Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I've noticed that a lot of blogs offer some inspiration or a quote about something profound to give readers something big to chew on, so in that tradition, I offer my own:

Jack Burton: Oh, boy. Look, we're here to see David Lo Pan, alright.

Lo Pan: Huh?

Jack Burton: David Lo Pan!

Lo Pan: And you have succeeded, Mr Burton.

Jack Burton: What, you? I don't get this at all. I thought Lo Pan...

Lo Pan: Shut up, Mr Burton! You are not brought upon this world to 'get it.'

Jack Burton: Come on, Lo Pan is like...

Lo Pan: Nothing you can understand. There are many mysteries, many unanswerable questions, even in a life as short as yours.

Jack Burton: Yeah, well, the way I see it, it doesn't mean you shouldn't ask. Like: where's my truck?

I've got about 10 minutes here, so I'll make this brief. Earlier today I was with a teacher in fifth grade, and being fifth grade it was a little, you know, excitable and loud. So, natually, the teacher, Astrid, has a sign to let the class know when they should quite down. And what is it, you ask? To that I answer, "AC freakin' DC, man" and throw up the horns.

What was that? Did I see Sammy Hagar being swamped by fans? No sorry, those were just fifth graders. Yes, that's right, when the class gets too loud, the teacher throws up the horns, at which point twenty little German children follow suit. "Rockin' Freakin' Roll, man! Dude, where's the Meister and throw on some of that White Snake."

Once again, thank you, Germany.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I'm kind of tired, so I'll make this brief. Imagine a man in a purple suit with bleached blonde hair. OK, good. Now a nun. And no, this post in NOT going there, it's just you. OK, now have the nun tap a barrel of beer, spin around, only to be over-shadowed by men with accordians and guitars badly lip-syncing. Now make this last for two hours. Welcome to German television.

Eat it, Lawrence Welk, because you just got served.

Friday, September 23, 2005

So I was walking back from the grocery store today, I was struck by a couple of things. First was the heavy smell of fried Eel coming from a cafe, and the second was the general character of this place, which is different to say the least, one that definitely makes an impression. So here are a couple of markers for the traveler that might just stumble over the River Elbe into good old Holstein (Schleswig is a district that covers the northern half of the Land, and ends at the Danish border. I live in Ostholstein, or East Holstein)

1. Moin. It's "hello," "good morning," "how's it going," all that stuff here, kind of the northern German equivalent of "aloha." It's a great word. Apart from having all of those different meanings, it just sounds friendly as hell. I guy could be rocking a chair on your sternum in golf shoes and you'd forgive him if he bracketed the experience with a nice "Moin."

Oh, a quick word on the German language in general. Don't worry, this will be brief. Have you ever had anyone tell you that English is the only language with a thesaurus because it's the only language that needs one? No? Well I have, and now I can tell you that it's a load of horse shit, pardon my French. German might not have ENOUGH words to warrent a thesaurus, but it makes up for that deficiency by giving every word about fifty different meanings. Only here could a word have the meaning "to apply" while having the metaphorical meaning "to count." Good times. Sorry, but it had to be said at some point.

2. On the same general topic, the "G" on the end of a word gets neglected sometimes around here....Kind of like home, actually. Example: I live in Burg auf Fehmarn, but if you here a nice solid local say it, it comes out as "Boorsh." Nice. Actually, it does sound rather pleasant. Simlarly, Hamburg is "Hamboorsh." Then there's Plattdeutsch, but that's another post altogether.

3. Weather. That's a big thing around here. If you didn't believe in a fickle god that controls the weather before you came, you will before you leave. You wake up in the morning and it looks like it will rain all day; it's gray, there's no sun, the wind is absolutely howling outside you're window, and it's cold as hell in your room. Around noon it's totally different. The sun is out, there are NO clouds, the wind is gone, and its actually kind of warm. Then other days it just kind of pisses rain, kind of non-commital like. Seriously, I don't know who Jehova has working in the Schleswig-Holstein Weather Department, but He's got to find a more ambitious character, someone with some "go get 'em" attitude. I don't know if I can stand this: "I'll make it rain today. No, wait. No, I better not. Well, I don't know, my girlfriend was kind of hoping I would. But it is late, and I was up all last night. I don't know. Should I?" attitude. Just make it rain already, or not! Oh, whoever is reading this, remember these words and make me eat them in November. Thank you.

