Thursday, August 28, 2008

Der Fahrradweg

(The Bike Path)

I've spent a lot of time discussing the Altstadt - the old part of Marburg, the Germiest of German cities. But there is more to this city than quaint cobble stone streets and precariously leaning buildings from the Middle Ages.

For instance, this city is the most bike friendly place I have ever visited. I'm sure there are other bike friendly places on this planet, such as Portland, but I haven't visited them. Not that I have anything against Portland...or maybe I do. I've heard its kinda damp and grey... Anyway, every staircase in Marburg has a ramp for bikes and wheelchairs. Every single one. Witness:
It's brilliant. It's sensible. It's German.

If I ever run for local office, I think my primary platforms will be bread in every hand and bike ramps on every step. Many of the bikes in the city have saddle bags on the back wheel. People commute to class by attaching their bag to the bike and happily pedal along the Lahn River, never needing to remove their rears from their seats to carry their vehical down the stairs.

The Lahn, by the way is here:
It courses through town bearing ducks and paddle boats. That's right, they have paddle boats for the river. Before I leave this town I will strike out upon the roaring Lahn, conquering the rapids and shoals that clearly mar her surface under my own pedaling power. Or maybe there are other options I'm not thinking of (Cue storytime)...

A group of Fulbrighters and I were walking along the aforementioned path by the Lahn when we heard a rhythmic "Thud, Thud, Thud" from up river. The pounding grew louder, eventually turning into a "Boom, Boom, Boom." We clustered by a gap in the trees and saw the prow of the Marburg Warship sail into view. A massive drum was positioned in the front of the boat with a small, blond haired woman beating a steady cadence on its leather surface. In front of her were twenty men with very German scowels in two swaying columns. Each man had a canoe paddle in hand and was paddling in time to the drumbeat. In the stern stood a middle-aged man with a flowing beard in command of the rudder. He was wearing chain-mail and a wolf skin cloak.

Okay. Maybe he wasn't wearing the accessories. He might have been wearing athletic shorts and he might have been clean-shaven. I can't quite remember. The whole sight was just too awesomely bizarre to process all at once. For all I know they were all chanting about Thor and Valhalla. I really hope the Universität Bonn has a competitive War Canoe team 'cause I wanna get my Viking/Algonquin on.

Last Wednesday while wandering around the campus I found these two signs along the bike path next to the river:

Obviously the sign on the left is filling you in on Neptune, giving you it's Greek sign, its distance from the sun and its size relative to...something. Then I looked at the sign on the right and got really excited. As far as I could tell, there was a scale model of the Solar System crossing through Marburg. Judge my excitement at such a discovery as you see fit.

I just needed to figure out where it started (where the Sun was) and ended (where a lonely Pluto might have been stashed). On a walk back from class, I found Pluto and a sign showing that the model was on a scale of 1 meter to 100,000 km. Pluto is roughly 600,000,000 km from the Sun making a trans-solar system run about 6 km.

Awesome. I was going to run to the center of the Solar System. I was lucky the model was made before 2006 before Pluto was demoted to Planetoid status, otherwise it wouldn't have made a perfect 15 km route. I think I should explain here that I enjoy running long distances. I'm not particularly fast at going from point A to point B, but I will stubbornly move my feet until I reach my destination or collapse, a trait I share with such noble creatures as the lemming and the cicada.

Yesterday I finally set out on my solarcentric journey. Pluto is a fer piece from Neptune and Neptune is a fer piece from Uranus but there was something incredibly gratifying about anticipating Jupiter on the horizon instead of the next mile marker. The bike path was packed with other runners, walkers, joggers, cyclists and in-line skaters. The latter were especially hardcore, especially four guys in biker shorts shooting along in the path in perfect formation, not 12 inches from each other. I'm not coordinated enough to tackle that kind of workout.

