Thursday, June 29, 2006

Prauge Report

Last weekend I went to Prauge, the last of the group trips. It was fun, and nice to see the places I visited back in March, now that they are actually doing business.

A couple guys brought a German/Czech phrase book, which was a source of amusement on the trip down there*. The first three questions the book teaches the reader to ask are (and I would like to stress that I am not making this up, I acually read the page with my very own eyes): 1.)Are you married? 2.)Do you have any children? 3.)Do you have a sister?

The cover of this book featured two guys, one playing a string bass and one playing somesort of woodwind instrument, who are evedintly supposed to be folk musicians. The think is, on Saturday, we saw these guys playing on the Charles Bridge. This is one of the main pieces of evidence for the "Charles Bridge = Trap for Lost Souls" theory. Obviously, these guys offended an evil sorcerous (or more likely an alchimist, this is Prauge after all) with their alleged Folk Music and were cursed to remain on the Bridge for all eternity unable to leave it: not to the west bank, not to the east bank, and definatly not to the next life. The second piece of supporting evidence for this theory comes from one of the two tour guides the group had. She led her crowd through the castle, down the hill, to the Charles Bridge... and disapeared. This poor wandering spirit is doomed to stay in Mala Strana, leading groups of English-speaking ammature photagraphers around, with an umbrella raised high. But she will never be able to cross the river to freedom, oh no, because the Charles Bridge has trapped her.

The other guide, the one I was assigned to, was entirely gold. She had a very dark (fake) tan, lighter around her eyes, where sunglasses have given her a sort of raccoon face. She had very pale, shiny makeup. Her hair was bleached blonde. All her close were shades of beige. Her finger nails had gold polish. I could not look directly at her when we were outside because she actually shone in the sun. On the other hand, it was really easy to find her in a crowd.

-Bis Spaeter,

*a trafic jam and a long wait at the boarder turned our 7 hour trip into a 10 hour trip. :(

Friday, June 16, 2006

Reporting Live from Weimar

I'm on the second of three weekend trips organized by the University, this one to beutiful, historic, tourism-driven Weimar. The bus driver for our little trip was quite the entreprenuer: when he wasn't driving us around he sold drinks -- water, fruit juice, and beer. The list of places where it is not sociable acciptable to drink in Germany is quite short. -_-; Places that would be alcohol free in America are not here, such as Burger King or a suburban bus at 8 o'clock in the morning on a work day. The security check at the Brandenberg Gate is concerned with keeping out nutcases with AK-47s and glass containters, not drinks.

Speaking of the Brandenberg Gate, the reason there is now a security check neat it is beacuse it is one end of the Fan Mile. As the name implies, one mile of 17 Juli Straße (from the gate to the Victory Column in Tiergarten) has been blocked off to automobile traffic, giant TV screens have been set up so ticketless pleblians (like me) can watch the games of the World Cup (in German the Welt Meisterschaft, or WM). Also, food is sold there for almost double the normal price. There are other public viewing areas, like the Addidas World of Fottball (a scale model of the Olympic Stadium), the Sonz Center in Potsdamer Platz, and the Kultur Brauerei, for example, but the main advantage of the Brandengerg Gate is tha admitance is free, and everz place else either charges zou 3 EUR admittance, or (in the case of a Knipe) insists that you buy a drink.

When I'm not watching footbal or in class... that doesnät leave much time for much except sleeping. Fortunatlz, my classes make frequent excursions into the city.

With the German class I spent a day exploring the neighborhood of Prinzlauerberg*, which is home to the Kultur Braueri and Berlinäs best Currywurst Stand. That afternoon (a week ago Wednesday) I also went on a river -boat tour of the citz on the Spree, so there was a nice view of the Reichstag, the new Parlimentarz Library, and the Tiergarten. Then, this past Wednesday, we went to the Gorki Theater (in Mitte, near the Museum Island), one of the 4 state threaters in Berlin. We had a short tour of the threater** and spent the rest of the day doing a workshop on Kafka's Amerika which was the play being performed that evening. I thought about going to see it but 1.) I donät like Kafka well enough to sit through a 2 hour play without an intermission and 2.) the Germany/Poland game was that eveing. I'm happy with my choice, it was a really exciting game. :)

With my literature class, weäve been making a small expidition every day that hasbeen more or less related to the topic. We read a short storz by Kleist and then went to his grave. We read a poem by a Jewish yuthor and then went to the Jewish Museeum. We read a poem by Rilke about a panther and when to the zoo in time to see the big cats get fed. Today we were reading works by the expresionists and the escursion was to the museum of expresssionist at. I was unfortunatlz unable to go beacue the morning class went long, and I had to run in order to meet the group foing to Weimar.

