Month: November 2014

A Winter Wonderland

Everyone is preparing for Christmas:

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In the universitaet Mensa (one of the many cafeterias at the Uni Hamburg)2014-11-27 18.48.00

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in the hall of the main university building

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one of the stands at one of Hamburg’s smaller Christmas markets

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the windows of the major department stores look exactly like how I’ve always imagined them in novels.

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life-size Weihnachtspyramide at the Spitaler Weihnachtsmarkt. One could get all the holiday drinks here… egg nog (Eierpunsch), Gluehwine (a sort of warm, mulled, spiced wine) Gluehwein with some extra pep, but no beer 🙂

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EVERYTHING gets decorated, even the standard outside bench

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inside of the Hauptbahnhof

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my room: I am now a proper Hamburger with my “forgotten to return” Gluehwein mug. I read that almost 25 million Tassen get “lost” each year. Even though the stands charge an extra 1-2 Euro Pfand for the mugs, many people (like me :/) just pack them as a souvenir. However, the stands see this as a worthy trade (and perhaps therefore also charge 2-3 Euro for a cup), and they don’t blame the customers. I’ll do it once, because having this mug brings me a certain amount of happiness drinking out of it at home, now, but next time I want my Pfand back! (although there may be no next time because I was only told later that the Gluehwein is mixed sugar, something I’ve been trying to avoid consuming. 😩

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A German Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is considered a traditional U.S. American holiday. Es ist eine traditionelle U.S. Amerikanische Feiertag und wird jeden November am 4. Donnerstag gefeiert. Obwohl Thanksgiving ein Herbsterntefest ist , wie sie in vielen Kulturen gefunden werden kann, ist es besonders mit US-Kultur verbunden. O. Henry, the writer, called Thanksgiving the one holiday that is purely U.S. American, one on which one can expect anyone in the U.S. to be traveling for or hosting for. There are some problems with the origins of the holiday, as I’ve learned while getting older, but the celebration itself, other than how it’s taught in elementary schools, is removed from those origins  and for many people,Thanksgiving is a time of friends and family reunions… and about food. 

While writing, I had to remind myself that there are different experiences associated with Thanksgiving, For example, for some Native Americans the holiday represents something different than togetherness and is actually a day of mourning. Also, for many of the poor and homeless people living in the States, preparing the huge meal or spending the holiday with friends and family is difficult. But there are also many religious and service organizations who try to make celebrating the holiday possible with holiday meals and events.

Being away from my family this year, I didn’t expect to be celebrating the holiday. Aber dan… heute haben mich mehrere deutsche oder internationalle Studentin darueber angesprochen, und ich habe mich gefreut, als ich sagen konnte, ich werde es auch hier feiern. Ich war zum Thanksgiving Essen eingeladen. I didn’t know if I would be celebrating Thanksgiving this year, since it is the first time I’m not home, but my fellow VDAC American and I were graciously invited by another American in my area, and it turned out to be my first “real American Thanksgiving.”

Ever since I can remember, I’ve celebrated a German Thanksgiving. The only language spoken around the table was German because the guests were all Germans. Once or twice, there was an exception in the form of a U.S. American (other than my father) or a Polish lady, but they always also spoke German. This meant that while we were sitting in South Florida in temperatures too warm for late Fall and eating traditional southern Thanksgiving dishes (no one makes stuffing like my Papa), the atmosphere had a certain German aura that could not be dislodged. Perhaps it permeated because we don’t carry on any U.S. American traditions, like watching football afterwards, or just the euro-centered conversations that went on, but I never came back to school the following Monday the stories like my U.S. American classmates.

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This year, however, I picked up some wine and blackberry juice from the local grocery store, put on a dress and my nice boots with heels, and tried to get into the festive mood.

The place we were invited to was small (a typical student’s apartment) with not enough chairs and a table too small for all the good things that were to go on it… but that could of course happen in any Thanksgiving home. The guests also weren’t all American. There were us two VDAC students, the two US singer-students, a German student who will go to the US next year, a German one of the singers met on the S-Bahn once, a German whom the other singer had befriended, and another America who has been living and performing (Phantom of the Opera?!) for a year already in Hamburg. Our levels of German were acoustically scattered across the board, but it was the general consensus to speak English. Hence, my first American Thanksgiving. 🙂

Jill, our wonderful host, had prepared every single traditional dish. She said that she had been cooking since the night before, and I could believe it. I would have liked to have brought something too! But she had already said not to bring anything except ourselves and maybe something to drink.

It was a delightful evening with other guests coming and going, enough excellent food (green bean casserole, steamed carrots in honey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and turkey) to go up for three helpings, and just good atmosphere and company.