The path followed the river, passing a few bars, the community pool, the Autobahn and eventually opened up to a agricultureal fields filled with crows picking through the furrows looking for seeds (or maybe they were in Jupiter's orbit munching on meteorites). I felt elated as I crossed the Asteroid Belt and entered the inner solar system. I would stop and jog in place at each plaque, trying to muddle my way through the German explanation. I got a few weird looks. At first I thought the looks meant, "Who slows down to read those signs?" then I remembered I was in Germany where science class hasn't shriveled into nothing and thought the looks might mean: "Who needs to read about Venus? I already know all that stuff." Even if the former is true (and I'll admit even the average German could care less about the diameter of Mercury), I would like to live in my fantasy world where everyone knows the structure of Saturn's rings.

When I finally reached the sun - a scaled yellow globe about a meter and a half in diameter - I remembered I had to get all the way back. After the return run I can tell you with confidence that the Solar System really is a big place that will really wear you down. The place sure did get cozy though by demoting Pluto. I really didn't expect the Germans to be the creators of something like the that model. I assumed they were more likely to precisely mark every quarter kilometer. I guess I have a bit to learn about these people yet. Good thing I have a year to go...


German Heutewort: Fleiβig - adj. diligence, industriousness (Gut Deutsch Wort)

Er arbeitet mit Fleiβig. Er kommt sicher aus Deutschland. Klischees ist sinnvoll.
He works with diligence. He surely comes from Germany. Stereotypes are usefull.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Medieval In Marburg

I have wonderful memories of the Ohio Renaissance festival. Every year I looked forward to the Mud Men in the Theater in the Ground, The Swordsmen, The Joust, British accents of mixed quality and a smoked turkey leg the size of a maraca. But the whole event seemed a little odd to me once I learned a thing or two about history and saw a few too many historical epics.

The amorphous time period bugged me a little. Queen Elizabeth paraded around with tenth century Norsemen and nineteenth century pirates. I understand it was all fantasy. I mean, the town was set up in an Ohio cornfield. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth that chunk of land was home to the Shawnee and Iroquois not bawdy washer-women and jugglers. I also feel Renaissance festivals have an unrealistically low leper and plague victim population. These aren't observations meant to ruin the great time everyone has at the Festival but they have made me wonder if Europeans 1) even have Renaissance festivals and 2) if they do, how accurate is the historical presentation in a world where castles from the sixteenth century line the Autobahn and old stuff maybe doesn't seem that rare or even that cool.

So, you can imagine my excitement and interest when I first saw signs for "Mittenalder Markt" or "Medival Market" in Marburg. They apparently have Medieval Fairs. This could be legit. Marburgers have a town square where they used to hang people! How cool is that? (Note: I realize it would not be cool for the people being hung, or for anyone who objects to capital punishment, like myself. But it is cool in an Oh-My-Gosh-This-Place-Has-Been-Around-Forever kind of way. Glad I clarified before you judged.)

The clocktower overlooking the Marketplatz where justice was handed down for a few dozen centuries in Marburg.

Saturday a group of us traipsed down our hill from the dorms and up to the castle to investigate Medival history in a place that can actually claim it. By the way, the walk up and down the hills of Marburg guarantees every Fulbrighter will leave with a healthy cardio-vascular system and thighs of steel (or at least two heart attacks).

I could tell we were getting closer because a steady stream of children with wooden swords and adults in chain mail were flowing past us. As I explained before, I am used to the festival being a huge production, but the scale of the event was more on par with the Ohio State University Faire. That's not to imply it wasn't a blast, even if I did a lot of smiling and nodding and not a lot of bantering in a British Accent.

We arrived as a children's performance was underway. Three grown men making fools of themselves while kids dressed as knights charged them and proudly swore their oath of honor to an eight-year-old queen. It's a living. Because it was a live performance there was plenty of annunciation and simple words for the little people in the audience. I felt like I should be sitting with the kids, giggling uproariously. Truth be told, the kids probably picked up on infinitely more layers of German comedic subtlety then I ever will. Bummer.

The juggling and pantomime were also right up my alley. You don't need someone to explain juggling six objects is tough and balancing a torch on your chin is risky. Somehow, I got that. Yeah, context clues. We also learned a great Medieval-sounding tune called "Terra Hossa."

Terra hossa! Terra Hossa! Ja Ja Ja, Hurrah! Terra Hossa!