4. When it does get cold here, it means it. It doesn't let a silly thing like human ingenuity get in its way either. No, it does not know the meaning of a wall, or any other kind of barrier, for that matter. If it's cold outside, it's cold inside. It's just the way it is. It's a rule. Best get used to it.

5. Red bricks and tile roofs. Everything's made of them here. Even baby carriages. It's true. You haven't lived until you've seen a good German girl bust a vain pushing her little munchkin over cobblestones in a brick carriage with blue trimmed windows. And there are some thatched roofs on the mainland, but I haven't seen them here.

So that's about it for now, but the list will be continued later, I'm sure. On another note, as I was walking back from the store (I do a lot of that here) I walk past this advertisement for a photo lab that features totally nude pictures of women in various poses, all of which are kind of creepy, if you must know. Anyway, I've gotten used to it by now, but there was this older couple in front of me today, and as they walked past, the old man peeled off silently in good form and stopped in front of the billboard. And stared. He was definitely interested. His wife noticed he was gone and called "Hans" over her shoulder. She was answered by a nice distracted "huh" and some kind of mumble I think meant "I'm coming." God, that made my day.
Just a note: for some reason this site doesn't like umlauts. I don't know why: it's kind of dumb if you ask me. Anyway, the word that starts with "L" and has the A fraction thing next to it is Luebeck. Sorry, but I didn't know it would do that....I'm just so excited that I actually have umlauts on the keyboard that I want to you use them all the time. So from now on I'll do the whole "ue" "ae" "oe" thing instead of umlauts, even though they don't look nearly as cool.
You know you're a huge freaking dork when you feel absolutely fulfilled simply by joining a library. That's right; as of yesterday afternoon, I am a card-carrying member of the Burg auf Fehmarn Stadt Buecherei! Not only do they have books there, but also (joy of joys) CDs to copy! And most of them are really, really good. There is an oddly large collection of Phil Collins albums, which is unfortunate, but it's not enough to temper the fact that I now have access to a CD collection and German Childrens' books, and all for just 18,00 Euro! Whoohoo!

On the other hand, the Metric System sucks. Yes, that's right, sucks! Damn it for being so damned efficient and easy to calculate. Base 10, who ever heard of such a stupid idea? Excuse me, but I'll keep my Base 16 antiquated Anglo-Saxon system of weights and measures, thank you very much. I tried to make rice last night using the instructions on the side of the box, and instead of producing tasty, fluffy long-grain rice, I came up with some kind of half-assed rice pudding. Again I say: damn yoNapoleonan for demanding standardizeded system of measurement to unify your empire! My misunderstanding of course has nothing to do with the failure of my educational system to familiarize me with the basics of the system. Oh no, it's just a stupid system. Although, I did find out the other day while registering my address that I am 1,72 meters tall. Man, that's cool.

Today I go find the bus schedule so I can get to the train station to get off this island for a bit, not that I'm saying it isn't nice. Maybe I'll go to Luebeck. I don't know.

I also went to the old Lutheran Church down the street to take some pictures, which was awesome. The church was built in 1230, so I knew there would be some neat-o Medieval stuff in there, but I had no idea how much! First of all, there's the cool mosiac over the door that says in German: 'Go through his gate with thanks,' just under a picture of a saint with a halo in front of a windmill, a ship, and something else I can't quite indentify. Did I mention that Fehmarn was full of pirates and brigands when the church was built? No? Well, it was! And what's better is that not everyone on the island was Christian when the church was built, which raises the very real possibility of Pagan Viking Pirates! The five year old in me is gourged on endorphins (pretty sure I spelled that wrong) right now.

