Monday, May 31, 2010

Deutschland liebt Lena

[ Germany loves Lena ]

I haven't really covered anything about German television this year - there is probably a reason. Actually I barely watch any of it, and when I do... well it isn't that great. I have watched the news with Inge and Andreas, or watched an occasional episode of the never ending Krimi [ Crime drama ] Tatort on a Sunday night with Andreas, but I never really watch anything by myself. [ Anything considered "good" on German television is a dubbed American show...]

One show that I have seen some of was the incredibly lame, but guilty pleasure of "Deutschland sucht ein Superstar" along with Hans and friends this past winter when I lived with his family for a few weeks. It was everything bad about American Idol, but the show, translated to "Germany searches for a Superstar" was terrible, and seemed to have no shame in showcasing it [ bad costumes, terrible singing, back up dancers, one guy singing the YMCA in total seriousness in the semi finals... ]

There was another singing show that was on TV that I began to notice in magazines around town. This was for "Unser star für Oslo" [ Our star for Oslo ] which was a talent search to find the next German vocal talent to represent the country in Oslo, Norway for the Eurovision contest.

Now, most Americans have never heard of the Eurovision contest, and a few might vaguely remember it from my blog in Finland. That is where I learned about the contest, since the band Lordi claimed its fame from this competition, thus bringing the contest to Helsinki the following year. The concept of the contest is simple. Each country in Europe [ and it reaches out to far east Europe and even Baltic states - and Isreal ] sends an act to perform in the contest. Normally the songs are very pop or dance oriented, and largely sung in English and French [ and rarely, but often to my enjoyment, in the native language]. The contest has gone on for decades now, meant initially to reunite Europe in a singing contest, but now the show is a big cheezy glitz show, which is also why many still love it.

The acts are over the top, with dancers and flashing lights, and often the songs are terrible. Here is the catch however. Callers to vote cannot vote for their own country. This results in countries sending their "points" out for other nation's performers. It is almost political in the way the commentators analyze how different countries vote to delegate their points. The winning country is not only the star of Europe for the year in the pop scene, but they also bring the contest to their home country the next year [ thus meaning that Norway won last year, which is why it is in Oslo now - the tourism bonus of this contest is now very apparent ].

Anyways, I have not been following TV that much, including the lackluster German pop scene, but I began to notice this one innocent-enough German girl popping up all over the place. Lena Meyer-Landrut is a German singer that won "Unser star für Oslo" with a catchy love song sung with a unique British English accent. She ultimately became Germany's sweethart, coming from Hanover, and now representing the country as a symbol for the generation.

The other night I was at a house party along with Moritz, mingling with the crowd, and on every television in the house was this Eurovision contest. I guess it is a pretty big event here. Every country performed, some with over the top smiles and costumes, and others belting out ballads. Lena proved to be a continental favorite, since her votes from other countries flowed into a landslide victory. I guess I - in a way - just witnessed a small part of German pop history. The young singer won the contest, and will bring the festivities to Germany next year [ which will most definitely be a hugely publicized event in some German city known for their huge parties and festivities that I will be missing out on this time next year ].

The song is nothing spectacular, but has already flooded the airwaves. I have caught up with the excitement in the news the past few days, and this girl really is beloved by her country. A little innocent, a little sassy with a tattoo on her arm, simple beauty with her brown hair and eyes, Germany is declaring her a symbol of the nation and generation and even the top newspapers have evaluated her as an important figure for the German pop scene. After all, 20 years after the fall of the wall [ I know I mention it a lot on this blog, but that is only because you read about it all the time here in Germany - it is an event that is a reference almost always ] and this girl represents a generation that is just of age after this landmark event for Germany. It is so interesting that I figured it was worth writing about, since defining where Germany stands as a culture - especially a youth culture - is still an on going search, and Lena may be a new poster child for the movement.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


When you receive an E-mail from your scholarship program with this as the subject

AND you understand what it means without making a double-take

That means you have been in Germany for a long time...

[ btw, it means Health Insurance Certificate ]


Saturday, May 29, 2010

das deutsche Leben

[ The German Life ]

Let's face it, I let myself get distracted for a few days, and I had some unique adjusting to do when I returned back to Germany. Last time I made a trip to Poland, it was planned conveniently between my transition from Saarbrücken to Göttingen. This time, I really had no transition period. Germany was beautiful when I returned. It had not rained here nearly as much as the devastating flood inducing storms in Poland, but I did return after the bad weather moved out and it was a post-card perfect spring setting in Germany. Good weather, and bustling city center aside, I found myself struggling a bit to get back into the swing of things and get some of my German homework done.