It sticks in your brain, and I was humming it a bit today. If you want to know the tune, get a little tipsy and try adding a melody to the words and it will be 85% correct. After the jugglers taught everyone the song, they started asking where everyone was from, trying to call out the most distant travelers. People were yelling "Giessen!" "Frankfurt!" but none of the Americans piped up. We were all a worried we might get called up or forced to banter in broken Deutsch, and there is nothing more humiliating than a public Deutsch-slapping. So we pretended Berlin was a fer piece to travel to see the Marburg Mittealder Markt and Cincinnati a quaint burrow somewhere north of Aachen.

There was something comforting in knowing the demographic at Medieval Fairs in Europe and the U.S. cater to similar crowds. There were plenty of kids that looked like avid Magic the Gathering fans (I know the type, I was once a player myself.), and trendy Goths that fused several centuries and cultures into their tattoos, body piercings and gaudy leather bow-ties. There were also people dressed in dead animals and full armor who just seemed like visitors. I guess when you own a few halberds, you really need to seek out opportunities to show them off.

And, of course, there were plenty of families wandering around with Junior waving a wooden ax while Dad chowed down on a Speckstick (bacon kebab) and Mead. While there were no turkey legs, there was plenty of food and beer to go around. I guess when you really think about it, there weren't that many dining options available in Medieval Marburg, anyway.

So, how authentic was the experience? I can confidently say that I saw no ninjas or pirates. Everyone seemed to have a sense of when the Dark Ages went down and they dressed (and ate) accordingly. But it was still a fanciful take on the period. There were more fairies than lepers and more highlanders than monks. But it's a good time. Why ruin it with plague rats and religious oppression?

Huzzah! Terra hossa, terra hossa...

Also of note this weekend was the Fulbright pub crawl. Klaas, our guide to all things German took us through the city, showing us the trendy club-ish bars and the seedy local pubs. I only mention this because I genuinely feel beer and where it is imbibed in Germany are key to understanding the people and Germany's history...or something like that. One of the beverages I sampled is called "Bananaweissen." The name intrigued me, but I was hesitant. The last time I tried something for its name (Tunafischpizza) I found myself with dry tuna and hard boiled eggs on a chunk of bread. But I went against my instincts and ordered the thing. It's on the menu, so people must like the stuff.

I am here to tell you that I am one of those people. Banana juice mixed with wheat beer is wonderful. Don't knock it 'til you try it. It's very a-peeling and once I started I just couldn't split (I had to. I tried to resist the temptation, but obviously failed). We ended the night at a bar affectionately known as "The Dungeon." It's just off the old Marktplatz where the glockenspiel rings out the time with a rooster and herald. You enter a dark green door and descend into what must have been a thirteenth century wine cellar. The lighting is mostly supplied by candles and you need to stoop through a stone archway to get to the seating area. It was my kind of joint. It became even better when I noticed a large picture of Statler and Waldorf, the old Hecklers from The Muppet Show, hanging on the wall behind the bartender. Below the portrait is a mini bar with two stools and red velvet trim, just like the opera box the Hecklers hang out in. I will sit behind the bar and heckle the wait staff if it's the last thing I do in Marburg (and it may be. I don't know how long an obnoxious American could survive in a cramped dungeon while hurling insults at anyone within range).

"Whadda ya call a bitter German? A Sour Kraut! Doh, ho ho ho!"

"You'll take Gross Pils? Fill out twelve forms and wait about six months for your socialized medical professional to notice you exist! Then maybe you'll get some gross pills! Doh, ho ho ho ho"

Note: A Grosse Pils would be a large Pilsner. Also, note that this is not a completely fair comment about socialized medicine. Finally, note that it really isn't a very funny joke in the first place and clearly demonstrates why I need to build up some material before sliding into the red velvet booth.

I hope your weekend was delightful even if it mostly centered on the 21st century and didn't involve Banana beer or the Muppets.


