Monday, November 28, 2005

Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to the Special Munich Edition (tm) of A Mongoose Does Deutschland presented by the Why Am I Reading This Media Group, through a partnership with the BBC and Deutschland Funk radio. The program will, due to its size, be presented in multiple parts in no particular order, and the task of placing the events in a linear sequence is left totally to the audience. Don't worry, he's a smart guy.

Part I: Bier

It's a self-sustaining ecosystem so complex that the basic functions and relationships of its many parts and components are still a mystery to modern science. The small amount of research that has been conducted has revealed the existence of complex proteins and antioxidents, that, according to Dr. Udo Maifelderfußheimmacher, professor of Bier Studies at Bayern University, shows promise fighting certain types of cancer. In what researchers call "das Brezelprinzip," test patients reported a remarkable increase in "just not caring" followed by singing and a deep, deep sleep in which the cancerous cells were replaced my what Dr. Maifelderfußheimmacher calls "healthy, gemütliche cells" craving red meat.

Beer in Munich comes in two sizes: 1\2 liter and 1 liter. That's it. If you ask for anything smaller, be prepared to be called "Gudrun" and supplied with a nice calico dress with a tasteful neckline and delicate fringe. Food in a beer hall is fantastic if you don't mind supping on the connective tissues of livestock or fried slabs of meat, which I didn't; it was delicious. It's true function, though, is to wash down your beer, which is literally cheaper than water. God, is it good. I personally didn't drink a liter, because I was kind of attached to the idea of actually walking out of the beer hall (stupid, I know). Still, that doesn't change the fact that there is something cool about a glass of beer so heavy that you have to wrap your hand around the glass through the handle just to pick it up comfortably.

There are several different native species of Bier found in Bayern; the Helles (light), Dunkeles (dark), Weizen (wheat), and several others, but they're frankly lower on the food chain, so who cares. Did you see how I just covered for not remembering the other names? Sometimes I'm so awesome, I just have to announce it.

And at this point, one runs into the paradox of Bier: it's taken VERY seriously, but there aren't very many types to choose from. America seems addicted to KINDS of beer, like Pilsner, Stout, Lager, things like that, while Germany prefers to stick to about four basics recipes, outlines if you will, then make all the rest of the beer in the world taste like pee in comparison.

Well, OK, Cologne has its own kind of Bier (Kölsch) that's really good, but for the sake of simplicity, it's not part of this discussion.

The natural place of consumption for Bier is anyplace dark and made of thick dark wood, even better if it smells like cigarette smoke. OK, that last part is a gimme, since nearly every surface in Germany with porous qualities comes with a built-in tobacco smell. Seriously, it's disgusting. It's one of those things about this country I don't think I will ever really get used to. I mean, if I really enjoyed the the stench of cheap carcinogens, I'd just wedge myself up in a chimney somewhere and read a book. At least then I'd have bragging rights and could say things like: "Oh yeah, well have you ever read a book wedged up in a chimney? I didn't think so." In my world, that would make the other person slink off dejected, but we all know what would really happen.

Though I visited several beer halls while in Munich, the coolest place both in terms of its Bier friendly atmosphere and sheer "who the hell built this place" factor, was an absolutely miniscule bar painted completely black on the inside and packed to the gills with people. I just kind of stood in the center of the room with my friends and drank a beer while watching everyone else.

Just a quick note: Germany is a great place for people watching, because EVERYONE stares! So if you find someone with a bad ass comb-over that looks like a spiral galaxy lacquered onto a cue ball, just stare away, my friends, stare away. It's normal here.

Right, so that's about the end of the Bier Post. Hope you enjoyed it. I might remember so stuff later and add to it, but I might not. I don't know. It depends. Before I go, another great German word: A "Wisk" is "Schneebesen (snow broom)." God, I love this language.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I had dessert today in the school cafeteria, a bowl of Jello with a vanilla sauce over it, and as I was taking it off the counter, the lady said: "Und das ist Wackelpudding."

For those who haven't experienced it, learning a foreign language is, I would say about 70 % of the time, understanding something, then wondering if it's actually what you heard. And, like most activities here, these moments are accompanied by a glassy stare.

So I asked her to repeat herself: "Wie heißt man das nochmal (What do you call that again)?

"Wackelpudding." Yes, I was right: Jello is literally "Wagging Pudding" in German. God, I love this language. Sometimes I forget, but then things like this happen and I remember.

And for now on, Jello is to be Wagging Pudding.

And stay tuned for the Munich Special (tm)!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Homicidal thoughts are tricky things, because not only are they morally wrong and go against everything I believe in, but they're also damn appealing at times. Let me explain:

Today in class 11a\b, I was supposed to do a little lesson about the American Dream. Fine. Can do. As a suggestion, Andreas said it might be a good idea to use a song if I had one, which of course I do, because my Ipod is packed full of stuff. Truth be told, I was excited about this whole thing, the idea of using a song, talking about it, taking it apart, and applying it to a concept or situation. Hell, it what I do for FUN when I'm hanging out with my friends.

