Month: June 2015

PSA: Germany versus US Women’s Soccer Match

or, a short commentary on whom to root for:

See full size imageSince I’m sure you’re all well-informed about women’s soccer, and the fact that the Women’s World Cup is currently being held, I may be overkilling it with this announcement about the match tonight at 0000 BST. I just want to make sure that you’re as pumped about it as I am.

Even if it isn’t a match-up like the Men’s World Cup group qualifiers, where Juergen Klinsman, former German trainer met Jogi Loew, current German trainer, there are enough ties between the teams for tonight’s game to be tense. Just looking at the last names of the U.S. players: Krieger (which ironically means war-maker), Engen, Klingenberg, Naeher, Sauerbrunn, one gets an idea of the historical ties the US players have to Germany. I can imagine there are no mixed feeling amoungst the players about who should win, but I certainly have some.

Growing up in the US, I saw soccer as the only outlet to play a sport that allowed me to play with the guys at lunchtime and have a sort of competitive equality. Girls are quickly outmatched in any other sport. I imagine that basketball has a similar kind of appeal to girls like me, but other than that, sports are pretty separate in the US. Thus, I have a good idea of what it means to be a national player in the US and the stereotypes that go along with being a female soccer player. The US team, therefore, has my sympathies.

However, being in Germany now and having played on a German team, I learned a new way to interact on and off the field and I know how the Germans celebrate when their team wins. I kind of hope they do tonight… and then again, I don’t.

It’s not as though one team is much better than the other, either. The US is currently ranked number 2 in the world, and Germany is ranked first… but that means nothing when it comes down to the 90 minutes on the playing field. It can go either way and I’m just going to try and enjoy the game and be happy either way.

VDAC Seminars: Always a treat

Two weekends ago, many German and U.S. exchange students were invited by the Tübinger VDAC club to a wonderful seminar in their beautiful city. I can’t help but think that every city I’ve visited in Germany is beautiful, but Tübingen has a special, old-German charm that made driving for six hours in a train worth it.

Before talking about this weekend’s seminar, and talking about the last one in Kassel, which was also great, I want to give a few notes about the seminars themselves.

The VDAC student-exchange program is really fantastic in what it offers roughly 50 students each year in German and the U.S. Not only do they organize studying abroad at a foreign university, often with TA positions for the German students and attractive universities for the special interests of the U.S. students (from exile studies to music conservatories), the Verband provides aid with housing, a 600 Euro stipend a month for the U.S. students and equally helpful funding for the German ones (though, admittedly, paying 300 Euro a semester is easier to help with than the 3000+ tuition at U.S. universities). But on top of this, the Verband, through the efforts of individual clubs in Germany as well as the collective support of the whole Verband, enables five to six different seminars throughout the country. When I write “enables,” I mean that students are treated to a fully-paid–including bedding, meals, events and even travel to and from the seminar with a “selbst-Beteiligung” of 20 Euros– seminar for three days, two nights during various weekends throughout the ten months of the program. When one considers that students are given the chances to visit five or six other German cities at no real costs to themselves, what the VDAC offers is truly fantastic. Such an opportunity to visit a country and get to know a vast array of its cultural, geographic, and political realities is quite rare. Of course, part of this opportunity presents itself through Germany’s small size (maybe one of the reasons German exchange students don’t have the same opportunity in the U.S.), but also due to the hugely effective organization and funding of the German VDAC clubs. They rotate turns to host the seminars in their cities and arrange the cultural programs for the students.

The first seminar, shortly after the semester orientation programs begin at the universities, is the welcoming seminar for the U.S. students as well as the club’s celebration of German Reunification Day and the awarding of the Lucius D. Clay medal for special services for German and U.S. relationship. The former German exchange students also attend to receive their honor, or “Urkunde” for promoting U.S. and German friendship through their exchange. This year, the seminar was hosted in Dresden. In my opinion, this beautiful city was the perfect city to start a year-long stay in Germany, since its iconic Alt-Stadt was historically grounded enough to make a good impression of Germany’s history and small enough to navigate without adding to the issues of the language and the jet-lag/everything-is-new feeling.

The second seminar is a culturally oriented one. This year, it was hosted in Nuernberg and coincided with St. Nikolas Tag and the famous Christmas markets in Nuernberg. The Nuernberg seminar also functioned as a feedback seminar, since the U.S. students had been in two-months now and more than a few experiences to share and ask questions about.