Deutsch Heutewort: vogel (masculine) - Bird

Es ist einen Vogel! Es ist ein Flugzeug! Es ist...Superman! Hammer!
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's...Superman! Awesome!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gut Essen

Europe is known for it's food. Or maybe France is known for its food. Sometimes when a person makes a generality about Europe - "Well, in Europe they...(insert ideal that America fails to attain i.e. recycle regularly, walk more often, speak multiple languages, have free college tuition, don't shave their armpits" - that person really means France unless he or she specifies otherwise.

Based on my previous, brief experiences in Greece and England I feel comfortable saying this whole continent has great food. Maybe it's because chain restaurants are few and far between. Or maybe it's just because most people (including myself) assume different and delicious are synonymous (but Tunaishpizza proved me wrong. More on that later). Regardless, I was stoked to review my dining options in Germany.

Last Sunday the Fulbrighters, all 38 of us, took a trip to Christenberg, a small town about twenty minutes away from Marburg. Christenberg means "Castle Hill" and had a fortification on its summit for at least fifteen centuries, from the second through the seventeenth. Before taking a tour of the battle-weary grounds, we ate at a pub overlooking the valley. The pub is actually owned by the local church, a church which has been around since the eleventh century, and, man, those parishioners could serve some mean wurst.

What you see in the photograph is an authentic German sausage (wurst), and "Pig on a Stick," also called (by me) bacon kebab with spicy German mustard. Both were delicious. What you don't see is the German potato salad, pasta salad and a pint of Hefeweizen beer.
That's a barbecue. The rest of the area was gorgeous, but my impression was probably made slightly rosier by the incredible meal I was digesting.

The barbeque-er was a blond, middle-aged German woman who was more than willing to throw as much food on your plate as you had space for. When I tried to stop her from throwing another sausage my way, she raised her eyebrows, challenging me to clean my plate and come back for more. I did.

She also apologized for her "poor English" as did the tour guide we had later in the day (He was also the principal of the local school. I guess educators are underpaid everywhere). I've become very skeptical of Germans apologizing for their English. I would feel an incredible rush of accomplishment if I could produce the German word for "Interactive Touch-Screen" or "Are you enjoying the food?" on a whim.

Here are a few more photographs of the area. I hope to put together a photo album of the pictures I took, but here are some favorites:

The forest leading up to the former site of the castle. The slight mounds to the left and right of the frame are former defense walls. This is also an example of a typical central German forest. The scene reminds me of the forest in Disney's Sleeping Beauty or an illustration for a Grimm Fairy Tale.

The church is the only surviving building from the old fortress and walled city that once sat in the green space my fellow Fulbrighters are traversing. The church itself wasn't particularly ornate. It was and always has been a relatively humble country church. But the interior did offer some wonderful lighting, including the open door picture that I am using for my profile picture.

But this post is about food. Yesterday a group of us went to Mexicali, one of two Mexican restaurants I've seen in town. I was curious to try the German interpretation of Mexican cuisine. There aren't exactly a lot of Mexican immigrants in the Rhineland, so I figured it must be a German take on American Tex-Mex. The results could be disastrous, hilarious or both. Thus my interest. It was also intriguing because the restaurant is next to Elisabethkirche, the oldest Gothic church in Germany.

In fact, the restaurant sits on the very spot where St. Elizabeth performed her healing miracles and was a point of pilgrimage before the church itself was constructed. So, if the food wasn't great, at least the site could help me get over the last of my Jet-Lag.

I was a little skeptical of the place when we first entered. There was no Our Lady of Guadeloupe tapestry by the front door and the bathrooms were labeled "Men's" and "Ladies" rather than "Senors" and "Senoritas" or the standard German "Herren" and "Frauen." But I kept these observations to myself (now muse on how different cuisines get passed through different cultural hands. I did while we sat down. Any interesting thoughts? I had some).

It was a strange experience to examine the menu. I don't know what everything on an English-Spanish (Spanglish) Mexican restaurant menu is. My confusion was of course compounded by the German-Spanish (Spantsch?) menu. Fortunately "Salsa und Chips" is pretty self-explanatory.

