Sunday, November 25, 2007

American Weekend

I went to Mannheim on Saturday to celebrate Thanksgiving with my Ole friends living nearby. We started the day off with some good ol' American Starbucks...yes, the seasonal Gingerbread and Toffee Nut lattés. Through contacts we got some REAL American groceries from the nearby US Army Base, so we didn't have a stuffing-less, pumpkin-less, or cranberry-less Thanksgiving feast. And the Oreos? I mean, what more of a Thanksgiving tradition than Oreos? :)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have done Thanksgiving lessons all week in school, which has been fun. Teaching them about traditional American foods like cranberries (the German word is "Cranberries"), squash (they call all squash pumpkin), and turkey. I made a crossword puzzle where the clue was "American wild bird" and two kids asked me if it was "eagle". I guess I didn't really specify that I was looking for a bird eaten at Thanksgiving time... We also talked about the history of the holiday and its significance for American Indians, and Black Friday and what Thanksgiving means for retailers.

This was actually a really revealing point, I think, because it demonstrates the two totally different approaches to the "capitalism vs tradition" debate. In France and Germany it is totally regulated so that employees wouldn't have to work on a holiday, especially not at the ungodly hours stores open in the US! I found a really interesting New York Times article about opening times, in which the author quotes the spokesman for Best Buy, who decided to not open doors until 5:00 a.m. in the spirit of the holiday. Click here if you're interested in reading the article.

Anyways, one of the best things about going abroad is that you are able to analyze your culture, your country from a kind of outsider perspective. I definitely see both sides of this argument, but I have to say it's rather nice (once you get used to it) that everything is closed here for holidays, and on Sundays. It really is more of a family day, and I think that gets lost sometimes.

When I told one little girl that my family is all together in the US today, she asked me "Sprechen sie Englisch?" Cute! Yes, my family speaks English. :)

Outside of school I have been doing some really cool things lately. Sunday I went to a movie filmed in the ruins of post-war Berlin (1947/1948, and everything was still a total mess!). It was incredible. If you have never seen pictures of what Germany looked like after the war you should really google it. It's unbelievable what they had to rebuild. But anyways, the movie was called Germania Anno Zero, centered on this postwar starting-over for Germans who survived the war.

Monday I went to the University library and got a library card, checked out some books and just sat in the reading room for a while and read. I miss being on a university campus...Monday evening I went to a lecture in France called La Sarre depuis 1945, about the Saarland region after the war. This is the building the conference was in:

I literally walked past the building, thought "That can't be it" and then had to turn back. I think we sat in the main governmental senate or whatever room for the local Sarreguemines (the French town across the border) government. There were about a hundred people there, and a German professor from the University of the Saarland delivered the lecture sponsored by both cities' community colleges.

Tuesday I went to the movie Yella, and last night I went to a German comedy that was juuuust about worth the two-euro-eighty I paid to get in. :) But somehow it's easier to justify seeing bad movies when you know you probably learned a new word or something.

Tonight is the first night of our Weihnachtsmarkt, the beautiful German Christmas markets! So that will take my mind off not being with my dear family for Thanksgiving...and this weekend I am going to celebrate with some American friends, so I'll get my cranberries sooner or later!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

lass uns alles nachholen...

So, let's catch up on everything...I haven't written for maybe two weeks...

School has been going pretty well. I had to teach a lesson about Australia, which was pretty interesting, as I don't know anything about Australia. I also learned what participles are and taught them...did an interesting lesson on Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty...political speeches in the US and rhetorical devices used in to read newspaper ratings in the US...and more on cultural stereotypes. I'd say I'm getting into the swing of things, but not ready to switch my studies to English as a Foreign Language. :)

On Friday, November 9th I went to Frankfurt with some other American teaching assistants to attend a Welcome Meeting put on by the German Fulbright Association. The topic was "50 Years of Europe, inside and outside perspectives". I thought this was really interesting, and the key-note speaker was a journalist with fascinating background of work with the German and French media. He talked a lot about French vs. German views of the role of the US in Europe, and how this point often is the most contentious and the most detrimental to Franco-German cooperation. Interesting.

While in Frankfurt I also went to an exhibit of prints of Albrecht Dürer, which was really amazing. Since they are so fragile, they are only brought out every so many years, the last exhibition being in 1971. I still haven't even been to the art museum in Saarbrücken yet, but we have a good Picasso exhibit right now so I need to get there.

On the way home from Frankfurt we stopped in Heidelberg and witnessed one of the coolest German traditions: Laternenlauf! All the children make little lanterns and put tea lights (or today sometimes electronic lights) in them and parade through the town behind someone on a horse supposed to represent St. Martin. St. Martin is always November 11th (11.11) and celebrated with a Lantern Parade in the evening, for example from the main square to the church. They sing songs like this:

ich geh mit meiner Laterne [I walk with my lantern]
und meine Laterne mit mir [and my lantern goes with me]
da oben leuchten die Sterne [up above the stars are alight]
und herunten leuchten wir.. [and down on earth so are we]

Laterne, Laterne
Sonne, Mond und Sterne!
[Sun moon and stars]
Brenne auf, mein Licht, brenne auf, mein Licht, [burn, light, burn]
aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht! [but just don't burn up my lantern!]