I also spent a day in Dresden, thanks to the University, where I took a walking tour of the city, went to the old masters gallary (I am now in lover with the work of Gerrard Dou), and saw the crown jewels of Saxony.

As ever, I promise to have pictures up really soon, but I canät upload any until I get back to Berlin.


P.S. forgive me if there are a lot of Z's where there should be Y's or # or ä instead of '. I'm using the computer at the hostel and the German Keyboard is set up oddly.

*but if you really want to sound like a Berliner you'll say Prinz'berg or P'berg
**which didnät take all that long since it's really small, it only seats about 400, as it was origanly built for choral concerts

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I love IKEA

I’m settled in to my room in the Studentenheim here in Berlin. Berlin is made up of a lot of neighborhoods which have grown up and fused together over the years to form one massive city of 3.4 million people or so, but each neighborhood also clings fiercely to its own identity. I’m in the part of town called Stegliz. It’s a quiet residential neighborhood in the south-west part of the city about half-way to Potsdam. Dad tells me it’s in the old American Sector.

I have my own room, and I share a kitchen and 1.5 bathrooms with five other rooms. There is one more American, Ben, who is also in the Summer Course, and the others are full time University Students at FU*. There are two Germans (Raif and Suzi), one guy from Morocco** (Madhi)***, and one guy from Cyprus (name unknown, lets call him Mr. X until I get around to asking). I’m not sure where the Greek girl or the Japanese guy actually live, but they’re over here all the time as well.

The Unknown Heathen With the Ukulele* (lets call him Mr. UHWU) was at it again the deay before yesturday, when I first wrote this post. Apparently the rain did not discourage him in the least. As soon as the clouds passed on I heard that infernal *plink, plink, plink* floating in on air that had just been scrubbed free of cottonwood.** One of my suitemates decided to combat this racket by turning on the stereo in the kitchen, and managed to find a station playing jazz. As long as I concentrated on the saxophone it was pleasant, but as soon as I let my mind wander the twitch in my left eye came right back.

Tuesday was the first day of my literature class. The title of the course is “Boarders and Crossings: German Literature from Romanticism to the Present”. The class itself is quite small. Dr. Peggy is the leader of the Vanderbilt contingent here at FUBiS, she’s taught this class for several years in the past, seems quiet knowledgeable, and is very enthusiastic. Including me, there are four students in the class (the class on Understanding the EU sucked up most of the other students). The other three are Vivian, Jen, and Bridget (I’ll call her Bridg to avoid confusion with the one at UD, my roommate last year). Vivian was sick Tuesday – she ate a bad Doener*** somewhere and got some sort of stomach bug – Dr. Peggy called at lunch to see how she was doing and told her to stay home and get some sleep. We all want to know which stand she went to so we don’t go there ourselves.

Jen did something to her ankle and left at lunch to try to go to a doctor, didn’t return in the afternoon, and wasn’t answering her phone, so when it came time to go on our excursion into the city it was just me, Bridg, and Dr. Peggy. For class today, one of the texts was a short story called the Marquise of O— by von Kleist, an early German Romantic*, so this afternoon we took advantage of a break in the clouds to go out to the Wannsee** and see his grave and the place where he committed suicide.*** It was pretty (the lake, not the grave so much, although that wasn’t hideous, just hard to find) and Dr. Peggy and Bridg took pictures, which they promise to send to me. We’ll see how that goes.

