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.

Samstag, 6. November 2010

message from a student

its yust a soundtrack
and i understand not anything
but i what the lyriks are, everything!!!

it is a joke for the movie
but i think the song shows us the situation of oure (the amercan) musik buissnis :
the woman should be very sexy and she should say horny thing an so on. ist a musikbuiniss fore stupid people. but the problem is that the most people are stupid. so you have to make this musik to become famous.... its so stupid
but its funny ^^

Montag, 1. November 2010

Ein abgefahrenes Halloween

As Halloween approached I pretty bummed that I couldn't be in Austin for a spectacularly weird weekend. Sure, I could have planned a Halloween party here in Dresden, but it would have been any other costume party. What is irreplaceable is how the whole city of Austin, with adults and kids alike, transforms itself into an eccentrically costumed Halloween wonderland for an entire weekend. It's so much more than the candy and sweets.

Unexpectedly, however, I did experience an utterly weird and fun Halloween... at the DINO PARK. The park dates back to the DDR and is situated in a foresty area outside the city. There are no flashy rides, sugary treats, neon advertisements, or mind-numbing children's music. (We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!) Instead, there are gigantic dinosaur sculptures and an elaborate series of wooden playgrounds where you can climb and swing like a monkey. And climb and swing I did! But the real icing on the cake was the erotic Neanderthal structures. Yes, really! You read it correctly. What can I say, it's never too early for sexual education in Germany.

Under entirely normal circumstances there are always uncontrollable fits of laughter with Micha and his family, so you can imagine how hilarious and unforgettable Halloween '10 was at the DINO PARK.


Claire & Justus, a one-of-a-kind 3 year old Kunde (dude)


What's in there?

Not as cruel as it looks


Glorious Autumn

Exchanging jokes

The sculptures are really BIG

Montag, 25. Oktober 2010

Codo: a new interpretation

Codo - Ich düse im Sauseschritt from Michael Klarfeld on Vimeo.

Epic song + film project at school + cheap beer + a friend who is even weirder than me and knows how to work with adobe premiere

Sonntag, 17. Oktober 2010

Sunny Afternoon

Hallööööö liebe Kunden,

IT'S A SUNNY DAY. I'd be a fool to stay indoors for too long on a day like this. My sunny days are, like, numbered as November nears......

I'm wrapping up my 2-week fall break and on Tuesday I'm going to start teaching 4realz. I took trips to Berlin, Kiel & Flensburg. The latter two northernly cities are 30 minutes apart, but Germans consider the difference to be profound. Actually they're right.

Berlin is wild! There's Germany and there's Berlin. It's super international, very funky, and the scene is constantly changing. In spirit, it's like a cosmopolitan version of Austin. Since it's only 2 hours away and I know plenty of people living there, I'd like to visit fairly often. I'm very glad that I live in Dresden though-- in Berlin it would be hard to meet German people, oddly enough.

In Kiel and Flensburg I was reunited with Frederike & her family & her spectactular friends. We had a MUSTACHE PARTY and I got reacquainted with Fernet Branca y Coca, which is what people drink in Argentina. Listen, I think it's stupid to talk about drinking, but I'm going to make a brief exception: Fernet is something else. It's actually nice on your stomach and you'll have an opposite-hangover the next day. It is, however, an "acquired taste". (OK I'm done now)

Another memorable part of the trip occurred at the grocery store. I was buying said drink and some old man started pushing his shopping cart against me (instead of asking me to kindly move or going around me). Then after I grumbled some insults, he took out his knife and starting sharpening it. Fuckin weirdo.

In a little bit I will go to a "Hochseilgarten" with my housemates. It's tough to describe. It's a place where you climb shit and are connected to ropes, but it's not rock climbing. It's like an obstacle course high up in the trees!

That's all for now, folks. L8R!

And check out this sweet Chilean music playlist that NPR compiled.

Samstag, 18. September 2010

My German face

Exhibit A: I'm posting this picture for a few reasons...
1) You can see my kitchen at my new apartment.
2) Tall boots and a trench coat? But it's only September 18th!
3) However the main reason I took this was to show you a unique phenomenon which I call the "German face." This is the preferred expression of many Germans in public settings, like when walking around the city or waiting for the train. You have to look like you're contemplating your mortality or something. No smiling.

Exhibit B: another girl on my program took this concept to new heights. I can't look at this without erupting into laughter.

I've been living in Dresden for about 10 days now and I'm enjoying it a lot. I'm excited to discover more of it. :-)

PS: Another hilarious factoid is that I hear "It's Raining Men" on the radio at least once a day!

Sonntag, 29. August 2010

Ágætis byrjun, a new beginning

Dear friends,

Liebe Grüße aus Kiel! Kiel is seaside town in Northern Germany, in a region that is the love child of Germany and Denmark. I'm staying with the Schwarz family, who are kind of like my adopted German family. Being here cancels out many of the overwhelming feelings that come with moving to a new country. It's good to be in a familiar, inviting home.

Dear reader, do you know how I met the Schwarz fam? This story began when I was an angry teenager, about 13 or 14 years old. At this time I was in the (ahem) formative stages of a deeply-seeded hatred for Plano, Texas. I spent a lot of time daydreaming about escape, particularly to Germany and Denmark. Then one day, thanks to an AOL penpal website, I came into contact with a nice German girl named Frederike. We wrote each other emails every day (no kidding) and became good friends in spite of distance in these pre-Skype days. After a year or so her family invited me to spend the summer at their home in Kiel. It was, like, the coolest thing ever! Since then, we've met up several more times in both Germany and Texas... and this week commemorates the first visit since 2006. Is this like a fairy tale or what?

Frederike has expertly taken on the role of being my German mentor... teaching me useful words and phrases such as: asisch, karrieregeil, Schluss mit lustig, Aus die Maus, Ende im Gelaende, verpeilt, Spiesser, and all kind of fabulous adjectives to describe people. Here's a good phrase that she taught me: "5 Minuten vor der Zeit ist die wahre Pünktlichkeit", a rhyme which translates to "Arriving five minutes early is the true punctuality". If this holds to be true in Germany, then I'm in trouble.

In spite of the inevitably of punctuality problems, I'm feeling optimistic about the next year (or longer?) in Germany.

1) Frederike and I in Dresden
2) The Schwarz family (Frederike wasn't there)