’t know what they look like… 10 months?... is my German good enough… I have to find a job before the holidays… am I ready to jump into this feet first?


I think I already did two months ago but this is just the first time that I needed to come up for some air.

The family all returned home – or for Adriane and Eva with their late nights like me – woke up, and it was just more awkward pacing for me. Lots of smiles, Angelika telling me that if anything Scheiβ happens that they are always there, and well… more awkward pacing through the house trying to find something to do with myself.

I didn’t know what to think, today was not the end of a two month summer youth exchange program… this was something totally new and foreign for me… I was leaving one family I just truly bonded with including host sisters that were exceptional and great friends, and now I wasn’t returning to the states as if the experience were over… I am going to a new city that essentially begins my educational year in Germany. I had to start all over...

We all loaded my stuff into the car and everyone had to rush over to the Hauptbahnhof – I was already pushing it. And when I say everyone, I am even including Aunt Gaby here! We arrived with only 14 minutes before my train and from there everything felt rushed. Platform 1. I was smiling, but I felt fuzzy – departing at the train station was a feeling of limbo – going from one foreign place to the other…the train only taking me to my next destination… not that I even knew anything about it beside the fact that it was my home for the next 10 months.

[ I am so bummed the exposure on this photo didn't take well... everything was too rushed to realize that it wasn't good. but it is really sweet anyways. ]

In front of the train we had 5 minutes. In the blur of events – thank you so much, hugs, standing in an awkward circle, vielen Dank, more hugs – and then Adriane pulled out a surprise for me. This is when the past 2 months all came full circle. Eva and her had created a beautiful accordion photo album with pictures with all the family members in all different events of the month – wow, I really had done so much. Paris, cooking with the host family, the cow at the Oktoberfest party, my first evening traveling to France and Germany in one evening - I was beaming. I don’t even remember after the fact if I was speaking English or German but after more thank you’s I was pushed on the train. Everyone found my window and waved until I pulled away.

I just left home here in Germany – I think that is a fair explanation. The Weber’s are truly special people sharing so much zest for life, spontaneity and generosity. Now I am on a train blocked in by my baggage here in my seat – German forests streaming by on my left with my flower bouquets at my feet. That is what “what did I just get myself into” feels like. A few minutes before 7 and I will be setting foot in Göttingen and a new host family that I have no idea what they look like will be waiting for me at the gate.

Wirklich?! Eine Japaner?

[ Really?! A Japanese person? ]

Tuesday night was my last night in Saarbrücken and after everything was all complete with my language school and receiving my certificate, the only thing left on my agenda was enjoying as much time as I could with my host sisters. Both Eva and Adriane had mentioned that they had a surprise party for a close friend of theirs and they wanted me to come with them for the evening. I was pretty excited because I would get to meet a lot of new people and also share time once again with Eva, Adriane, Olli and Lutz on my final night before my move the next day.

Once at the house, there were a lot of friends all crowded in a small room and tons of food on tables all around. The birthday girl’s roommates really made a very nice spread for the surprise party. Once she arrived, and everyone hushed in the dark room and then yelled Überraschung! Surprise! The party began and everyone began moving inside and outside and socializing.

The hosts were so nice and definitely brought me right into the mix of the party, and I joined some conversations on the outside patio. It was there that I saw one of the German guys talking with an Asian girl, which initially I passed off as her being from Germany as well like many foreigners I see here speaking perfect German. Well, that wasn’t the case since I heard both of them speaking poor English together. So I asked her where she was from, and go figure – Hokkaido, Japan.

ヘぇぇぇぇぇ ?!?!?!

本当に????

I probably looked really excited and just went out into a full banter in Japanese. It was my first time being able to speak some Japanese here in Germany over the past two months and I had been looking forward to conversations somewhere like Paris or Munich that never happened. The excited and rapid Japanese responses from me caught the attention of some Germans around as well – I guess it would look funny… the American guy hears English… so asks the girl where she is from... and then they all the sudden go off speaking in Japanese. We became an entertainment fixture for a while I think, but I enjoyed talking to Hiromi about how my brother had traveled to Asahikawa, Hokkaido and the things he experienced there. Of all places to meet a Japanese person, the last place I would expect was a random surprise house party, but I thought it was so cool.

The conversation with Hiromi went on for quite a while and I learned that she met her boyfriend from Germany when they were both studying abroad in Australia. She had been in Saarbrücken for three months, but realistically couldn’t speak anything more than a few accented words in German. I was amazed at how she had gotten by – Practically no Germans in the area study Japanese, English is really not that reliable, and she spoke virtually no German. Her only response to that was an awkward laugh. I guess it had been an awkward three months!

In the beginning of the conversation my Japanese was very rusty – German vocabulary and grammar would hit my tongue first, but after a while this began going smoothly again – actually so smooth that when a German next to me would ask a question I had to regain my thoughts to form the German grammar correctly! After a while the party all began to mesh together and everyone’s conversations blended as we socialized outside. I was having such a great time since the conversations were back and forth in German, Japanese and a little English when the Germans had a question about some American slang or something. Overall, it was just one big translation event in my head, and honestly my brain was in overload, but with the great company, laughing with my host sisters, the surprise of meeting Hiromi from Hokkaido, and also chatting long into the night with other German students my age, I couldn’t have asked for a more fun, challenging evening for my last night in Saarbrücken. I truly hope that this year has more nights like Tuesday night.