After class my friend Joy (who is in my German class) and I made a run to the nearest of Berlin’s three IKEAs. The apartments came with a lot of things. I have a desk with a drawer that locks, a lamp, and a bed which is too low to the ground to slide Big Bertha under it*, a duvet with cover, a couple pillows, a fitted sheet the standard IKEA cabinet/closet, and 6 wall mounted shelves that I can adjust along their little tracks. I was also given a frying pan, a sauce pan with lid, one butter knife, one spoon, one fork, one tea spoon, one lunch plate, one saucer and one T-cup. That’s a good start to a room, but there are some things missing. Like a spatula for actually cooking things with, or a knife capable of cutting something that is not butter, or a cup that can hold more than two sips of liquid at a time. Also while the duvet is nice, its June, and the weatherman swears it will get warm soon. Right now we’re suffering from a freak cold snap that has left temperatures hovering around 50 degrees. Of course, the weatherman also said it would be sunny on Tuesday, which it was, when it wasn’t raining. If the promised summer conditions ever do materialize a down filled duvet will be far too hot, even with the seersucker cover. For these, and many more little things like that, Joy and I decided we did need to go to a store and buy some stuff. But we did not want to spend a lot of money (mostly because we don’t have much to spend, but also we didn’t want to have to worry about not being able to take it back to the States with us). A short moment of thought (“Where can I buy hangers really cheap?”) and a consultation with the Internet led us to the Templehof IKEA.

Making a list and bringing a friend are to important things when going to this place. If you have a list and stick to it, you can control your spending easily. If you have a friend, then you can split the cost of things that are only sold in packs of more than one. The IKEA steak knifes for instance only come in packs of six. Neither of us need six steak knifes. We each needed one, but for 2 EUR a piece we could split a pack and have three apiece. [If any other FU students see this and need a steak knife, come find me. I have two extras that I could sell you real cheap.] And for that price I won’t feel guilty about having spent the money when the time comes to jettison most of this stuff.** The extra-basic plain white plastic power strips come in packs of two. I don’t kneed two of the things. I don’t even need all eight of the outlets that are on one. I just need a way to plug the lamp that came with the room, the cell phone charger, and my computer in at the same time, and some moron decided that each room in the Studentenheim only needed one plug (so only two devices could be used simultaneously). However Joy and I split the pack, and for my share of 2.50 EUR I know have a surplus of five outlets.

I spent just under 50 EUR, and now my room and kitchen are both useable and I have no qualms what so ever about leaving all this crap here when the time comes. If I decide that I really like something, I can by another one just like in the IKEA in Frisco when I get home.

-bis spaeter

*die Freie Universitaet. I am not making this up. I might even have to shell out the 12.50 EUR for a T-shirt, if I can figure out when the University store is open.
**more specifically, from Casablanca, he says he hasn’t seen the movie, but everyone always asks about it
***if that’s not the correct spelling of it, it’s totally my fault, he even spelled it when he introduced himself

*or ukelele, says both spellings are correct
**an even bigger menace than football hooligans in this part of the city
***basically a gyro on a bun instead of a pita, this wonderful meal has been spread all over Europe by Turkish immigrants, and Berlin has the third largest Turkish population in the world. Constantinople is the first largest, which begs the question, what is the second largest Turkish city?
More importantly, could I buy a Doener there for less than 1.50 EUR?

*a literary movement which has nothing to do with being in love
**one of the many lakes in the area
***he lived in Berlin, in the winter, during the period in which the French occupied what is now Germany, he was deeply in debt and the English Romantics had already taken all the good places to live in Rome. He did have a pretty depressing life.

*according to the scale at the Milan airport she’s 7 kilos overweight, at a rate of 6 EUR for every kilo over. That’s better than Ryan Air. They charge 8 EUR. Bertha is going to loose some weight for the return trip, even if it means leaving my toothbrush here and wearing four shirts on the plane home.
**Bertha is full, and they won’t let you carry steak knifes on airplanes. They show them in the little picture of sharp objects that you're not allowed to have

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I hate the Ukelele

After an exausting Italian sojurn with Mom and Kathi in Rome and Florence, I have arrived safely in Berlin. I'll have more details to follow soon, but for now, a note on musical instruments.

At UD, the random instrument that you occassionaly hear around campus is the bagpipes.* We have one piper and he practices in the woods near the Art Village. Here, there is a guy who plays the Ukelele. For two hours. The same song. Over and over and over and over. The music sort of worms its way into your head and pitches a tent there, so even after the finaly stops it bounces around your head going "plink plink plink". If I didn't think it would have bothered my suitmates I would have played my own music loudly, but my headphones are broken and I had to settle for nice pretty soft music. It was an improvement, but only just.

Bis Spaeter,

*and loud Tejano music from concerts at Texas Stadium