And here, Ladies and Gentlemen, is where I introduce Exibit A in the trial of "Majority of Brandon's Life From 13 to 21 v. Female Attention." As you will see thoughout the proceedings, this, and the evidence to follow, makes the Defendant a "winner." Mmm, I love the smell of Self-Deprecation in the morning. Anyway, back to the class:

I decided to use "Used Cars" from Bruce Springsteen's album "Nebraska (1982)." I love that album; it's one of my favorites, and possesses that most rare of qualites called "self-life." I could listen to it over and over again, and the writing is just so damn good. AND, it just so happened to fit the topic of cars in American Society perfectly. If you don't get it, just read the title of the song really slow. If you still don't get it, don't have children, please, I might have to try to teach them. Sorry, I'm still a bit bitter. You'll see.

The basic idea of the lesson was this: they would listen to the song once all the way through to understand it, then I would hand out a stanza to each group in class for them to discuss it's meaning and basic point, then we would come back together and discuss ideas as a class. Simple, no? No. Apparently not. Now, I will admit that the sound quality on my laptop sucked in the class room, that the song was hard to hear, but it wasn't THAT important; the song was only there to get started on an idea, really, so if they couldn't understand the whole thing, they could at least get the basic idea, or at least go from their stanzas. Nope, afraid not.

First off, they did everything in German, which is just damn stupid. The name of the class is ENGLISH, so logic would dictate that one would speak English in class. If this idea is dense, please tell me to slow down. I've tried to get them to speak in English before about a hundred times, but there's just no point; as soon as you turn your back, the verbs run to the end of sentences and there's no present progressive tense. So, whatever; I let that slide just to preserve my sanity. I'd need it later so they could rob me of it.

They talked in groups for about six to seven minutes, after which I asked the class if they were done. They ignored me. Fine. I asked again. They ignored me again. I went around the room to ask if they were done; they acknowledged my existence this time by staring blankly at me before ignoring me. I was, at this point, getting tired of this shit. I didn't want to kíll them, just make them cry. But I didn't. I was good.

I just went to the front of the room and started talking, which made them turn around and actually pay attention. Good, time for the discussion. Here's how it went:

ME: So, just to start, what was the song about?

Student: No idea.

No idea? The song is called USED CARS! Use context! So, I explained what it was about. At this point, I could tell things were going south really quick, so I went for the old "how would that make you feel" thing, just to get them talking about something. I did get a: "He's proud of his car" after that. YAY! In my enthusiasm, I pushed ahead, fueled by the propect of students speaking English. I continued:

ME: So, imagine what it's like buying a used car. It's kind of like, you know, not being able to afford a new cell phone and having to settle for an old one that's beat up, one everyone knows isn't new. How would that make you feel?

CLASS: (Silence and Blank Stares)

ME: What about the Salesman, what do you think his role is?

CLASS: (Silence and Blank Stares)

It was like talking with cows, fat, moping, barely sentient livestock.

ME: What did you think of the song?


ME: How does that make you feel? How would you feel if you had nothing while the world on the TV was wealthy, attractive, and full of opportunities, and you weren't?

CLASS: Moo. (Swats flies away from mud encrusted ass with tail)

SAY SOMETHING! I admit, the lesson wasn't the best ever; I had dumped the idea of having the class place the stanzas on the board in the right order (that was my orignal idea), because Andreas said it was really easy, and I could leave it out, in favor of this. But they wouldn't speak. At all. Toward the end, I just wanted them to say SOMETHING. Hell, if they had told me that my lesson sucked and they wished they were dead, I would have been happy to discuss it. In English.

They wouldn't even talk to me while my computer was starting up when I asked them how they were doing, what they were doing this weekend, stuff like that. AHHHH! After class, I wanted to burn down their cities, sell the population into bondage, and sow thier fields with salt so nothing would ever grow there again, but that's just redundant: there wasn't much there to start with.

I keep forgetting that Germans schools don't really discuss things: what you think isn't important, just write something and conjugate the verbs correctly. Munich will be nice this weekend.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Today is Armistice Day. Or Veteran's Day in the United States. Really, you can choose to call it anything you want. I'm personally an Armistice Day guy myself; the point of the day seems to be a little more positive: you know, celebrating the end of a war, Peace, and hope for the future instead of talking about sacrifice all the time. That seems to be rather fashionable at the moment. "Und das ist Quatsch," as the Germans would say.

And yes, a Quaker talking about a holiday is an oxymoron, but I just think it's interesting how the emphasis of the day was subtly shifted during the Cold War from peace to sacrifice. Just a disclaimer really quick: this kind of response is involuntary now; I was an English major, after all. And if you'll notice, the use of the semi-colon in this post is WELL above the national average. God, I can be pretentious.

As a rule, I am sceptical of days like this anyway, since men in dark suites and big shoulder pads tend to use them to further their own dreams of martial glory from behind a desk, and I'm pretty sure some as-yet-unnamed President of the United States will talk about how important it is to sacrifice on the Alter of Freedom (Quatsch noch mal), and I think the point is missed in there somewhere.

When the guns stopped pounding after four constant years, the soldiers in the trenches said they could hear the Voice of God in the sudden silence that followed, and the world, however flawed, resolved, at least for a short time, to put away the sword forever.