Wer Merkel will, muss CDU Wählen

[ Whoever wants Merkel must vote CDU ]

Amongst the grilling of Schweinhax’n and the streaming flow of foamy beer at Sunday’s Oktoberfest party there were a few TV’s on in the background of the festivities with coverage over the national elections. The 27th was the day that would decide if Angela Merkel would remain Chancellor of Germany, and which political parties would claim majority in the Bundestag.

[ Whoever wants Merkel must vote CDU - advising people that just voting for the FDP and a schwartz-gelb coalition is not a enough to secure the currently Chancellor's position ]

I still find it interesting that Germans utilize Sundays for voting – something that I don’t thing would ever work well in the States, but before the Oktoberfest kickoff on Sunday, Angelika and Stefan both left for a few minutes to cast their votes.

I have kept my eyes open around the city over the past month hoping to find clear opinions after my very confusing research during the local elections and trying to understand how the political system worked. I have broken down the basic beliefs of the major political parties earlier in the blog, and I had also mentioned the complex coalition systems including rot-rot-grün or a Jamaica coalition as some possibilities for government results.

From my observations I was able to see some of the fears, hopes, and opinions of some German news papers, and even caught a bit of the debates on TV with Merkel questioned side by side with her current SPD rival Frank Walter Steinmeier [ Who is also the German Foreign Minister ] who was actually her partner in the Grand Coalition that was formed between the parties over the past four years [confused?].

[ Yes, we yawn! This pun was referring to the uneventful debate that really didn't offer much spark or controversy... or any of the excitement that the American elections seemed to have in the debates. But the Germans have definitely borrowed the Yes We Can phrase for many things dealing with the elections, that is for sure! ]

The big push in this election however, was Merkel’s plan to break ties with the SPD party and create a more conservative coalition with the FDP party which she felt would help Germany in this “time of economic crisis.”

[ Yellow-black CDU/FDP or Red-Black CDU/SPD grand coalition?? This was the leading question for the election day]

Over the past month, the debates in the German media was whether Germany was ready for such a conservative economic reform with smaller government as a solution for the economic crisis, or would the results enforce another four years of a Grand Coalition with the SPD party which would ultimately stall any proactive action within the government.

[ Decisions, decisions for this tight election race]

While watching TV on Sunday, the results scrolled in at the bottom of the news broadcasts, and I must say that I was actually very surprised myself. Not only was the CDC the clear majority winner, thus making Angela Merkel Chancellor for a second term, but the FDP party had gained a huge surplus in votes compared to four years ago [9.8 to 14.6 % ] landing the opportunity for Merkel to form her devised coalition plan.

[ A comedian doing an impersonation of Merkel. It was actually pretty funny - but nothing beats Tina Fey doing Palin - even if this was a man here playing the Kanzlerin! ]

The CDU party actually lost a small amount of percentage from their previous elections, but the majority was still clear compared to the opposing liberal SPD party that plummeted almost 10% less votes than they received last election, making it the worst outcome for the liberal party since WWII.

There are a number of reasons for this, some being that the concervative Schwartz-Gelb [ Black Yellow – CDU / FDP ] campaigning successfully informed the public how their plan could help Germany during the economic crisis. The other reason could have been the shock and fear that Germans displayed after the liberal extremists – Die Linke – came out stronger than anticipated in the regional elections, and Germans may have feared that SPD coalitions with a party that leans towards communism is risky to vote for the socialistic agenda. I have also read that many simply see Steinmeier as best fit as his current role as Foreign Minister.

So amongst the celebrations on TV with the crowd chanting “Angie Angie” as Angela Merkel claimed her victory, the reporters began to analyze what the election results could mean for the next four years for Germany. Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the FDP party, the party that had the biggest success story of the election, wishes to propose a business friendly free market system, and citizens are waiting to see if Merkel can keep up with these views that are known to be more radical than her party’s belief system.

Other hot topics of the election included the sending of German troops to Afghanistan [ Germany has the third largest representation in the countries conflicts ]. Also, on a social observation in Germany, it has been widely publicized about the FDP’s leader, Westerwelle’s standing as an openly gay politician. With the results supporting Merkel and Westerwelle to form a coalition with their parties, this would essentially mean that a woman and a gay male hold two of the highest positions in the German national government. America may have made major social progress with the election of Obama last year, but I feel that the results of the German election is something that won’t be seen in America any time soon.

The main political issues that will be under scrutiny and debate from Sunday’s election results will be Merkel’s new plans for tax cuts, cuts in social welfare benefits and cuts in government spending, all in her plans to shrink the power of national government with the Schwarts-Gelb coalition. It was highly doubted that Merkel would have been successful with this plan if another four years of the Grand Coalition were the result of the election, but at the same time, many experts wonder how the government can foot the bill for these projects in these trying economic times. These will all be things that I will be looking out for as the year progresses and more political news from the new coalition surfaces.