Jokes were made and politics were discussed (and then quickly topics were changed), much laughing was done, and we went around and every got to say what they were thankful for (this took a while to get everyone settled down for, since as was pointed out by various guests, it is also Thanksgiving custom to interrupt or start side-conversations). When it was my turn, I could only say how thankful I was to be there and celebrating Thanksgiving. I am also thankful to be in Germany and able to complete my MA while abroad. I have experienced so many great things as a citizen of Hamburg. My list of all the things I’ve been able to see and do gets longer each day. The last thing I said I was grateful for was technology, since without programs like MagicJack, Skype, or FaceTime, I would not be able to communicate with my family and friends to the extent that I do. Being able to talk with them and see them has made being away from them (and not getting their hugs) more bearable.

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excuse the fact that I cut Jill out; I did not know if she would want her picture on the interwebs. But look at all the great food!!!

All in all, this Thanksgiving provides me with a wonderful memory that I’ll be able to look back at with fondness. It was such a sweet experience to create a little bubble of America in the room like that.

So it was a surprise when it was after midnight and I was reminded that I had class the next day. In the States, no one would have to worry about being ready for Friday (unless one was a horrible Black-Friday shopper :p). The question of transportation home also became an issue since, while public transportation in Hamburg does run longer on holidays, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday for the Germans.

But it worked out, since another guest and I (this guest happens to be the German VDAC student who is going to the U.S. through the exchange program next year) both needed to leave “earlier” than the others and left together. We had a nice walk through Hamburg-Altona to the bus station (there are night buses, even when the subways/strassenbahne don’t run), and she convinced me to go a little out of our way to see the Altona Hafen at night.

I am glad we did.

It was a magical ending to a beautiful evening. I’m starting to think Thanksgiving is always good if there’s some German involved somehow.

A surprisingly relevant article I found: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/nov/27/celebrating-thanksgiving-american-student-abroad

Another article I found is for English-as-a-foreign-language speakers:  http://learningenglish.voanews.com/content/american-celebrate-thanksgiving/2529775.html

Die WeihnachtsmÀrkte öffnen

Weihnachtsstimmung in Deutschland faengt an. German tradition calls for decorations to wait until the day after Toten Sonntag. This is a day of observance for those who passed away in the past year and it is recognized in Germany. I was surprised that I haven’t heard Christmas music yet, but it’s because the observance of this day is still respected across Germany.

I think it’s good that commercialism doesn’t take over everything. Even though Christmas specialties, advent calendars, and decorations have been out in the stores since the end of October, it was a little low-keyed. However, I’m about to see the transformation of Hamburg into a winter wonderland.

I found this in the paper on Thursday. All the markets open on November 24th.

I found this in the paper on Thursday. All the markets open on November 24th.

Because today is Toten Sonntag, this means  the markets open tomorrow! I already saw some markets being put up over the past two weeks. However, I didn’t see how much they’ve gotten done since last weekend, and so I was impressed by the Berlin decorations I saw over the weekend. I imagine Hamburg looks similar (sans Europa Center and Gedaechnis Kirche). I’ll go exploring throughout the rest of the time here before I return home for the holidays.

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I am super excited by all of this because it’s something I don’t get to experience in the States, never mind sunny south Florida. Although there are many Jewish and Muslim people in Germany, it’s culture is still largely oriented around Christian holidays and so the state supports the decorating and  logistics for holiday celebrations. So much sparkled and glittered…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Some bad, mostly good, and a post in which I try to catch-up, but fail

I knew this would happen inevitably, that I would have a lot to post during the beginning of my stay here, but since classes have picked up swing (we’re halfway through the Vorlesungszeit [labeled as such because there’s also a Vorlesungsfreie period that’s still technically part of the semester during which students don’t attend class and frantically finish term papers]) I am kept a lot more busy. I’ve also got more things going on outside of classes, so I’m sufficiently kept out of my room off the interwebs, which is probably a good thing.

Basically, there’s too many small things that have happened to note (and still keep your interest), but I have noticed on a larger scale that the more I’m here, the more I’m learning about people, not just Germans in particular. Coming to a new place means meeting new people, experiencing new things. It doesn’t matter whether it’s foreign or not. I think that When U.S. Americans move to another city, or even a new block, it’s also a “foreign” location that needs to be explored, and one’s place in it also needs to be found. The primary difference to another country is that culture and customs are expected to be different from what one already knows and there’s so much more to learn.

As far as saying that I’m learning more about people, let me explain. Basically, I have had many good and a few bad experiences here. For some reason, I attribute the good experiences to human nature, general good of people, and the bad experiences to being particularly German. that is, when something negative happens to me, I attribute it to being a victim of German atttitude rather than that just being part of the person’s nature.

