Saturday, February 02, 2008

Germany Blog - Day 2: 2/1

February 1, 2008

As we came through security, students from GSG (the local school in Moers), greeted us with signs and flags and students began meeting their hosts. I was quickly reintroduced to Wolfgang Fabricius and Ina Lunhoff, who were Canavan and my German counterparts. On the ride from Cologne to Moers, Herr Fabricius entertained us with stories of recent highway construction issues and gave me some background and history on the Cologne Airport, the city Cologne and the city of Moers, issues with roadwork, the Düsseldorf airport, low fair airlines and open airway proposals, among other items he though we would find of interest. We also discussed the price of fuel, the proliferation of the SMART car, and the results of the Obama-Clinton debate that we missed as we boarded the plane. Soon enough we arrived in Moers and had an informational breakfast where all parents, students, and teachers, were introduced to one another. Frau Canavan was so delirious she began pouring coffee onto her saucer instead of getting a cup. I laughed until I saw the size of the cups. They must have held 3 oz. of coffee. I inquired if these were used to sample different flavors before you selected the one you wanted.

Sadly, they were not.

Basic info was given regarding the trip and the itinerary. As I listened, first in German, then in English, desperately trying to pick up any German that I could to attempt to fulfill Casey’s mandate of ten new German words per day, I noticed that with grand irony we were living a Kurt Vonnegut moment. In his unusual novel, Slaughterhouse Five, his main character, Billy Pilgrim, spends some time on another planet (whose people’s name currently escapes me. While there, he is treated as an exotic animal and kept in a zoo cage. That is something of a misnomer, because his “cage” is furnished exactly like an apartment. He is even given a B List movie star as a mate (although, that is not what I am talking about). Of course, much of the story takes place in Germany during World War II. The ironic part was that while we were in the cafeteria, many of the GSG students were crowded up against the windows looking in at the American students and chaperones (along with hosts) as if we were some type of exotic attraction. I think it was mildly unnerving for some of the students. While in China, where staring is a sign of interest and curiosity instead of a rude gesture, I had to endure being stared at by everyone I came into contact with. At least in Germany, my appearance and nationality was not so much a novelty, as much as it so very was in China, and I was assuming that until I spoke, most people would not assume my background was anything but German, despite being darker in skin and hair color than most Germans I have thus far met. So, to have so many crowded up against the glass, I found it mostly amusing. Herr Sandman found that he was already missing his dogs greatly. It made me think of Monica and Sampson. Three weeks without my dogs was going to be a long time. Somehow, I managed to survive three months without Monica when in China. Although I was surrounded by Americans students often and could speak with them. So far, most of the Germans that I met had some rudimentary English skills, at least. They all were far more proficient than I was at German.

Frau Canavan and I were given a walking tour of GSG. It was an interesting place. The basic feel is that of an industrial building that was converted into a school. Due to recent updates and the result of fire code violations (sound similar, BHBL?) there were few posters or signs on the walls as anything that was on a wall needed to be in expensive fire retardant wood frames. Thankfully, BHBL has not had that mandate enforced. By German standards BHBL HS Room 117 would be a fiery death trap.

At 1:15, after getting a grip on my bearings, Frau Canavan and I split up. We each met our respective hosts and started heading towards their homes. I am staying with Frau Beatrix Schwich, a biochemistry teacher, and her family. This will consist of Beatrix and her daughter Hannah, mostly. Her husband and son Gideon, who work and go to school during the week and are only home on the weekends. Her youngest daughter, Esther, is in New Zealand as a member of the German National Sailing Team and has graciously donated her room for me to use while I am in Moers. They live in the old mining town of Kamp-Lintfort on Kruse Street, which is very old, close to 1000 years (and was settled by French Monks). They have a beautiful three floor brick house and I am currently residing in the basement as it gives more privacy than the guest room. I have also made friends with their dog, Balu, who is currently sleeping on the floor next to me while I write.

So far my only issues revolve around the fact that I don’t speak German and am not obviously going to learn much before I leave. Casey wants me to learn ten words per day. If that is the case, right now I have the following (although without internet, I cannot look up the spelling):

  1. Hallo - Hell0
  2. Cheers – Informal Goodbye
  3. Ich - I
  4. Sprechen - speak
  5. Kein – no (none)
  6. Deutch - German
  7. Nein – no (opposite yes)
  8. Ya - yes
  9. Danka – thanks
  10. Pappa - father

That is not much of a base, but I guess you need to start somewhere. Upon arriving at the Schwich family home, Beatrix treated me to a lunch prepared by her mother. It consisted of egg noodles and a rolled brisketish type of beef in deep gravy. My mother, who is German, served a variation of this when I was a kid. No offense, mom, but the meal prepared here was much better. After this lunch, Beatrix offered for me to go to market with her if I was interested, or I could choose to get settled. I chose to get settled and secretly sneak a nap, even though Wolfgang said that if we slept before ten o’clock, we would be up all night. Given how exhausted I felt, I did not think that this would be a problem.

After a few hours in the basement of writing, reading, petting Balu and fruitlessly trying to connect to the internet so I could check e-mail and let my wife know that I landed safely and was okay, I had taken about a 45 minute power nap and headed my way back upstairs. Beatrix offered me dinner, which consisted of bread and butter, cheeses and meats. It was explained to me that lunch was usually the big meal of the day, but only on Fridays was it a big deal even then. Surprisingly enough, my appetite has not been very big here, at least yet, so the most enjoyable part of the meal was when Beatrix asked if I enjoyed wine. Upon saying yes, she inquired as to whether I was a fan of red or white, and being an avid consumer of red wines, thanks mostly to my wife and sisters, she returned with a bottle of South African Shiraz. It was moderately dry, but very good. Beatrix told me more about her family. I learned that Gideon is 21, Hannah is 18, and Esther is 16, each born in January, December, and November, respectively. After trying to get me reconnected to the internet, again fruitlessly (although I didn’t say that I couldn’t get my lap top to connect to the wireless network for some reason beyond my understanding), I sat in the living room watching a movie that was about issues involving German gangs. It was something like a milder form of “American History X” (MUCH milder) about a professor and the relationship with his son and wife, and the influence of a Turkish gang member. Not understanding German, I was amazed how much I could follow of the film. I am left wondering if the mediocre performance of the actors was more evident because the content of the dialogue was lost on me. It makes me want to watch a film I have not previously seen in voiceovers when I get home to see if I have the same reaction. But then I think to myself, could Owen Wilson really get that much worse?

I found myself starting to nod off around 9:45, but Wolfgang’s voice rang in my mind. Pushing myself to ten, the film picked up in action and I cruised to 10:30 without a problem. As it ended, however, I mention to Beatrix that I would like to turn in for the night and she agreed that it was a good idea, noting that Gideon would be home very late and probably not awake until noon. She would be having breakfast at 10:00, if I was interested in joining her. Upon returning to my room in the basement, I though I might read a bit from Looking for Alaska so I would not be castigated by one Leah G. when I returned home, but after a few pages, I was starting to nod (not a knock on the book, by the way). Since I have not had almost any sleep since I awoke at 5:30 A.M. on 1/31 and as it is now 10:45 PM on 2/1 (minus six hours for time zone), I am going to call it a night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi nice texts ...
But you have write the words a bit wrong ;)
mb Jill (germany)