April 7, 2009

It has been over three weeks since Winter Soldier Europe, which means I have some explaining to do.  We have seen a seasonal transition (I write this in a t-shirt with the windows of my bedroom flung wide open), I’m almost finished with the German class I introduced several posts ago, I’ve been to two protests, found a temporary internship, had a visitor, been to France, and met some great people.  So, let’s get started, shall we?

My German class has been going well.  As I said before, I wasn’t sure if I would stay in the A2.1 level because I already knew most of the grammar, but I learned a few new things, so I stayed, figuring review and further comfort with the concepts couldn’t hurt.  As we neared the end however, and it got to be registration time for the next level (A2.2), I realized that I would like more of a challenge and if I could go to school closer to my home, that would also be nice.  So I took the entrance test again and placed in to B1, which means I can skip A2.2 and go straight into new material.  I am also registered for my next class here in Kreuzberg, so it will take me 10 minutes by bike to get to class as opposed to 35 minutes by train (or 40 minutes by bike).   I am currently on Easter vacation for two weeks, so I am going to go through the material of the A2.2 course so I am familiar with it by the time my new class starts (also, travesty: I lost my stack of flashcards from my lessons in the US, numbering about 100, so I’m committed to making those again – I’ve got a busy few weeks ahead of me).

Part of the reason I wanted to transfer is that I am taking every opportunity I can to improve my German.  This means finding some tandem partners to have unapologetically corrected conversations with.  I posted an ad on craigslist, and am still getting responses to it, even though it is a month old (I was told by one of my tandems, Eva, that I was the top hit on Google for “English tandem partner berlin” or whatever she searched).  I found two awesome tandems in the past few weeks.  The first is David, who is an independent journalist and is pretty left politically, so we have a lot to talk about.  He is really good at explaining things and not simply translating when I don’t understand, but trying to explain it in a different way in German.  The only problem is that we talk about politics a lot, and I just don’t have the vocabulary to do that in German.  Then I found Eva, who is my age and just graduated from university.  She had been looking for a tandem for several months, she said, but she didn’t find anyone she liked.  She wanted to practice speaking English because she got an internship in Singapore with Volkswagon and would speak only English at her job.  So when we finally met, she was a week away from boarding a plane to Southeast Asia for six months.  She had just finished writing the German equivalent to a thesis and I have a lot of free time, so we ended up meeting three times over the next week, which was really great.  She was really helpful and, thanks to her, I’ve got a pretty good handle on “when” in the past tense (“wenn” is ‘when’ and ‘if’ in the present, “als” is ‘when’ in the past) and on those pesky verbs that you have to use “sind” with in the past (in German, the past tense when speaking is always “I have…worked” – the ellipses representing all the other stuff in the sentence.  But some verbs that imply motion – go, drive, come, etc – you say “I is…drove.”  Very difficult, since I usually just say “I have” if I’m talking in the past and then worry about what I have done later on in the sentence.  More on how crazy the language is in another post).  Eva even invited me to her goodbye party (Abshied Party), where I met a bunch of her friends, spoke and understood German, and got the contact info of one of her friends who she recommended I meet with as a replacement tandem.  It’s mostly thanks to these two people that I am picking up and practicing the new concepts I have learned in class.  By forcing myself to speak a lot of German, I am more comfortable with the language and therefore eager for more of a challenge in a B1 class.

In other news: the week after Winter Soldier, I met up with a Vietnam vet who I had talked to in Freiburg.  He is doing several history projects and immediately offered me in internship doing research assistance with one of the projects that is based primarily in the US.  This is great news, since I was, after all, a history major and if I ever want to go to grad school (shudder) I guess this is pretty good experience to have.  The details of the project are still pretty confusing to me, but its about a guy who was possibly involved in a corporate conspiracy against Hitler during World War Two.  At this point, I’m just reorganizing years of random research that has been stored in files (both paper and computer) without much rhyme or reason, so actual new research won’t begin for another few months.  It is an interesting project, though, and I feel a bit of nostalgia for my archive days as I sort through this stuff.  I’ll try to fill in some more details on the project as I get more involved and better understand what I’m working with.

The Sunday after Winter Soldier I got a call from a number I didn’t know that turned out to be Chris Arendt, one of the participants of Winter Soldier in both Freiburg and in Portland.  He was in Berlin and wondering if I wanted to hang out.  Of course, my schedule is still pretty open these days, so I met up with him and we began one of the most epic adventures I have ever been a part of.  We covered a huge amount of the city and only took a train once.  We walked around for hours, with no particular destination in mind, talking about Portland, politics, art, Europe, the US, what the hell we are each doing with our lives, and about a thousand other topics.  We crossed the city several times, which was really great for me, because I had a number of those “oh my god that’s where this is?” moments that one has when they move past the ‘just-moved-here-everywhere-is-new-and-foreign’ phase to the ‘I’m-starting-to-really-get-my-bearings-around-here’ phase.  It was really great to have someone around for a while who was familiar with Portland and the political scene there and around the US.  I didn’t know how much I would appreciate it.  Chris agreed – he had been staying with whatever German politicos would take him in for a few weeks and hadn’t even been able to speak with another American for that time (if you’ve ever travelled to a country where people speak English well, but not fluently, you may understand this phenomenon.  You have to choose your words a bit carefully and use simpler words that are sure to be understood, which makes you speak slower and sound like you don’t even have a hold of the language yourself.  I call it Stupid English, which is probably not nice, but ok).

On the last day Chris was in town, Winter had its last stand.  Now, this was like nothing I have never seen before, so I will try to explain it.  The weather has been getting progressively warmer, though it has stayed cloudy.  I had been wearing a sweater and my rain coat most days instead of my winter coat (I’m still a big fan of long underwear though and wore it pretty much as often as I can).  But on that particular Tuesday, I happened to be outside when an apocalyptic blast of wind came hurling down the street, bringing blinding snow, instant cloud cover, and bitterly cold temperatures.  I literally didn’t know what hit me.  I rushed inside to a bakery and stood there, mouth agape, looking out at this surreal weather that had just descended upon a perfectly nice day (so nice I had considered not wearing a jacket when I left the house!).  I shuffled hurriedly home, bracing myself against the wind and keeping my head down to avoid the stinging snow/hail.  About five minutes after I was safely inside, the snow stopped, the sun came out, and it was Spring again.  I was skeptical so Chris and I, having both purchased books the day before, decided not to venture out into this deceiving weather.  Sure enough, about every half hour or hour when I looked out the window, it was either sunny or snowing.  We decided it was the final battle between Winter and Spring.  It stayed grey for a few days afterward, so clearly Winter had put up a good fight, and since then, about a week and a half, it has been full on Spring – birds chirping, sun shining, plants blooming, weather in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit.  It is quite strange, and it has taken me a while to accept.  I have experience my fair share of seasons: in Los Angeles, its a subtle transition from warmish to hotter; in Massachusetts it creeps up on you slowly and then all of a sudden its there in all of its glory; in Portland, Spring usually teases you with three or four nice days in February or March, just so you know what your missing, and then goes back to rain until Summer comes in May.  But this process took a matter of days – hours even – and I’m beginning to like this no-nonsense attitude.

Speaking of which, I am going to get out of my apartment and take full advantage of the lovely weather.  Next episode: the No to NATO protest, or, My first 12 hours in France.


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