Anyway, right inside the door is a HUGE wooden crucifix, complete with blood painted on his chest. But the coolest thing has to be the knights in armored helmets painted on pillars, right next to jesters. Of course there were other things, but it would take forever to talk about them all, so I'll just leave it like that. OH, the pipes to the organ...wow. It's not as big as the cathedral in Cologne (Köln if you want to impress), but not much is. Though I have to say, it felt a lot more Medieval in Burg.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

This actually isn't interesting, but I thought I'd mention that I'm actually reading "A Brave New World" for class. What, I ask, is up with that? True, I offered to read it so I could help a teacher do her Leistungskurs (grade 13) unit on it, but someone tell where I got on the time machine back to High School.

On a more mature topic, toilets here are interesting. The flush pressure is great first of all. Hell, if you had a cat you didn't like, just drop them down a Teutonic Toilet, flush and forget; that cat would be on its way to Die Scheißanlage before you could count to drei....OK, so I made that word up, but it still works. It means "shit complex" by the way. What I don't fancy is the ledge. That's right, there's a ledge, a shelf if you will, on which your....well, you know, will rest. If you're lucky, it will leave when you flush. IF YOU'RE LUCKY! Christ, it's disgusting. It wouldn't bother me if I could find some reason for it, like if it helped with pressure, but like I've said, there's no problem with that. It must be some kind of punishment. Someone I met in Altenberg thought maybe it had something to do with self diagnosis of medical problems, and given the absolute disgustingness of the design, I'll take anything as long as it explains it away. UGH. What I wouldn't give for a deep, dark hole.

I guess I should say here that I really do like my time here in Germany, but I save the odd things I laugh at to share with everyone else, which, in this case, is poo. But if I were anywhere else, I'd still find stuff like this to laugh at, because it's what I do. Awesome. Later.
So, if anyone says to you; "(Name here), what kind of meat do people eat in Germany?* OK, I don't know why anyone would ask you this, but just stay with me here; tell them PORK. It's all that seems to have in the grocery store....there's a little chicken, but it seems to be there just for diversity's sake, and the beef is in HUGE pieces, so that's out of the picture. On the other hand, I have discovered beef in jelly, Herring in creme, oil, tomatoes, and what looks like water, as well as some other as yet unnamed silvery slab of fish swimming in oil that's sold over by the "anti pasti" section of the store. Something tells me that's not an Italian invention. And you can buy oxtail soup in a can....I've come so close just for shits and giggles. But maybe my favorite so far is Hamburger Aalsuppe (Hamburg Eel Soup). Don't worry, I won't actually eat it.

This Post is obviously omitting the good things to eat in the interest of, well, interest, so just keep that in mind. On the back of this webpage you will notice that is says to "take with pinch of salt."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I hung out with some people last night, Meg, Andreas' au pair from Australia, her boyfriend Florian, and all the other people who wandered into the local hangout spot "Dreamtime." It's not a bad place, but all my clothes from yesterday smell like smoke now. The number of smokers here is pretty impressive, which is to say: everyone. The long and short of it all is that it was nice to actually be around people again: watching "Big Trouble in Little China" everyday, as good a movie as it is, is getting a little old.

Of course, I couldn't understand 98% of the conversations, but it didn't matter; I learned some new words and actually got to speak German in a context that was an actual conversation. Florian turned out to be a really cool guy. I already knew Meg.

As fun as it was, though, I was struck by the strange absence of anyone above the age of 18 who isn't 65 or a teacher. It was cool to hang out with everyone: I had missed real human contact, but the six years between us seems to make a pretty big difference. I am lead to consider if I am in fact a boring ass person, which seems likely, or if the age gap really is as big as it feels. Highschool was odd enough once, watching other people plod through it in another language just maginfies it about a hundred times. And I should say, sitting on a couch while the people on either side of you make out furiously is just as awkward in german as it is in english. I almost gave them the key to me room as long as they'd do the laundry afterwards.

This is not to say that it wasn't nice to actually talk to people, I just miss my own age group. On the bright side, I was invited to have beer with all the teachers the night Fall Break starts the 29th, which will be fun.

