Freitag, 7. Januar 2011

Destiny's Child

Today I thought it was quite warm (it was above freezing!). Then I called Summer. She's with Fatima going for a stroll through the Greenbelt back in Austin. And who wouldn't? The sun is shining and it's 65 degrees. With Fatima's magical phone powers we could video-chat briefly and I was able to take in the sweet views!

Later we talked for real, like sophisticated adults.

Dawg, I miss you!

I can handle it.

Mittwoch, 15. Dezember 2010

walking in a winter wonderland

Greetings from a snowy, Christmas land...

A thick blanket of snow has been covering the city for about 3 weeks now and a new round is quickly settling in as I type. Something about snow is so peaceful and gentle. Perhaps this is because it falls so slowly, or rather dances in the air. The snow also reflects light and absorbs a fair amount of sound, so it transforms the city into a quieter and brighter place on these dark, short days.

Snow is also the reason for school to be cancelled for the rest of the week! Even Germany becomes chaotic during each big snowfall. The tracks of the trams and trains freeze over, and strangely enough, I've done more long-distance walking around the city in the snow than at any other time. I'm probably wearing like 5 sheep's worth of knitted clothes, so don't worry, I'm warm. :-)

With all the snow, sleds, and old buildings, many of our winter and Christmas fantasies from childhood are actually real here. And holy gekackte shit, IT'S NOT EVEN WINTER YET. I'm not sure how well I'll hold out after the novelty wears off. Sometimes, as some form of escapism, I listen to music from South America when I walk around town and pretend that I'm really far away in some warm and sunny place...

...And then I snap back into reality and gladly take part in some combination of the many traditions of a German winter and Christmas:
-Christmas markets with countless booths that sell presents, delicious baked treats (like Stoll and Pfefferkuchen) and, best of all, Glühwein (spiced wine)
-Let me repeat, Glühwein......
-Sledding downhill (and trying not to knock down the little kids)
-Snowball fights
-Ice skating (soon we can ditch the ice skating rink since the lakes will freeze soon)
-Advent is also very important here. Every household has a homemade advent calender with a piece of candy for each day between Dec. 1st-24th. Every kitchen table has an advent wreath made of holly branches and 4 candles. The candles are lit during meals and each candle represents one of the four weeks of Christmas
-January 6th was St. Nikolaus day. This is a funny holiday that is so German! Little kids who clean their shoes well on the 5th will wake up the next morning to find candy in their shoes as a reward.
-And let's not forget the Plätzchen Backtage (baking cookies). Bake. Eat. Repeat ad infinitum. I'm going to explode with COOKIES!

There are two things that I need to complain about:
1) I realized not too long ago that people here don't swear enough, at least not for my tastes. It's like, as a whole, people here don't take much pleasure in being offensive. Sadness! However, I am seeking to spruce up the language with new combinations of old favorites. Micha and my students are an excellent source of arschkackkotzenden inspiration.

2) There is TOILET PAPER MUTINY at my house right now. Recent scientific calculations have shown that the our 3 person apartment consumes roughly one roll of TP a day. The culprit is obvious because it's not Konni and it's not me. Shiiit, it's an expensive thing to pay for and we are not sure how to approach this awkward topic. Until that moment, we're making bets on how long a roll of TP will last.

G'night folks. For all of you in Texas, enjoy your sunny, poo poo upper 70's weather!

Mittwoch, 24. November 2010

It's snowing

Today was the first snow of the year!!! It cancels out everything I was complaining about yesterday. Huzzah!

1. Snowy Meissen
2. Recess was not cancelled today
3. That snowy-roofed building is the school where I teach!

Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures later in the afternoon. Much more snow had fallen and was sticking. The drive home today reminded me of postcard images from Colorado.

Dienstag, 23. November 2010

Let's talk about the weather. It sucks.

It's cold, like the German kind of cold. It's windy too, which makes the cold even colder. (And it's not yet the coldest! eep!) The darkness feels eternal as the sun now graces the sky from about 8:00-4:00. During the day thick, gray clouds selfishly block off much of what little sunshine there is. Bah humbug.

Well it could be worse. It could be Sweden! Ha! Anyway, don't feel sorry for me. I will adjust. If the millions people living in these northerly latitudes can do it, so can I! (or do they drink themselves into oblivion?) In any case I feel optimistic that booze-free activities such as knitting, baking, reading, and general Gemütlichkeit (coziness) will make the winter quite enjoyable.

Let's not forget the Christmas tide! Until December 25th, there's an obvious, ready solution for the winter blues. This shit is taken seriously around here. Right now Dresden, along with the rest of Germany, is busily getting ready for Christmas. The famous Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) open on Thursday.

Today I was downtown on the Prager Straße (think of a Dallas mall, but on a European pedestrian shopping street) and all around me green holly rustled and bright Christmas lights shined. It would be cute if it wasn't for the nauseating mass-consumerism behind it all. (Dresden was communist a mere 20 years ago? Wtf?)

What brought me to the Prager Straße? Well it started with me bitchin' and moanin' about having a tough day. (Today's lesson plan was a bomb + the aforementioned weather + scary observation tomorrow). Micha, my good friend/fellow teacher/partner in crime, had a creative remedy. We went to a big, impressive department store named Karstadt, found the kitchen timers on display, set a handful of them to go off in 2 minutes, and left. Oh fun!

When I came home I indulged in my favorite food: the sweet potato. I haven't found any yet in Germany, but Helena brought me a few from Spain. Party in my tummy!