Cultural note: As far as I can tell, the Germans take our side in the Brit versus American "Chip versus Fry" debate. The English call fried potatoes "Chips." In the states we obviously call them "Fries." They call thin, fried potatoes "Crisps" while we call them "Chips." The Germans agree with the United States. A thin, fried piece of potato (or corn, in this case) is a "Chip." Thank you Deutschland.

Finally ordering "Ich möchte das 'Enchiladas Verde' und eine 'Margarita,'" felt a little weird. Of course in perfect English our waiter asked, "Would you like chicken or beef?" We complimented him on his English. He apologized it was terrible. This is a familiar ritual. I covet his ability to readily communicate with a table of ten people while I can hardly get out of the library without getting Deutsch-slapped (a new word coined by Catherine, a Fulbrighter headed to Berlin).

Ultimately the food was good. The rice and beans were well seasoned and the sauce tangy if not spicy. Someone asked for some hot sauce and we were a little disappointed when Tabasco was our only option, but to be fair, we wanted a German-Mexican experience, not an American one. It reminded me of Cazuela's, the Mexican restaurant on High Street near OSU which made me slightly nostalgic. The bill didn't remind me much of Cazuela's, and even if I had a fantastic experience at Mexicali, I don't think my wallet could support the habit (though Thusday Karaoke may lure me back. I would love to hear a tipsy German belt "Livin' on a Prayer").

Other highlights include the beer at the cafès. It's usually cheaper than the water (and I expect there to be bubbles in my beer, not my water). My least favorite meal so far came last Monday. I went to cafè in the Oberstadt for dinner and ordered "Tunischpizza." I had never had tuna on a pizza before, so I was intrigued. I think in my enthusiasm to try something new, I might have missed a key noun: Ei. That is "Egg." The "pizza" was baked French bread with canned tuna, sliced hard-boiled eggs and mozzarella with no sauce. I would hesitate to recommend this combination to any but the most die-hard tuna-egg-and-cheese-combo fans. They must be out there, but I am not a member of their merry band.

Hope you're eating well, even if you're not in Europe (specifically Germany but not excluding France). Next time...Grammar!


German Heutewort: Der Beruf - Occupation

Was is Ihr Beruf? Ich bin Paleonthologe. Ich studire bisschen Säugetier.
What is your occupation? I am a a Paleontologist. I study tiny mammals.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Die Bibliothek


Breaking language barriers with my face...Strike 2

Marburg is a gorgeous town in that quaint, slate and wood shin
gled, European way that I love so much. All of the homes beg for a cat sitting on the windowsill (fensterbrett) and a VW Golf in the driveway. The older part of town - the Altstadt - still has original buildings from the thirteenth century.
The university in Marburg is called Philipps Universität-Marburg. The Philipp in the title is the name of the German King who first became Protestant along with Martin Luther 500 years ago. He started the university for Protestant professors and students. He then gave a whole bunch of buildings and land to the university. The university now basically runs the town and owns the castle on the hill. The point is that the university is old and venerable and owns many gorgeous, buildings that are older than the Declaration of Independence.

I tell you this because across the river is the library which doesn't quite blend in with the rest of the city's aesthetic:
It's good to know the concrete revolution of the late seventies and early eighties struck both sides of the pond and everyone generally agrees it was a mistake.

The University Library is a bit strange when compared to libraries as I think of them. You are not allowed to carry your bag past the front desk. You are also not allowed access to the stacks. You must fill out a form explaining what book you would like and why you would like to give it a look-see. You then need to wait a few days for the librarians to pull it down and give their stamp and signature. I have yet to test this system, but I think it's safe to say there are very few books that walk out of the library.

The library is also where the largest computer labs are housed. Saturday I went to the library to check my e-mail. I dutifully deposited my bag in a locker and put in my 2 Euro deposit to lock it up (I got it back when I returned the key, don't worry). I then grabbed my Oxford Deutsch-English dictionary, my introductory grammar book and a notebook to work on some homework.

I checked-in with my loved ones and worked on conjugating some modal verbs and shifted to thoughts of Auflauf, or pasta casserole, a specialty of Marburg. I packed up and walked past the front desk when I heard a gravely: Schtop!