OH, and it's cold as hell here now. It's amazing.
OK, so it's been a long time since I last updated this thing. Why, you ask? The short answer is that I've been really, really busy. I was in Cologne for a week with no email access, then when I got back I had a lot of stuff to organize, a fact that hasn't changed all that much, but it's a little less now, which is good. So, what's happened that's worth mentioning here:

Well, the day I arrived back here in Burg (Monday) there was no cab at the train station first of all. OK, that's not entirely true, there was one, there just wasn't any room in it. So I took the bus. It was a nice bus, I liked it. Anyway, when it made its stop to drop me off, I realized I had no idea where I was in town, which was an awesome feeling after nine hours on trains, some of which looked like what I imagine the interior of a really big 1973 EL Camino would look like. Apparently, the color of spoiled orange juice is a big one on regional trains. Anyway, I got off the bus and walked around in circles for about 30 minutes until I figured out where I was. In all, I made it back to my apartment in one hour, which after considering that I had to discover where I was before I could go anywhere isn't half bad. I'm still proud of that.

On my way back to the apartment, a kid on the soccer field up the street called me an "Ausländer," which was nice of him. I don't know what tipped him off, but I assume it was my elegantly bulging backpack and labtop case. Anyway, that was arrival day.

The next couple of days were spent buying groceries and cleaning the room up, not much special there. That was Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, I went to school.

OK, before I go on, let me clear some things up; no, I do not personally know 50 Cent or Eminem. All Americans know them evidentally, so I must be in the minority there. And for those of you who don't know who 50 Cent or Eminem are, don't worry about it, they suck.

The first grade I sat in on was grade 8, which makes them about 12-13 years old. I'm still not used to being the exotic one, so the gasps and looks of suprise when they found out I was American are still odd. Anyway, I sat in the back of the room while Andreas was working with the VCR, at which point all the girls in the class started giggling. There was one guy, Jan, I introduced myself to: I'm Herr Winter (pronouced Herr Vinter) in school, but I saw nothing wrong with using my first name. Anyway, I introduced myself as Brandon, he said he was Jan. Nice guy. The girls in class must have been looking for just such an opening, because they mobbed the desk and all wanted to say hi and introduce themselves. I should say now that I was really suprised by this response. I don't know why, they are 12, and the 500,000 ccs of estrogen coursing through their veins at any given moment make them do strange things, it's just that the senerio had never occoured to me. Yet another example of how clueless I can be. Anyway, they all turned out to be really cool and easy to talk to. Their english is frightenly good.

The next grade was grade 5, the beginning english students. It was there that I was asked if I know 50 Cent or Eminem. There was a question and answer period, which was fun. Again, their english is better than my german. OH, and Andreas told them I speak no german, which will be a hard lie to keep up all year, but I'll give it my best shot. But everyone who knows me knows I'm a terrible liar. Next grade was grade 11.

The class was centered on the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. Have I mentioned how hard it was to stay impartial? No? Well it was, real damn hard, but I'm proud to say that the words "Bush is an idiot" did not come out of my mouth once. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back. Apart from that, there is just one thing I can say about that class: they think they are cool as shit. It was somewhat sad to see. OK, so that was school.

Friday, September 02, 2005

In the light of the sheer suckiness of the first post, I'll try to make this one, you know, not suck.

As far as my adventures to this point, I can only say that they would be as piss poor on the reading quality as they were stressful to do; I bought a whole lot of stuff for my apartment, bought stuff for my apartment, and oh, yeah, bought stuff for my apartment. Let the good times roll.

Although, there are a some pleasures to be found in German department stores besides the almost frightening cleanliness of the store itself, and quiet attitude of the customers: it's a real Tim Burton-Stepford Wives kind of atmosphere. German advertising seems to have this irresistable need to make something sound either incredibly Prussian, or just plan stupid. For example, there was a stack of something in the corner of the store, I can't remember what, that sat under a sign that, I must assume, was meant to convey its popularity, a popularity that causes the items to "Fly off like chickens." Stupid. It made me laugh, but I didn't feel a need to buy the product. Another example from today, but from the other end.