Life in Germany isn't all Kaffe und Kuchen all the time [ even though it is good when there is Kaffe and Kuchen ]. There are some days that I wake up and I feel as if my German was better back in Saarbrücken when I was still conjugating verbs. I have on and off days. There are some evenings that we can discuss current events after the news, like the ongoing mess of Greece, bankruptcy and Angela Merkel being pressured to help the situation - all of this in fluid German with me following along fine. Then there are the days, like trying to explain the floods in Poland to Andreas... and he simply had to stare at me, pause, and admit that he didn't follow one word.

Back to work now, back to daily life, I have hit my own little bump in the road - I need to make the effort to move from understandable German to good German. That means I have to stop inventing genders for nouns and make some good sentences. This is where finding motivation requires a bit of creativity, but I think I will manage.

Friday, May 28, 2010


[ Auschwitz ]

I did not feel that the following photos were appropriate to add to my original post about Poland. I visited Auschwitz concentration camp with my brother, and I do feel that it is important, however, to acknowledge the experience on the blog. Babcia did not go on this excursion with us, about one hour south of Krakow - she had seen it once and beyond that she had nothing left there to see.

[ The entrance sign: "Work will set you free" ]

The circumstances of my year could definitely have had me confused and upset at the site, trying to understand Germany and Poland in very intimate experiences. Even so, what Auschwitz presents even more profoundly is how the continent around it has changed so much in the years that have passed - Auschwitz is extremely hard to contemplate. It cannot go unnoticed however how meticulous the camp was; Every detail is documented. The experience required a period of time for me to return back to the optimistic and celebratory atmosphere of my trip to Poland, but it was a very important experience that will stay with me for a long time.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Polen mit Babcia

[ Poland with Babcia ]

First in Kraków, then a trip to Częstochowa, followed by a trip to the mountains in Zakopane, later getting stuck in the flood that took place in Poland of historical proportions, all intermixed with visits with several dozens of family members of all generations. It was an incredible experience, and here are a few of the photos from my trip to Poland with Babcia.


[ Babcia with Kaśka and Michał ]

[ King of the castle ]

[ Częstochowa ]

[ The Black Madonna of Częstochowa, one of the most famous relics of Poland around the world. It is so shrined in gold and jewels that it radiates in the church. ]

[ Underground in the Weliczka Salt Mines - and an interesting find, the Weimar room and a tribute to Goethe, the famous German poet that visited the mines at one time. I had to capture these photos for Andreas. ]

[ Adam sporting a Góral inspired look in Zakopane ]

[ The rain begins, 5 days straight. Here come the floods. ]

[ Polish style 70's bar in Zakopane. I guess you had to be there to understand. ]

[ Remember Ciocia Zosia, my aunt who I met in Munich? She visited us again in Poland! Always a great time - and a few unforgettable photos. ]

[ Life in the smaller Polish towns and villages ]

[ This was a small creek, around 2 meters, now swollen to over 100 meters across due to the floods. The damage in southern Poland was devastating. ]

[ Visiting the appartment where Babcia once lived and also raised our uncle and aunt before coming to America. ]
[ The view that Babcia would have seen from her Appartment looking over Krenica ]

Monday, May 24, 2010

Die einmal im Leben Polen-Reise

[ The once in a lifetime trip through Poland ]

The delay on blog posts has become pretty apparent. In fact, I really didn't know how to approach the blog again. I did no lead in to the events that would take place, and I really hopped on the train with no expectations - not the first time this year.

The event I am talking about was a rather uncomplicated train ticket purchase to Poland, but after crossing the border 3 hours into my 12 hour trip, I had to pinch myself that I was going to be partaking in a groundbreaking event in my life.

Groundbreaking, because the life dream that I wrote about just half a year ago upon returning from my first trip to Poland [ already a landmark event in my life ] was taking shape - Babcia and Adam were coming to visit family in Poland! I worked hard to convince Babcia throughout the year how important it was to me to visit Poland with her, and it was difficult at times to empathize with the normal struggles of daily life over 82 years old, but also encourage her that all the stresses of visiting Europe would be worth it.

Naturally, the trip was overwhelming. I was so excited to see my brother after 10 months - the longest I hadn't seen my best friend since, well, the 18 months between our birthdays - and sharing his first experience in Europe with him was special. There was also the incredible amount of family that we visited - over 15 houses and dozens of relatives from cousins, aunts, uncles, and a slew of prefixes of "first removed" "twice removed" - however, in Poland, we just ignore it, everyone is a Wujek, Ciocia and Cousin. Of course, I have more questions for Babcia now than answers, but what I witnessed and was able to share side by side with my grandmother to learn about my family history is immeasurable.