Sonntag, 21. November 2010

A non-chronological visual tribute

Most of these pictures were taken about a week ago when my friend, Tanlyn, came to visit me. She's doing a teaching Fulbright in a Hauptschule in Neukölln Berlin, which is more or less like an intercity school. It's not easy, but she's enjoying it. It's a wonder that we never met before because our lives overlap so much: we grew up in the same city and went to the same high school, and funniest of all, her mom was my 6th grade teacher (Mrs. Roelofs!). We crossed paths for the first time last September at the Cologne train station.

When she visited the sun decided to defy the otherwise bleak November clouds and it was even so warm in the afternoon that we didn't need to wear jackets! Wahooo! So naturally we spent most of the weekend outside and we even met up with some of my students. In the pictures below some combination of Tanlyn, the students, and me are either prancing around the lively Neustadt district, ice skating, or are in the Heide-- the city's colossal protected forest.

Another friend, Michelle, also visited me that weekend. (Two visits in one weekend! Sweet!) She's fulbrighting in Mittweida, a small town sort of near Chemnitz. Hearing about her school experiences was pretty disheartening. At her school, the teachers miserably go about their jobs each day and have tolerance for, well, intolerance. Mittweida is (surprisingly) home to many Iraqis and the teachers do nothing to abate the students' cruelty and prejudices. If anything, they indirectly encourage it. Super fucked-up stuff.

On a lighter note, in the pictures below we're at the Panama in the Neustadt, a playground that has horses, sheep, goats, bunnies, and guinea pigs.

Samstag, 20. November 2010

Guten Morgen

It's a peaceful, grey November morning, and best of all, it's Saturday. Today I didn't wake up to the sound of an alarm clock and I've been happily bumming around in bed streaming NPR. The familiar radio voices occasionally trigger an intense, but fleeting feeling of homesickness. In a burst I see vivid images of Austin and I wish I could get on the next plane going home.

But perhaps this suggests the wrong idea. I do miss Austin, but I'm not homesick. Since I arrived I knew that I'd want to stay for a while, so I've been trying my best to cultivate a sense of home here. It'd be pretty naive to say that Dresden already feels like home, but tja, it feels like something very close to that. With good people surrounding me, I've got a pretty cozy niche in this beautiful city. That feeling of being a confused outsider is rapidly fading away. Huzzah!

I thank the anonymous German bureaucrat who assigned me to the school I work at. Teaching there is a joy. Any stereotypes that you may have about Germans absolutely do not exist at the Freie Werkschule Meissen. Actually, it makes American schools seem irreconcilably uptight. Don't get me wrong, the school is not perfect, but it's kind of a magical place. As a teacher I have lots of freedom in lesson planning and I'm encouraged to be natural, if not goofy with the students. I teach high school classes most of the time and the students are so damn cool. They're like adults. Most of the teachers are young and hip and it's obvious that everyone loves their job. It's a wonderful place to be and I look forward to school each day.

The attitude of my school is drastically different from the schools I know in Austin and Plano. Back home most teachers feel obligated to put up this barrier with the students, believing it's the best (only?) way to gain authority and an air of professionalism. I'm seeing clearly that a teacher isn't any less effective by being authentic in the classroom. Refreshing!

Here are a couple of the students who contribute to a super-cute-fest each Wednesday, otherwise know as 1st grade English class. English is taught to them via play, song, and dance.

A view of the city of Meissen from the school playground


Sonntag, 7. November 2010

Reunion + ze German tribal nation

This past weekend I was visited by favorite pair of Bavarians, Regina and Martin. Regina and I were paired for our high school exchange back in 2003 and we haven't seen each other since. Martin is her boyfriend, a friendly guy who rolls his r's and plays for a semi-pro volleyball team. His smart phone was a better tour guide of the city than I ever could have been. Ha!

The festivities began with some Breakfast Burritos and a good dosage of uncertainty, since being a hostess tends to be a worrisome endeavor for me. I think of Stav and how she felt before hosting her birthday party last month-- here she recreates the humor of it really well.

It was a rainy, gray weekend, what Germans call "museum weather". We did just that and spent the entire afternoon in the German Hygiene Museum (freaky name, brilliant museum). We had dinner in a "Potato Cellar" (another brilliant place with a freaky name). Perhaps it sounds creepy to eat a meal in basement? Here in Germany there's a whole market for cellars (that already sounds better) where you wine and dine and they tend to be very warm and cozy.

Regina, who lives in Munich, told me that the city recently decided to change the voice on public transportation to a Bavarian accent. This might rub most non-Bavarian Germans the wrong way, but I think it's amusing. I mean, what if the buses in Austin had a Texas accent?

This leads me to a fun fact about Germany: dear Ami friends, Germany is but a nation of tribes. There are so many dialects and regional clans. Germans are overwhelmingly, well, German, but the real diversity lies in all the little bubbles within Germany. For example, I live in the Dresden and Saxony bubbles. The Dresden bubble is quite distinct from the Leipzig bubble way on the other side of Saxony, or from the Görlitz bubble, which is only about 60 miles away.

Don't even get me started with bubbles outside Saxony.

Germany is half the size of Texas (and Saxony is the pinky fingernail) but I don't perceive this at all. This relatively small chunk of land is densely packed with different histories, identities, dialects, and landscapes. For an American, let alone a Texan, it's a tad surreal.