Mister Clean. Given his propencity for cleanliness, one would assume he'd be popular here, yes? And you'd be right, he is popular, but for reasons that I cannot explain, they changed his name. Yes, Mr. CLEAN wasn't good enough. They abandoned the easy literal translation route, in which "Mr Clean" would be "Herr Sauber." Instead, he is "Meister Proper." What? Why? That makes no sense. Mr. Clean has no manners. No man with manners would just APPEAR in the middle of your kitchen without so much as a "hello" or "can I come in." "Mr" yes, "proper" no. Oh, but I forgot, it's "Meister." Of what, I do not know, but it is clean that he is the master of something. Perhaps it's of all he surveys. Either way, the assumption behind this marketing change is that this switch from "Mr" to "Master" would make Clean more appealing to Germans. I am new here, but that fact scares me.

And the TV is "unique." I have not been able to confirm this yet, but I believe that "Home Improvement" dubbed in German violates at least half a dozen UN resolutions. On top of that, the dubbing is really good. The time spent on it, the time you'd need to sinc up German's multi-syllabic vowel free verbs and English had to have been extreme. And the sound of the voices even match. Where, I ask, did they find a German who sounds like Richard Karn? I don't know, but they did it. Deutschland: 1, rest of the international dubbing community: 0.

But they love nature shows. They love them. One was about undersea life, in which they paid a little too much attention to the hunt aspect of the natural life to really set me at ease. I half expected David Attenbourgh to float past the corner of the screen followed by lions and hyenas. The other one I spent time watching was about the animals native to Munich's "Englischer Garten," the squirrels in particular. That was good programming. I could watch that for hours. And they were red squirrels, so therefore a little exotic. Very nice.

But I would have to say that behind old American sit-coms, the great love of this country is the infomerical. They're everywhere, and they advertise such practical things as "The Miracle Knife III," and my personal favorite, the "Dampfreiniger," or steam purifier. The first thing I saw on German TV was a man in vacuum sealed jeans steaming the inside of his toilet with steam. Yeah, I know. They sold over 500 units in less than 5 minutes. Think about that for a minute. God, I love arbitrary sterotypes. It's OK if you hate me for it, I certainly do.

And I say "ja" to everything now, regardless of what language I happen to be speaking in. It kind of creeps me out. And no one stops for pedestrians. Ever. It just isn't done. Maybe it wastes gas, I don't know.

But things are good, the people are different, but not all that different than any other group of people I've talked to. They have their "quirks," but it's nothing insurmountable. It will be hard to get to know people, though. My natural "I don't want to bother you" reflex combined with the outer German social shell is going to suck like no one's business, but oh well. I have a year. OK, that's about it for now. Will be more later.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Finally, a post. Actually, I wrote one a couple of days ago, but I couldn't post it, so here I am in a little internet cafe in Burg, writing it, and all the others, all over again. Joy. And I should say, the keyboards here are a pain....my habit-ridden mind has a hard time with elemental changes like these. The language, confusing, but nothing I can't handle, but don't mess with my keyboards, dammit! OK, so I'll try to sum up the last few days:

We landed at Frankfurt International Airport at about 6.45, and made through customs with no trouble; just a stamp from a statue wearing a German police uniform, and we're through. We make it outside the airport with no problems, but have no clue where our hotel is, so we do one of those elegant spins that says "Help" is big letters. Enter the taxi driver. His "Ausländer Sense" was well-honed. Impressive, very impressive. He was a short little guy and....enthusiastic. He wouldn't let mom or me touch any of the luggage, and after watching him load it all in the car, we headed off.

At about this time, I started noticing his accent, which definitely wasn't German. Turns out he was Greek, and he's lived in Germany for 35 years. Ironic. I did OK, even though I had to reboot once I realized I'd have to remember numbers. The ride was 20 Euro. Whatever. We got to the hotel, pretty much end of first day, and first post....Sorry, but I'm trying to catch up.