I can't believe the fellowship is half way done, and that in two weeks I will already be leaving Berlin! I love it here. There is so much to say, I don't know where to start! How about the weather? It has been 75 degrees and sunny almost everyday, with a few minutes of rain here and there. It's just exactly the right temperature.
At school this week my host teacher was gone for four days because she had her wisdom teeth out on Tuesday. Because she didn't know whether or not we'd get an English-speaking substitute, she explained the lesson plan to me in detail, and I ended up teaching for most of the rest of the week! Because I already had a connection to the kids and their current projects, I was able to explain things to the substitute, who was happy to turn the reigns over to me. I gave a spelling test, taught verbs, led an art project, and sang songs with the kids! They are so much fun, I'm really going to miss them when this is over.
Something I've noticed about the general culture of Berlin is that it's much more open than in the US. I live right on Tiergarten, the big park in the middle of the city, so I walk through it often. On the very warm days, I've seen families having picnics, but I've also seen fields of naked men sunbathing. The first time I saw this, I was shocked, but now it has become normal for me to see public nudity in the city. There is also a lot more smoking and drinking in public and in family situations. Mothers push a stroller with one arm, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. Young boys walk around with open beer starting in the early afternoon. These are cultural differences that I expected, but which still surprised me.
My host family has been wonderful! They feed me well, and I am going to come back from this trip expecting five full meals a day always with dessert! Unfortunately, being a college student doesn't support that kind of budget, so I will have to readjust to a diet of apples, coffee, and rice.
My host mother has connected me with lots of great people, including an American au pair who I met on Tuesday night. He took me to an English-speaking ex-pat hangout where I met some really interesting characters. There was a French girl who spoke broken English but was super fun to talk to, an English man who has done lots of modeling, and an Australian man trying to find a teaching job. The most exciting part for me was meeting a Tunisian guy named Sami who speaks 5 languages, four of them the same as four of the five that I speak! We spent hours talking in Spanish, English, French, and Arabic. I love that I can come to a country where I do not speak the native language, but I still get to speak the languages that I know! What a globalizing world we live in.
In a similar situation, I met a Portuguese man on Wednesday night who was amazed to find a Portuguese-speaking American. This was at a cute local restaurant/jazz club where we celebrated the birthday of one of the Minnesota Goes to Berlin fellows. I'm glad the fellows find the time to see each other and see this amazing city together.
Yesterday I met a German university student, my tandem partner, at the Frei Universität. His name is Fnan an he is Eritrean. He also speaks quite a few languages, and he showed me around the school. We went to two of his classes, one of which was a huge lecture with hundreds students aspiring to be teachers. I was amazed by the disrespect. There was so much talking in the room that I couldn't hear the professor, but she continued to teach as if people were listening. Fnan told me this is normal. The second class we went to was fascinating to me. It was an German/English interpreting class of only ten students. We spent the hour translating German sentences to English and making our best judgements about which was the best way to phrase the translations. The interesting part was the difference in judgement. The professor was Irish, most of the students have learned British English, and I of course was basing my judgements on American English. Where I found the phrase 'a highly discussed topic,' to be perfectly acceptable, the Irish prof did not; however, in her mind 'since 30 years,' was fine, where to me that is incorrect. In another sentence she liked 'the Britains,' where I thought 'the British' made much more sense. I wish I would have written down more of these examples, because it is linguistically very intriguing.
After class I ate lunch in the mensa with Fnan's friends, and I wish I had their contact information so that I could see them again! They were a lot of fun, and told me a lot about the school and university systems here. One of them is ethnically Turkish but has lived in Germany his whole life. He will be the first one in his entire neighborhood to get a degree and find a real job--he wants to be a teacher :)
Yesterday I met the other fellows and Heidrun Suhr at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, an old train station which now exhibits modern art. The exhibits were unlike anything I've ever seen! My very artsy roommates would have loved it and spent hours analyzing the brilliance of it, but my brain must work in a very different way, because to me it was just crazy. There was a cool room full of massive blocks of fat. That was the art. Another room had logs arranged around the room in an artistic way, while yet another was full of land art--the use of nature to be artistic. There were circles of stone and rectangles of wood lying on the floor. One of my favorites was a room of old tvs that flashed images of people's painted faces in front of chalkboard drawings of squiggles. I would not at all be able to tell you what it means, or any significance of it, but it was the exhibit that I was the most fun for me to look at. Sometimes I wish I was more artistic...
After the museum, we walked around Mitte and into a few tiny galleries that I would never be able to find again. Heidrun really knows her way around the inside and out of this city! One of my favorite things to see was at the Charité. There was a room of x-rays of sculptures. Originally taken to examine what was needed to upkeep the statues, the x-rays were more beautiful to me than the original stone pieces.
Our walk through the city ended at Claerchen's Balhaus, an old dance floor turned into a restaurant, where we ate a nice dinner outside. Some of the tandem partners met us there and joined us for dinner, and they were all really great. I think we are going to meet up with them again!
Today I left school around 11:15 in order to be at the radio station at noon. The station was the headquarters of Radijojo, a non-profit bilingual children's radio initiative with a lot to offer. The founder gave us lots of information, and it was all incredibly inspiring; however, there were 15 of us in a tiny room with no air conditioning for two and a half hours. By the time we left, I felt light-headed, though inspired. I am going to tell some of my friends about the radio station, because the website would be a great resource for language teachers! I think the school where I am teaching now would love it too.
On my way home today I stopped for lunch at a Turkish flea market and ordered a falafel sandwich in German! I felt very accomplished, because even a few days ago I would not have been able to understand the vendor, let alone talk to him! Interestingly, even though I've eaten schnitzel, kartoffelpuffer mit apfelmus, und knödel since being here, sitting outside of a flea market with my Turkish falafel felt like the most authentic German food experience I've had.
I'm looking forward to a wonderful, relaxing weekend with my host family, and I'm sure I will have plenty of new stories to tell in a few days, but as for now, all I can say is that I love Berlin. I will definitely be back in the future.