The third seminar, hosted in February, this year in Mainz, is the politically (charged… ha ha, nah) oriented seminar. At this seminar, students got to know Mainz while having the perhaps most seminar-ish experience. The International university near Mainz prepares multiple different lectures with a wide-spread of applicability for the different students, and while I was balancing my thesis writing, due the Thursday following this seminar, I learned a lot at this seminar that I could apply to my academic work (not to say that I haven’t learned things at each of the seminars to apply to my studies).

The fourth seminar, usually held in May, coincides with the VDAC convention that is attended by representatives of each of the clubs throughout Germany and the awardance of the “Urkunden” to the U.S. students, who by this point have spent seven months in Germany. I haven’t gotten to write about this seminar, held this year in Kassel, yet because I’ve been very busy… much busier than my first semester in Germany (even though I don’t have a thesis to write this time) I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I hope the lovely ladies of the Kassel club can forgive my short summary of what they’ve organized for us.

2015-05-08 16.18.19 2015-05-08 15.27.47 2015-05-08 15.27.38 2015-05-08 11.33.18 2015-05-08 11.33.02 2015-05-08 09.35.26 2015-05-08 15.12.37

First of all, you may not know that Kassel hosts the contemporary art event, documenta, every five years, but the people of Kassel won’t let you forget it. Some other claims to fame, asides from the reminders of past documentas, include hosting the brothers Grimm (known for their romantic linguistic and philosophical contributions, as well as the fairy tales), the Bergpark (absolutely gorgeous) and walk along the beautiful Fulda. Also, fun fact was that Kassel hosts one of two dead-end train stations in Germany. This is why the Hauptbahnhof of Kassel is not the actual center of Kassel, nor the one everyone wants to go to found at Wilhelmshoehe. The other dead-end station is Altona Station in Hamburg, which is why most trains throughout Germany begin or end there. The Kassel club organized the whole VDAC convention (complete with fancy gala buffet) as well as a tour of the town hall, a lecture from the Kassel treasurer (Schatzmeister, treasure master sounds so much cooler), a small private tour of the inner-city and a hiking trek + picnic in through the Bergpark.

Finally however, I come to the last seminar of the year, usually held in June so that people whose universities end earlier than the national standard in July can still attend the seminar that functions as a good-bye for the U.S. students and an orientation for the German students going to the U.S. in August. U.S. students can provide feedback of their experiences and German students have the chance to learn from the U.S. students what awaits them in the U.S.

More on the Tubingen Seminar later. 🙂

2015-06-12 09.17.382015-06-12 16.16.26 2015-06-12 15.21.352015-06-12 09.20.43

In the meantime, a few closing words on what these seminars mean. First of all, they are a medium of orientation for the students. Despite living “normal” German student lives in respective cities, the students have the opportunity at the seminars to be U.S. Americans for a while, maybe even behave like tourists and definitely to talk and hear English for a while. Of course, I’m sure we’re all grateful to have the opportunity for complete German immersion, but hearing the English tongue (not with a British or German accent) for a while is sweet, just like the occasional hearing of the U.S. anthem, as occurred at the first seminar and the VDAC convention. Not usually patriotically sentimental, I’ll admit that hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” brought a few tears to my eyes and made me realize how much my upbringing in the U.S., where the anthem is played at many school, sport, and political events, has defined my life.

So enough of that. I really enjoy these seminars. I only wish that the same kind of possibilities were available for the German students of the U.S. The seminars make rather starkly evident how much stronger the Verband is in Germany than the U.S., and I wonder if there’s anything I can do to help facilitate a more interest in organizing such seminars on the U.S. end…

If you’re in the position (U.S. undergrad or graduate students at a participating school) to apply for a year-long study abroad program, check out this website: http://www.vdac.de/

Transportation within Germany

I spent some time a while back expounding on the transportation options within cities in Germany. Stockerkahn rides in Tubingen are just another option.

2015-06-13 10.00.18

I love these colors. Of course, Stockerkahn is really only available in Tuebingen, but it’s use for mobility justifies inserting it into this post

However, now I want to devote a few words to the options for traveling between cities in the country.

Until a few years ago, the Deutsche Bahn held the monopoly on long-distance travel throughout Germany. This meant that things like organized carpool (made more possible by social media nowadays) and trek busses were not authorized. Instead, one could choose between riding, driving, or flying… of which riding the train was most usually the least expensive and most convenient option. Virtually every city is connected by train in Germany, and most small villages (literally one-road towns in the rural areas of Germany) are within a half-hour bus ride to a train station. However, with the expiration of the Reichsbahn came the introduction of “Fernbussen,” often much less expensive than the rail tickets. With different lines in competition like Meinfernbus, Flixbus (now joined with meinfernbus), Postbus, Berlinbuslinien and others, whose rates can be compared at busliniensuche.de, the prices range from 8-30 Euro for trips from Hamburg to Berlin or Hamburg to Munich.