I need to remind myself that all people are capable of being nice or mean, regardless of nationality
but still, I can’t help but wonder if being a little ornery is a northern German trait.

On the other hand, I recently had the pleasure of working at a charity bazaar put on by the German-American Women’s Club of Hamburg. This event was hosted to help raise money for various charity organizations, primarily those helping children. I met many very nice German men and women who had some kind of ties with the U.S., whether through school, work, and/or love. They were excited to meet me and the other U.S. student, and pleased when they found a willing audience for their experiences. But what struck me was how generous these ladies at the bazaar were. Never mind the fact that they put together many similar kinds of events to help raise money for the student exchange programs, meaning they work hard so that the other U.S. student and I have an inexpensive place to stay, a bicycle… Never mind the fact that they invite us to seasonal get-togethers and gift us generously, expecting nothing in return. What really amazed me what how they thanked us, sincerely, for helping out at the bazaar. It was a sacrifice of our time and efforts, true (selling raffle tickets can be exhausting ;)), but it was only a small way to repay what they do for us. And still, we were the ones who were thanked and gifted with antiques and wine bottles that had been donated for the event. I think the point is, we will never be able to repay the generosity of these ladies. Are all Germans extremely generous? Who knows, But these ladies are.

The Fourth of July in the middle of November

The Fourth of July in the middle of November

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Good ole homemade German specialties

Yet, despite positive things one can say, there’s also the negative things. For example, Germans can be really rude about line waiting or insecurity.  I was surprised today when I hurried into a local bakery to buy lunch for later (a very German thing to do), by the encounter I had with an older lady. It could have been a very different encounter with anyone else, but with her it was a bit, well, not positive.

Basically, I was in a hurry because I wanted to catch the S-Bahn to get to class on time. I didn’t want to cut anyone in line though, and I was also anxious to see everything that there was to offer behind the mile long display case. Sweet pastries were on one end and belegte Brote (sandwich rolls) were on the other. The problem was, the sandwiches were on the opposite end of where the lines were, and it’s never really clear, when there are three people behind the counter, if it’s a line that needs to be formed, or three. At any rate, this lady had just ordered and paid and I was standing by her to see what it was I wanted to do next. She turned to go, and I didn’t know what it was she wanted to do next, so there was this awkward dance thing where she moved slightly right and I moved slightly right to eventually get out of her way
 at any rate, to make a long story short, the end of our exchange was “Da bildet sich die Schlange und da steht man sich an. So macht man das in Deutschland
” I felt demoralized in that instant, and all I could say was “ja, dann, entschuldigung.”

But looking back at it now, I realize that I shouldn’t take being treated like an imbecile personally. I think, for some people it goes along with the attitude that the youth have no manners. This attitude varies from person to person and I think I’ve experienced in in the U.S. before. It’s just that here I feel like people are generally more impatient and OCD about lines waiting for food or to pay for their food at the grocery store
 so maybe the Germans are just always hungry?

I guess the bottom line is, I’m learning to look beyond my first impressions of Germans and make distinctions based on the individual circumstances. I am entering more intimate interactions with Germans that teach me more about them, and them also more about me. That is, I am helping the Germans I meet to make new observations about U.S. Americans and help distinguish what it means to be “American” for them too.

For example, there’s the idea that Americans are really nice. I know people find me nice, and in general, on first-time, interpersonal basis, I have found that Germans respond well to my partially, through my father, southern upbringing. Yet, I’ve seen how Germans think this niceness is superficial, and I have to spend some time convincing them otherwise. I find myself struggling in my second or third encounters with new people I meet, as if I’m an aspirin, sugar coated, but bitter as time goes on. I know I’m just as nice the second time as the first, and I know I am sincere in wanting these acquaintances to find it pleasant to be around me and want to undertake more things with me (hey, I’m a foreigner in a foreign country, I get lonely!), and if I find them nice, I’ll tell them so. But the Germans need a little more time for acquaintanceship to turn into friendship.

Okay, so I have to be a little more patient.

In response to the recent queries I’ve had about whether I have finally “arrived” in Hamburg, yes, I believe I have.

Here’s photos to prove it (?):

Fehrnsehturm in the fog

Fernsehturm in the fog

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Leaves falling in Hamburg, something I'm not used to at all

Leaves falling in Hamburg, something I’m not used to at all

Martinstag

Last week, Halloween. This week, St. Martin’s Day!

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Oh no, I’m a horrible photographer, I know. I just wanted to get an image of the different lights all together as the people were walking.

