I’ve been keeping a journal on my computer even though I didn’t have internet access until recently. Here are a few choice parts:
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I’m sitting outside in the Frankfurt train station waiting for the ICE, the high speed rail, to bring me to Kassel, where I assume I will meet up with my host mother. I wasn’t able to connect with her when I arrived at the airport, though I left a message which I hope she can figure out.
The flight was actually much shorter than I thought it would be. I have been eating crap food this past week and it has followed me here; on the plane and when I got of the S-Bahn train in Frankfurt I saw a giant banner for Burger King. Oh to be an American.
I wanted to write this down before I forgot but when I got off the plan in Frankfurt we were bussed to the terminal via a route that reminded me exactly of the opening scene in Half-Life (1) where you are on the tram, listening to the announcements as you pass various operations and workers, through large spaces and into dank tunnels until a final destination that turns out to be the first in a series of automatic gates through which to walk until you find a nondescript door, one which seems like it should me manned but is not, and are flung out into civilization.
I fell asleep on the train and woke up probably 10 min before the Kassel stop. I got off and called F. West but got her machine. I realized I had no idea what to do so I called my Prof. and he biked over where he introduced me to F. West who was waiting for me. I apparently told her 3:30 which I realize would have been correct had I gotten the train I missed.
She took me back to her house via the tram system and tried to communicate with me which was futile at best and embarrassing at worst. The city seems really cool, small and suburban in many parts. It seems like a more urban Watertown or Belmont. There are some fantastic building which I hope to take pictures of along with some standard post-War slab housing which is still way nicer than anything in the states of the same design. We got back to her place which is a long walk to a bus which goes to the end of a tram line. The area really reminds me of Brighton, if Brighton had more farms.
I think I remember a friend of mine who lived in Berlin for a while telling something about the toilets here but it didn’t sink in until I had to use one. They are different than American ones, they have this flat bottom so when you crap it just sits there until you flush. Not liking that.
Got out early today but will have to get up earlier tomorrow to make it to the bus on time. Classes start at 8:15 and will go until 1pm with a few breaks. That seems intense.
I met a bunch of people today on our field trip to a couple of German towns. One dude by the name of Sam, we hit if off well and tried out or German on one another. It was nice to communicate with someone. I am a bit frustrated here living with two people who cannot communicate with me but try hard (my host mother and another student, Fernanda). I feel bad for not trying. I think I am still having that problem where I want to say something but over think it, that is I am thinking with my English and trying to translate. But my German is so rusty I’m not sure what to do.
It also felt great to get out and use the little German I had. Walking around, trying to figure out what my Prof was saying. There is a group of Brazilian grad students here (whose German is much better than mine, of which Fernanda is part. I am hoping that when I am placed I will be with a few other people on my level so I won’t feel so intimidated.
Seeing Germany was strange. There are all these little towns with these funky buildings that I have seen many times in movies, images, or even Disney World but when I see the real thing I am underwhelmed. The first place we went was this little village, Münden. It was nice to see a real town but because of the holiday everything was closed and there weren’t many people around. It really felt like Troy, but not as depressing. More on that later. Münden was having a celebration for some doctor who lived there a few hundred years ago. The streets were small and pleasant and there was a large central square where we got food and drink. It was my first experience of European public spaces.
The train system here is amazing. It is literally how I dream it is in America. I think I actually wrote down some ideas in my notebook a long time ago dealing with regional commuter rail systems that connect two large cities but piggy back a larger high-speed rail system. It so simple and efficient! What is wrong with America? The trains are nice too, they feel more like light rail. The entire time I was thinking about how different the MBTA was, how much of a dump that system is.
The city we went to next, Gottingen, was a classic old city surrounded by a wall that was turned into a park with a ring road. But the first thing that struck me leaving the train station was how many people bike. There was a bike parking lot the size of a regular American car parking lot FULL of bikes. Not only that most weren’t tied to anything, just their back wheels were locked. As Sam figured, there isn’t much incentive to steal a bike when everyone has one. In the streets it was the same. It got to the point where it was ridiculous the amount of bikes but I guess it is only ridiculous to me.
The one thing that really struck me about the town and city we visited was how much it reminded me of older post-industrial towns in the US that I’ve been to, mainly in the Northeast. The first town reminded me of Fitchburg for some reason and the city reminded me of Camden, ME, though much larger. It struck me that these cities probably didn’t have a massive economy, maybe a university or local tourism, but still looked fantastic and seemed to be great places to live. In America those cities in the Northeast are shit holes even if they have a university.