I turn to my right and behold not the frail, bespectacled librarian, but the Library Bouncer. The man was at least 240 pounds, bald as Mr. Clean and clearly unhappy with me which didn't seem ideal. "Das, bitte (That, please)!" He ordered, pointing at my books. Confused about why he would care about my notes, I handed them over, or, more specifically, he seized them from my hands. He proceeded to flip them open, looking for something while muttering gruff German phrases to himself with maybe a slight Russian lilt. It was here that I heard he had the radio on and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita was playing in his cubicle.

He then pointed at me and pointed at a stack of red bookmarks with "Privat" printed across the top. "Ah, ja. Ich brauche das (Ah, yes. I need that)." I like to imagine the phrase came quickly to my mind, but the massive pauses between each word probably tipped him off that A) I didn't know the procedure for the library and B) I was therefore probably an idiot. Option C) This guy doesn't know the language didn't seem to occur to him. He slowly reached a massive paw out and grabbed the phone.

"...the truth is I never left you, All through my my wild days, My mad existence..."

He barked something into the phone, glowered at me again and I seized a break in eye-contact to gesture for two other Fulbrighters who had also come to the library with me and were giving me What-did-you-get-yourself-into faces. I gestured and suddenly had a little back-up. The bouncer glared. We stood. My books helplessly laid on the desk. We all waited. The theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly played in my head as Evita belted in my ears.

Then the librarian - a frail, bespectacled man who fit my stereotype of his profession so well - walked to the desk, looked over my books in the same ritualistic way the Bouncer had, and proceeded, in a gentle tone, to explain the system of filling out a form to register my personal books with the library.

Or at least I think he did. It was all in German and I didn't feel like telling him that the glazed over expression I had on my face was equivalent to a opossum playing dead. I just wanted to be inconspicuous enough and apologetic enough to get away and lick my wounds. I was. I did.

Lessons learned:

1) A simple "Enschultigung!" or "My bad, excuse me" would have probably gone a long way. Unfortunately this word was not part of my working vocabulary, yet.

2) Germans are very protective of their reading material, but not in a very technologically savvy way. They have running counters all over town that tell you which parking lots have available spaces and how many, but they don't have the metal detector, beeper things by the exit that reveal a book thief. Go figure.

3) Despite the titles of the two books on the Bouncer's desk: The Oxford German-English Dictionary and Basic German Grammar, these two men assumed I knew enough German to figure out the system.

4) Andrew Lloyd Weber is everywhere.

"...I kept my promise, Don't keep your distance..."


German word of the Day: das Palindrom, -e

Reliefpfeiler und Hannah und "Yo Banana Boy!" sind jedes Palindrome.

"A column with a relief carved into it" and Hannah and "Yo Banana Boy!" are each palindromes.

Breaking Language Barriers...with my face (Strike 1)

Last Sunday, my plane touched down on the beautiful European continent. I arrived with roughly three hours of sleep in my system. I miraculously had an empty seat next to me and attempted to curl up in the fetal position across both seats like the Russian woman on the other side of the aisle who found herself with a little extra elbow room, too.

We had bonded earlier in the flight when she asked me what I was reading. I hefted the massive red tome that is my constant companion and sheepishly admitted War and Peace. I feel like there is a kind of academic affectation surrounding the book and I feel a little embarrassed to be reading it in certain situations. But in this situation, I couldn't have had a more satisfactory novel in hand (or brick in lap, depending on your perspective).

"Oh, I love this book! I have read it one-hundred, at least, times. Marvelous. I enjoy both zee War and zee Peace, but War can get a bit boring, especially with all of zat French. Aye-yai-aye."

Anyway, the point is that I had an empty seat and could get more sleep than most of my fellow Fullbrighters. But three hours of sleep is still not adequate for expertly navigating a foreign airport. I stumbled through customs somehow schlepping my huge internal frame backpack, a black rolling suitcase, my messenger bag and my guitar case without incident (except for a holdup when my guitar didn't appear on the baggage claim. I was worried I wouldn't be able to take it to Austria and sing "I have confidence" from The Sound of Music, but it luckily popped up with the other awkwardly shaped luggage.)