I am currently attending a DaF (German as a Foreign Language) class that uses as its content discussions of what is typically German (typisch Deutsch). At one point during the second class meeting, my professor asked the class what aspects of life we consider to be part of culture, and my answer was “Feste und Feiertagen [festivities and holidays].” My professor didn’t add this to the list on the board because he considered my answer to belong to “traditions.” But for me, festivities and holidays of a nation belong to traditions just as much as food does, and food got written down, so I am respectfully annoyed at Mr. Prof. Dr.

But that aside, I recognize the holidays and festivities of a nation as helping to define the culture of that nation since culture includes shared values and beliefs, and the holidays and festivities of a nation celebrate those values and beliefs. Often, these beliefs are religiously connected. In many nations in the world, the religions are more homogeneous than in the US, so these holiday seasons seem even more festive in places like, for example, Germany. However, this is a bit complicated in the U.S. that tries to be inclusive for all the different people and beliefs living within its borders. Yet, an entire nation having the 4th of July off, for example, is a collective experience that praegts the collective attitude of what that day represents. This is of course again a bit complicated when one considers Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that has been celebrated since the U.S. Civil War as a way to bring divided people together. However, it is tainted by it’s colonial origins… and it’s a day of mourning for a few groups in the U.S. while celebrated by many others.

I’m not here to talk about Thanksgiving though, since I’m in Germany and won’t be celebrating that holiday with my family this year (sad face).

But I did get to participate in a traditional German holiday (albeit celebrated a few days early, since it involves little children who shouldn’t be up too late on a school night).

Most people know what St. Nicholas day is, celebrated on the 6th of December,since St. Nick is known world-wide for his charity and for being the precursor to the modern day Santa Claus. In Germany, a lesser known charitable saint is celebrated in early November by a reenactment and a procession with homemade lanterns.

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St. Martin’s Tag.

These images are from the St. Martinszug that I was invited to witness (and be part of!). The Martinszug is one of several rites to celebrate the Saint’s work, which were explained to me in a skit put on by several classmates of the girl whose parents invited me to the Zug. I had the girl on my shoulders for most of the skit, so I couldn’t really follow it, but I think the main idea was that he was charitable.

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St. Martin’s Day is on November 11th. Mostly celebrated in Old Bavaria and Austria (and apparently also in Hamburg), it is the memorial day of St. Martin of Tours. He is remembered in Central Europe by numerous rites including the the Martinszug, the St. Martin’s goose dinner, and Martin singing.

In the celebration put on by the Grundschule (elementary school) my friend’s daughter attends, there was the singing, the Zug (with a rider in a large white cape on a live horse, a torch procession and many small children with lanterns), and the goose dinner that consisted of large goose shaped cookies that were cut in half to ensure that there were enough for all the kids. The girl (who also had me hold her lantern a few times throughout the evening) ate her cookie half before I could get a photo- so sorry, no photo of half goose cookie.

But I did get a lot of photos of the beautiful lanterns, some bought, most homemade, and I had my first cup of Gluhwein (delicious warm, spiced wine). I also froze my butt off since it was in the low 30s and I still have my Florida mentality…

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What was Hello Kitty doing here? The highlight of my evening, maybe.

It was a pleasure to be part of! And now I feel like I’ve gotten a good dose of authentic German culture (sans Hello Kitty lantern… though, if we want to get into a discussion of culture, culture changes so…wait, I wanted to end this post, not start that discussion).

Cheers.

Observation of the Day: German PhD Application

I was humming along through my third semester of MA studies, getting together application material for continuing studies at schools in the U.S. and Germany, and I then I find out something that shifts the trajectory of my life a bit. This shift has to do with difference between PhD applications in Germany and in the U.S.

In Germany, the value of one’s MA degree (the GPA) determines entry into a PhD program. This makes sense, I guess, since the application officials want to be sure one knows what the heck one is doing, the officials have quantifiable information about the applicant,  and there’s no danger for MA senioritis and having accepted students who don’t end up completing their MA studies. (why don’t we consider that in the US?) In short, in Germany one may not apply for a PhD until the MA is completed.

On the other hand, in the U.S., students in their last year of MA studies are already applying for PhD programs. I remember sitting in my Spring courses and congratulating fellow MA students (who had just submitted their theses) for being accepted to programs in California, New York, and Chicago.

I can still apply for U.S. schools, but since being in Germany, I am convinced that this is where I want to continue my studies. But I can’t apply by Jan. 5th 2015; rather, I wait until Jan 2016.

What am I going to do with this unexpected gap year? Well, stay tuned as I figure that out myself.

Any suggestions? Post them in the comments! I know I’m going to have to find work of some kind, since I’ve got some loans waiting to be paid off :/