I have to blame this on the land use differences. In America land is so cheap that if you don’t need it you can afford to just leave it to rot. Land here is so much more expensive that is makes sense to have everything work.
I made special care to see how the buildings related to the streets here. The streets are narrower in many places, at least in Gottingen, but all of the buildings were a similar scale of 4 to 5 stories. The parking was also interesting, where the streets are wider the cars park perpendicular to the sidewalk. This all made for a more walkable city. I was trying to image this same thing happening in America. Maybe a section of streets in Brooklyn could be closed off of narrowed to make them more walkable, thereby creating a central downtown experience. I want to do more with this idea.
Second day of classes and I am getting a bit better with my German, so much so that when I type in English it comes out in German grammar! Speaking of which I finally got online at the institute so I won’t need to go to an internet cafe. The German keyboards are different, as one would imagine, but they change the Y and the Z key which totally throws me off. Tzpeing is a challenge.
I walked around with Sam today in the downtown shopping area looking for food and the school books. We tried to speak in German but it was pretty obvious we were American so a few people spoke in English to us. We were talking in English and I noticed a few turned heads. While talking about Sty Town I actually heard a guy behind us comment on our conversation. I think he was actually from NYC. Small world. I also noticed a few hipsters walking around which made me laugh. I wonder if they hang out at the “New York” club (that’s the name on the big billboard).
The days here seem longer but it is probably just because it is June and the days ARE longer. But getting up at 6:30 to start class at 8:15 makes the day seem longer too. We get out at 12:45 and then there are post-class sessions in the computer lab or a film or whatever. I am enjoying class but I am going to have to start bringing a snack since there isn’t anything to eat around the institute. There is a woman who comes in with food but that is during class so that doesn’t really help.
It’s funny because I see so many people here who look like people I see in America but I have to remind myself that the people in America look the way they do because they have ancestors from here. Now I can spot a German American when I get home. I’ve also noticed a good number of Middle Eastern people which I kinda expected but I wonder how the Germans are dealing with it. I’ve probably only seen a handful of black people, including the dude from NY.
But all and all the Germans I’ve interacted with have been nice. I remember some European I talked to once commented on how people in America, in retail, are fake polite, that is they say “How are you doing” when they actually don’t care. I noticed a similar fake friendliness here (which sounds funny as hell to hear the same perky “Hallo!” every few seconds), but I don’t mind it.
After exploring the downtown area I’ve found that there isn’t much past first glance. The downtown shopping area has many stores that are identical to American malls. In fact the only real difference is that it’s outside and there are trams that run down the street. Kind of a shame that there isn’t anything really different. Then on the back streets there are just boring office or apartment buildings. If the weather is nice I am going to work my way in circles around the Mitte area.
I feel like I’m picking up this German faster and faster, but I am also working way harder than I did even this last semester. We went over the Accusative case today using a children’s book (which was bazaar) and I think that is probably the best way to learn. I am thinking of going to the bookstore downtown and just picking up a few kids books, though I’m sure I’ll get some looks.
I’ve come to the realization that this town is kinda lame. I walked around more today and found the more dirty parts where there are some cheap hotels and clubs, the latter I hope to check out on the weekends. There isn’t much outside the downtown area and what’s down there is your standard mall shops.
The thing that does blow my mind is how you can see the country side from the higher areas of the city, as if the views were designed that way. I’m not used to that in America, though to be fair I’ve only lived in large cities where that isn’t really possible. Metro Kassel has around 250,000 people, metro Boston 4,000,000 and metro NYC has around 20,000,000. There are places where you crest the hill and can see large windmills off in the distance, which is bad ass as hell and somewhat romantic.
When i use the internet I need to remember that there is a 6 hour time difference and when I check my email after class most of my friends back home are just getting up.
After a full day of German language learning my brain is fried. I don’t even want to talk in German anymore. I need to start being more social with my host mother but I just don’t have the Ayn Rand.
They have 2 cent Euros; I find that ridiculous. They also have 2€ coins which I find really smart; $1 coins never made much headway but I wonder if $2 coins would?
Note: Yes, I’m taking tons of pictures but I am only going to post a few small ones here since the Netbook I’m using isn’t ideal for processing images.