Wednesday night I went to a talk about German-Russian Relations, which ended up being about the US and how we are going to start World War III. It was pretty frustrating for me, actually. The speaker grew up in former East Germany, and studied a long time in Russia and was an ambassador for the East Germans. I think he probably mistrusts the US because of this background in Soviet Russia and communist Germany. At the end of his talk he opened the floor up for questions and I was glad that some Germans also said that he has a pretty skewed view of the US.

Thursday night I went to a play of Franz Kafka's Die Verwandlung, "The Metamorphasis," and then went into town for the Primeur festival, celebrating the first day when this year's Beaujolais wine is allowed to cross the border into Germany. I have never seen so many people on the market square. It was like all of Saarbrücken was there. It was such a cool atmosphere! And you could get cheap wine and stand out in the freezing cold together! It was a pretty cold night, but they had heaters set up and Wurst stands, and tables...My pictures don't do the scene justice since I took them at the beginning of the evening, while people were still coming.

Friday I spent all day at the DFG (German-French Gymnasium) because there was a meeting of all three DFGs (there are also such schools in Buc, France and Freiburg, Germany). In the morning we had a meeting with the English department, trying to agree on a basic curriculum for the upperclassmen English classes, and then in the afternoon I went to the history department's meeting. This was really interesting to see which points they argued about. In France history curriculum is more designed according to themes than a strictly chronological order, and these two German-French schools in Germany wanted to adopt a similar structure, but they're not sure if they will be allowed to. Their schools are so unique it's interesting which challenges arise, especially in Saarbrücken because it's located in a populated border region. For example, for German students who are living across the border in France, this school is the only possibility for them to have free, state-education. But what about French children, living in France, who want to go to school there? Which taxpayers are paying for them? And which country should decide the curriculum? You see where the problems arise.

Last night I went to see the new Fatih Akin movie, Auf der anderen Seite, "On the Other Side." It was really, really good. Watch for it to come to the US. Today I slept in (finally) and went to the library for a bit and then the farmer's market. I talked to the guy who was selling squash for a bit, because I was interested in which varieties he had. I think they must come from the US. The Germans don't distinguish between "squash" and "pumpkin" in their vocabulary. The farmer selling told me he had "acorn squash" pumpkin and "spaghetti squash" pumpkin. In German he actually said "acorn squash." So anyways, interesting. He said he's already harvested everything and will probably only come one or two more weeks to the market. I suspect for all produce, like the orchard also, this will probably be the case. But maybe some of them have indoor greenhouses, because they still had a lot of selection. Then there are stands with sausages and cheeses and yogurt, and amazing bread, which I suppose could be there year-round.

Well sorry this was a lot because I haven't written in a while. Hope it is still interesting!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Metz, France!

My friend Nick and I got up early this morning and took the train to Metz, France, just about an hour away. We had a nice French breakfast, walked around the city a bit and then took part in a four-hour tour of "Wilhelm II in Metz", or how the architecture of the city changed during the German occupation 1870-1918. If you know me at all, you know this is just my thing. And you already know how good a friend Nick is for coming along. :)
above: Porte des Allemands, massive fortress (13th century) which used to be part of the town walls above: city's Protestant church built under Wilhelm IIla Gare (1908) was built under Wilhelm II. This is where the tour started, as the train station is the most impressive building erected during this period. Obviously trains were very important militarily, so Germany needed to be able to bring troops to the border very quickly. Kaiser Wilhelm II had his own private platform, and the tour guide took us into his quarters.

Inside the train station. This was beautiful. And nothing was destroyed in either World War! The guide said everything was perserved! (With the occasional change by the French through chopping off a swastika, or an imperial German eagle...)
This huge stained-glass window portrays Charlemagne. The style of architecture in the station is very Germanic, as the Emperor wanted to turn Metz into a great German city which the Empire could be proud of. Opposing this window was a parallel one, except with a huge imperial eagle instead of Charlemagne. The French destroyed that window in 1919 but left this one, as they also claim Charlemagne as one of their historical figures.

This building (palace?) was built for the head of the military. It was built in the typical Weser Renaissance style.
The grand Cathédrale de Metz...
Place de la Comédie

Oh my gosh it will be hard to go back to school tomorrow...I have had such a fun extended weekend it felt like a completely different vacation. But now an die Arbeit...time to get to work.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Frankfurt und Freunde!

I just spent two days in Frankfurt with some great Ole friends. It was weird to all be together in Frankfurt, of all places, and who knows when we'll see one another again. Now we're scattered again: from southern France to Italy to Germany, to the States...

In this jug was about 15 glasses of Apfelwein...Amazing! We split it between the four of us...and then ordered another one! I tried to get the antler-chandeliers in the picture for my dad. This place had great atmosphere.