The visit feels separate from this yearlong experience in Germany however. It was more economical and efficient to make this trip while I was in Europe [ otherwise I guarantee it never would have came together ], but it was difficult at first to mentally adapt to the magnitude of the experience. I have lived now in Germany for 10 months. I speak German daily - maybe not grammatically correct, but the fact is that I have become used to speaking grammatically incorrect German, and resultantly grammatically incorrect English. Coming to Poland I surprised myself and followed dinner conversations in this third foreign language I started to tackle better that I anticipated. I just couldn't string together a Polish sentence of my own to save my life, but listening was what was most important during the trip.

Adapting to Poland is one thing - I have great family there, and wonderful hospitality of my cousins Michał and Kaśka whom I was so excited to see - however, during this experience I had my first "reintroduction" to America with my brother and Babcia around as well. Little things that they normally do caught my attention profoundly. I stuttered my own English, no longer having to enunciate as much like I do with Erasmus friends, yet was caught off guard at the rapidity of my brother's rundown on one years worth of college stories as a freshman.

I hadn't realized what had become normal for me this year, what I had modified to fit into certain situations, and now, I was in a situation where three very different lifestyles were battling for my attention.

I am back in Germany now and admittedly I needed a few days to rebound back. It may have been a short visit, but I came back sharing some Polish chocolates and a shot of Polish Żubrówka with Inge and Andreas unable to get some of my points across in any sensible German. I was exhausted, and on top of lack of sleep making the most of every moment, I had to jump a hurdle of a very unique depression.

This wasn't culture shock, or reverse culture shock. This was - "Where am I now, who am I now, What am I now... What do I do now?". Living abroad requires a bit of interpretation and presentation. You constantly observe, mimic and experiment to master a language and fit into a culture. Before you know it, these tactics to survive become habits. In Poland - amongst the natural emotional impact of standing in the same apartment where Babcia once lived, or digesting the stories of keeping a family together with an ocean dividing them - I was on observational overload - Why are we American? Why am I in Germany? [ not a pessimistic question, but more along the lines of, what do I do now with what I have learned there, including the language], Where do I start to really understand my heritage to its fullest? Am I ready to go back to America?

I was ready to stop blogging. It didn't make sense anymore [ however, I am going to try my best, I gave 10 months of solid effort and enjoyed it, now I have the last two to experience with the same enthusiasm for observation]. While my post for Poland will decidedly be a collage of pictures, my private journal that I have kept on the side here filled up quite a few more pages as I only began to brush the surface on just a small sample of the questions that filled my head as I was in Poland.

So here it stands, my blog post on perhaps one of the most profound events in my life, that I am keeping rather private. Visiting family members, watching Babcia say last physical goodbyes to relatives that will never travel anymore, it all had a great impact on me. Maybe I can joke now and say that I learned a good stone face in Germany - but behind the contemplative facade, I know that what this experience means for me will only begin to reveal itself as time passes. For now, I am back into my current norm of the German lifestyle taking each day as it comes and making the most of it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Away for a few days

I'll be back soon

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tag der Arbeit am ersten Mai

[ Labor day on the first of May ]

With Moritz back home, we decided to cook for Inge and Andreas over the weekend and make a nice evening with everyone back together. Now, being in Germany, I know very well already that everything is closed on Sundays. It is a pain sometimes, but once you are used to it, planning out what to buy for Sunday just becomes a part of Saturday life.

I went shopping with Moritz on Friday and we were picking everything up. I told Moritz, however, that I would pick up the fresh bread the next day - but then to my surprise, I found out it was a holiday.

And Moritz told me matter-of-factly as if I should have known, ersten Mai, the first of May. Uhh... That is a holiday where everything is closed? I later found out that this was not just some day to enjoy Spring weather in Germany, but it was the nations Labor Day. Curiously, I found out that many European nations based this holiday off of the States, but the US is one of the only western nations that doesn't celebrate it in May, but in September.

The holiday has a bit of a different meaning in Germany as well. It is a day to bring attention to Arbeitslosigkeit - unemployment - and in many large cities large riots of right-wing extremists collaborate against Police - all of which was documented on TV from Hamburg and Berlin. The day wasn't all political however. Many - and probably most - Germans enjoy the day with family, and many young adults probably use the day to catch up on sleep from a night of dancing. I wasn't out myself on this particular Friday night, however, I learned that this evening before this national holiday is now known as der Hexentanz - the witches dance. Apparently women go out dressed as witches to clubs and parties to bring in the Spring months [ since I doubt they are expecting to find any mates dressed as witches...]

[ Maybe Germany doesn't follow the "Halloween rule" from Mean Girls ]

Overall, this little holiday had me learning little cultural facts as the day progressed - many of them quirky things about Germany that I almost would have overlooked [ or just went shopping on Saturday and be one confused Foreigner standing in front of Kaufland...]