I had slept through breakfast and my stomach was a bit upset that the airport was basically closed at 5:30 AM, but I plowed ahead looking for the magical European train system to American myth and legend. I located an automated ticket booth, but it only took Euros which I didn't have yet. Then I found one that would take a credit card but didn't have an obvious "English" button. Did I actually need to approach a real, live person?

No. Thankfully, I found the hidden "Change Language" button and bought my ticket without needing to interact with a single person. Of course that meant I had no idea where to go to catch my train. There were track numbers, but these didn't correspond to the station names on my ticket. I knew I needed to get to the central Frankfurt hub so I finally broke down and asked a Bahn station agent (The Bahn is the national German train company). He pointed to an escalator and I scampered down (or went as quickly as a person with four pieces of luggage can scamper). A train arrived but the name didn't mention Frankfurt, so I wandered back and forth looking for someone to ask.

Finally, a middle-aged German man walked by my little corner of stress, sized me up and rattled off something in German and laughed. In case you ever thought this was a comfortable feeling, know that it is not. I looked back blankly and finally exploded with one of my key phrases, "Ich spreche kein Deutsch. Ich spreche English." He nodded and, in near perfect English translated himself, "I said you are so loaded with things that you look like a donkey!"

My first interaction with a German and I get insulted. Ja Deutschland.

He meant well, if he didn't have the most flattering conversation starter, and quickly revealed he had learned English working on an Army base in Northern Ohio. The conversation went from there, eventually including which trains I should and should not get onto. He was going my way and gave me his card in case I want to hang out in Frankfurt and need restaurant recommendations. Wait. Maybe I could get a Frankfurter in Frankfurt. Oh the possibilities...

German: 1
Me: zilch

austrinken - to drink up

Ich trinke dien Milchshake. Ich trinke er aus!
I drink your milkshake. I drink it up!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ich spreche kein Deutsch. Sprechen Sie Englisch?

The title of this blog is "Die Wanderwege und die Beobachtungen" or "The Trails and Thoughts" or at least I think it does.  As the title of this post might suggest "Ich spreche kein Deutsch. Sprechen Sie Englisch?" or "I don't speak German. Do you speak English?" I am not going to be your authority on the language for quite a while.  In fact, a typical conversation before I left for Germany, my home for the next year, went something like this:

Them: And what will you be doing with yourself next year?

Me: I'll be doing research in Germany on a Fulbright Fellowship.

Them:  Really!  That's awesome! (Subtext: Wow, they're just giving those things out like Dots on Halloween) Do you speak German?  

Awkward pause

Me:  No...not really.

Them:  Oh, well they all know English anyway.

Me:  Yeah, but I'm trying to listen to some language CDs and I'll be taking an intensive German class in Marburg so hopefully I'll learn how to sprechen Deutsch.

Them: Haha (Subtext: Sure you will, and I'll have my dissertation on Ulysses done by Christmas)

Well, here I am finally in Marburg.  It's been a week since I first touched down in Frankfurt and I'm starting to get my life under control.  By which I mean, I'm on the grid.  I know where all of my classes are, I own a functioning cell phone (or Handy as they're called here), I have reliable internet connections and I walk out to a panoramic view of a medieval town capped by a castle on a hill that looks something like this: 

Life is good.  

I have begun the process of learning German in the lowest, basic course with other Fulbrighters who share my absent expertise in Deutsch.  I'm actually starting to make sense of it ("starting" being the operative word).  I'm like a little kid wandering through the streets, "Hey, that sign says 'No smoking here, please.'" "Yes it does Matthew." "And that one says 'Are you tired? Take a break'!" "Yes it does Matthew, but it's time to get out of the street now or you'll get run down by the car." "You mean Das Auto!" 

As my year progresses I will hopefully update this page with information on fossils (my area of research), observations about the land of my ancestors (or at least half of them, anyway) and a few self-deprecating stories about my head-on collisions with language barriers.  

Tschus (Cheerio)

German Heutewort: billig (adj) - cheap

Ich bin einen billig Student. (I am a cheap student.)