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.


Michael said...

Haha! The language barrier seems way tougher than trying to learn to say "Worcester" and "Gloucester" in just two syllables (towns in MA pronounced Woo-ster and Glo-ster, respectively).

Oh Andrew Lloyd Weber, I think it's a phenomenon in Asia too because that is all my parents listened to when I was growing up (along with ABBA and Neil Diamond).

Lastly, do opossums really play dead? I remember learning that in grade school, but I feel like it's one of those urban (or hick?) myths.

Mama Borths said...

I'm so proud that when my son gets busted, it's in a library.

Erin Davis said...

Dein Blog ist der Hammer! Super.

Matt said...

You know Andrew Lloyd Weber is big when Sarah Brightman, his wife and the original Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, gets to sing at the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Not everyone gets offered that gig.

And yes, opossums really do play dead. I looked it up just to make sure. The first link is to the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web and the second is an anecdote about the animal's ability to go into a comatose state for 40 min. to 4 hours to simulate death. They apparently also reek like rot while they're "dead." Fun fact.