That is a much better present for a veteran than any flag, I think. So I do not believe in this day, but I do try to remember what it tried to say. That reminds me: I need to call my Grandfather tonight.

OK, I'm done. Really. I am. There's just something about German that makes both World Wars seem a lot more real. I guess the whole "3 million dead soldiers and cities almost totally destroyed" thing gets into the air sometimes. By the way, Lübeck has a war memorial that is now right up there with the Vietnam Memorial, as far as I'm concerned: the four hundred year old bells of the Marienkirche lay broken as they fell after the bombing in 1942 that almost destroyed the whole church, with the words: "Den Toten, die fern von der Heimat ruhen (To the Dead who rest far from home)" Are you cheered up yet?

On a lighter note, I'm going to go to a bakery today and eat a Berliner. His name is Klaas, and he owes me money. God, I'm funny! No, actually, it's a jelly filled doughnut thing. Normally, I'm not huge on things like that, but the history geek in me has to eat one. After all, President Kennedy was one.

Brief note: during is famous speech in Berlin in 1962, Kennedy said: "Ich bin ein Berliner." "Ein Berliner" is this doughnut thing. If you want to say "I am from Berlin," you just say "Ich bin Berliner." When I say "I am an American," I just say "Ich bin Amerikaner (Amerikanerin for the ladies out there)." Got it? It kind of sounds like Tarzan, doesn't it? "I am man, Jane: woman. Woman good." So, instead of saying "I am from Berlin," he said: "I am a jelly doughnut." Therefore, I MUST eat one.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

It is common knowledge that I have a superpower. Don't pretend that you don't know. It's common knowledge. Everybody knows. Everyone. But along with my long-standing and well-developed power to incorrectly cite bibliographical information in any notation style at any given time regardless of prior preparation or instruction, I have discovered that I have yet another, a Secondary Power, if you will. It breaks down like this:

Superpowers as a general rule can be divided into Main and Secondary catagories. For example: Galactus, Destoyer of Worlds can, as his Main power, well, devour entire worlds along with thier inhabitants' while belching fumes of pure evil and unmitigated self-infatuation, but he's also GREAT with kids, and can do a bad-ass Donald Duck impression when the situation requires. It never fails to lighten the mood of any inter-galactic refugee camp. He's a hit at parties. He doesn't normally let this out, you know, for obvious reasons, but we're cool, so it's OK. True be told, we're nigh Homies. But that's beside the point.

The point is, that besides my powerful ability to incorrectly cite things, I also attract random events. This is my secondary power. Since arriving in Germany, I have had a man open the phone booth while I was talking with my brother to lean in and make the sound like a telephone ringing, after which he walked away laughing, and have had a Polish man offer to sell me his cell phone out of his pocket while asking about minimum wage and working condition in the United States. Weird. When I said I didn't want his phone, he just disappeared.

I should say that this post is ommiting certain events in the United States, but since some of them are frankly disgusting, I won't mention it. OK, so only one is disgusting, but you get the point. The rest are just annoying.


OK, sorry. Yesterday while walking to Jens Markt (a moment of silence, please, for the Palace of Pork), a man yelled "Wohin gehst du (Where are you going)" across the town square at me. My "Who The Hell Are You Sense" was going off, so I just pretended not to hear him, but he walked up to me anyway. So much for that. Apparently, he had noticed my limp and was intrigued by it. Let me just say before I go on that my limp is rather pronounced right, because I pulled some muscle sometime, somewhere, somehow, and it really hurts to walk pretty much any considerable distance at the moment.

His little brother, he said, limps just the same way. OK, that's nice. At this point, I was torn: my brain was about to explode trying to understand what this whole conversation meant, but he was a nice guy at the same time. "Where is your brother from," I ask.


"Where are you from?"


Huh? My German's not great, but it's not that bad. Then he goes on to talk about his brother's limp, whether it's my foot that's bothering me or something else, about hospitals and care for orthopedic problem, etc, at which point I tell him I think I hurt myself somehow. That confused the hell out of him. He just stared. "How do you like Germany," he asked, "is it better than America (I had already told him I wasn't German)? Is the work good in America?" And so on, and so on. Then we shook hands, said "Tschüß," and walked our seperate ways. That was it. Yeah, I don't know. I don't know, and I'm not going to try to figure it out. This stuff just seems to happen to me.

It's my superpower.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

So I'm Swiss. I know, who knew? Let me explain:

I was in a store yesterday buying a Swiss Army Knife (they were out there on the street and I couldn't help myself), and when talking to the lady in the store, she asked me if I was Swiss. Nope. Dutch? Nein. So far, I have been Schwäbisch, Danish, Dutch, and Swiss. No Austria, but give it time. Something about my German accent must sound like something out of the southern end of the German-speaking World, I don't know. I listen to the Swiss, Austrians, and the Schwäbisch on TV and always think how I could never sound like that, but I guess I do.

I was disappointed at first, but at least I'm not an American right away....I come from the right continent at least. Whoohoo! Truth is, oral comprehension has sky-rocketed, speaking still needs some work. Maybe I should go to Zürich; I have family there.