However, riding with the rails can be inexpensive too if one times it right and is able to take advantage of special deals. For example, most standard trips have savings-prices (Sparpreise) that can make a trip that usually costs more than 100 Euro cost 29 or 49. There are also “Laendertickets” that are valid for travel for five people within the German Land. This ticket is most practical if you’re traveling with others and don’t mind using the Regional Bahn, as opposed to the famously speedy ICE. It’’s a nifty ticket if you’re also planning a day-trip somewhere within the Land, since it works for the entire day, including return trip. If you want to travel with multiple people throughout Germany, there is the “Queer Durchs Land” that costs a base amount, and then a small up charge per added person on the card. This ticket also makes the most sense when one has a group one is traveling with and wants to travel through more than one Land via RE.

Finally, there are the discount cards one can apply for. Costing upwards of a hundred Euro, the Bahncard 25 and 50, priced respectively and awarding discounts of 25% or 50% are a good investment if you plan to take multiple trips throughout the year and would like to take advantage of the quicker trains like the IC and the ICE.

Having traveled throughout Germany a decent amount now, I can’t say that I favor rail lines over bus lines, but traveling individually, the bus may be more comfortable (especially since it often has free Wifi and adjustable seats). On the other hand, trips mit der Bahn and with multiple people provides a good deal of memorable experiences. The landscape views are also usually much better on routes accessible by train alone…

The scenic Rhine Valley train line in Germany runs between Koblenz and Mainz and offers views like these. If your #Eurail pass is valid for Germany, you can also use it on this track!: Europe, Eurail Pass, Valley Training, Offering View, Charms Riverside, Rhine Valley, German Wine, Valley Route, Charms Town

Moin Moin! – four untranslateable German expressions

Moinsen, readers.

I suppose you’ve been wondering where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to. The short answer is: Germany, school and travel. The long answer is: VDAC seminars, mother visiting from the states, Hamburg, Tuebingen, Berlin, the Ostsee (Baltic), seminar presentations, term papers and catching up with the friends I’ve made in my months here.

Basically, I have a few posts I’ve written during my trips from thither to yon and back again, but I have to transport them from my Ipod notes to the ‘puter. You’ll see them soon, though.

In the meantime, here are some German expressions I’ve heard that don’t have a translation in English, or need some sort of explanation.

Moin- the northern German general greeting for “Hello.” The origin is debatable, but it reaches back beyond 200 years and could have to do with “moi morgen,” with the “morge” of the “morgen” being the part that’s truncated. Egal…  I think it will stick with me for a few months after I get back to the states. Variants include “Moinsen,” and “Moin Moin”

“na?”- this expression comes so often after meeting with a Hamburger, Frankfurter, or many others and having already gotten through the “hallo” or the “Moin” or the “guten morgen.” It’s a sort of question like “well?” I finally got over my irritation after nine months of hearing it and just take it as it is. I found out saying “na” back doesn’t really work. People usually expect some sort of reply like “ja, alles gut,” or something in direct relation, so it’s not even like the U.S. “how’re you?”

Ohrwurm (n)- an Ohrwurm is an ear worm. It’s not something that craws into your ear (sorry for putting that image in your mind) but rather a song or a tune you can’t get out of your head. It’s a handy expression that is much easier to slide into conversation than the longer “I’ve got a song stuck in my head”

“asi” (adj.)- short for “asozial,” this word is used pretty widely in the youth scene (though I’m not sure if I condone it). Its equivalent in the English would be “ghetto” and is used to describe things that are off-beat style, non-mainstream and sort of grungy. The connotations matching it up with “ghetto,” a term I have issues with as well, makes it something I observe from a distance and don’t use myself.

And finally, just for fun, a poem by Joachim Ringelnatz, now one of my favorite German authors/painters:

The Ants
In Hamburg lived two ants who wanted to travel to Australia.
their legs already hurt at Altona, on the Chaussee
And so they wisely decided to forego the last part of their journey.

Of course, the whole thing rhymes in cute couplets in the original:

2015-06-06 11.00.26

I found this in the bathroom of a Karl’s Erlebnishof, a mix between Crackle Barrel, Disney, and a fun farm. Finally a bathroom worth paying 50 cents to go on