Champagne on a Plane

It’s not everyday you have New Year’s Eve (duh). Ever more rare is spending it sitting thousands of feet up in the air. While it’s less enjoyable than spending it on the ground with family and/or friends, it’s at least interesting if one is going to be alone that night anyway.

On December 31st, I flew from home (where I spent Christmas) back to Hamburg, where I plan to stay and complete my winter semester abroad, finish my MA thesis, and then enjoy a semester break until the summer term.

I’ll let you guess why I chose to book an overnight flight for the 31st, and let me tell you… contrary to popular belief…the flight was full, which means many others were thinking of their pocketbook over the sentimental experience of celebrating on the ground.

I’ll answer some of the most popular questions:

How much cheaper was your flight? About 400 dollars less than flying the 30th or before, and 600 less than flying the next few days after New Year’s. Prices go down around the 9th, but by then I would have missed a week of classes.

When was midnight? Moving from west to east, one has three possible New Year’s Eves to celebrate. One can celebrate when it’s midnight at the place of origin, at the destination, or the current location. Funnily enough, counting down to midnight for the current location is a few seconds faster, since one is moving against time, so to speak. Despite these choices, the airline I flew with decided to wish us a happy new year at midnight German time, since it was a German airline and the Besatzung, the captain and crew were all German. Nice. We landed pretty close to 6 hours later though, which meant I was able to wish my family a Happy New Year fairly close after they had toasted the new year themselves! As far as when it was “officially” midnight according the time-zone we were in, I don’t think it was while I flew. (think about it. I took off at 4 PM EST, and when I landed, it was 6 AM UTC+1. This means, that it had turned Midnight, wait, I don’t know. My brain hurts)

Was there champagne? Yes. Not only does my airline offer free alcoholic beverages with the dinner that happens a few hours after take-off, we were given official champagne in short little glasses with cute little stems. I clinked glasses with my neighbor, who was also flying solo. I was amused when, on my connecting flight a few hours later (already New Year’s morning, around 10), champagne was also offered. I guess the airlines tried to be a little festive. 🙂 I appreciated it, since I was missing my family a bit (though didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to drink so early in the day).

What did the pilot and copilot drink? a non-alcoholic drink. Quote: “wir teilen ein nicht-alkoholisches Neu Jahr’s Anstoess“

What was said? Announcements on this plane were always in German first, then in English. In German, we were wished “Ein freues neues Jahr. Wir wuenschen Ihnen ein gutes 2015 mit viel Gesundheit” (anderes fiel die Stewardessen, die die Ansage gab, nicht ein). In English, it was just “Happy New Year, and all the best!.” I know that many Germans wish “ein gutes Rutsch!” but I heard from some of the “hip, cool” people that it’s no longer said. Who cares, ich wuensche alle Lessern ein gutes Rutsch ins neues Jahr, mit Glueck, Gesundheit, und Freude!

Do I regret flying on New Year’s Eve? Nope. It was an experience not many people have! Although I missed fireworks (and I learned that the Germans go much more crazy NYE with the fireworks than the U.S. Americans! it may have something to do with a difference in firework laws, or maybe the Germans go crazy buying their crackers and sparklers, since they’re only sold for an exclusively short time Dec. 28th through the 31st), Begiessen, or watching Dinner for One (all things I’ve heard I could have done, had I been in Germany), I was okay with having a quiet New Year’s Eve watching on-board entertainment and doing some sketching. 🙂 Hope everyone is having an excellent start to the new year!

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


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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Die Weihnachtsmärkte 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


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

typisch Deutsch: what’s typical?

One thing I’m fascinated by is how the way foreigners see the Germans is not far from how the Germans see themselves, and yet the foreign observations are complicated by the varied responses of the Germans.

Some things considered “typisch Deutsch” by Germans and foreigners that I’ve asked:

  • Punklichkeit, punctuality. Seriously? The longer I’m in this country, the more I realize how flawed this is less a fact and more a cliche. Sure, transportation is fairly punctual, but on an individual basis this varies from person to person like anywhere else in the world.
  • Ordnung, Buerokratie, Disziplin, Gruendlichkeit, Schnelligkeit: I’ve ordered these together since the ideas of orderliness, bureaucracy, efficiency, discipline, thoroughness and quickness are perhaps typical of Germans in their work, but not necessarily in their private lives (though I think the orderliness and discipline carry over into their private lives and it’s what makes them balance their private and public lives much better…
  • They are able to then produce a space for Gemuetlichkeit, this difficulty translated word that means something like coziness, acceptance, no-inhibitions necessary. I’ve been seeing the drive for this a lot lately reflected in the consumer world; stores are filled with Advent delicacies and decorations, waiting to be bought and taken into homes.
  • direkt, ernsthaft, rational, “kalt”: these adjectives describe the “typical” German character. I suppose, in contrast with the strict tact expected in U.S. and perhaps Japanese/Korean/Chinese culture, the Germans are direct. They are also serious and perhaps culturally have been trained to handle crisis more rationally than emotionally, but I don’t know if that makes them “cold.”
  • This idea of the Germans as “cold” is especially contrasted when one considers that the Germany is the birth of the “Romantik” and it’s a nation of Dichter and Denker (poets and thinkers)
  • They also like to be open (there’s the direkt again) about what bothers them: weather, lines, politics, other people. So they could be labeled as complainers. But I think this rather endears them, don’t you? They’re like the Eeyores of a winni-the-pooh world. And when things are expressed, they can be taken care of… or one can have camaraderie in deploring the weather. why keep to oneself?
  • I think the “Ernsthaftikeit” (seriousness, sincerity) of the Germans makes them more trustworthy.
  • Even if they are initially a bit stiff and seem unwilling to help, they usually are very willing. There’s just the prickly exterior one has to look through first.
We have no reason to think this little guy isn't clean as a whistle, but some hedgehogs carry salmonella.

I saw a hedgehog one one of the first evenings here. Picture from the not-so-cute Health News from NPR

So, let me end this post by writing that although people usually label each other by stereotypes, they can learn to recognize the level of truth in the stereotypes and how the lists of attributes vary on an individual basis. I think of these things when I think “typisch Deutsch,” but I also think some of them when I think “typisch Laura, Sammy” or “typisch Katharina.” This idea of “typical” is becoming more and more complicated by experiences in the real world and in the representations of this world in the literature. It’s something I’m keeping an eye on though. I’ll see how this list changes by the end of my stay here and will try to be more critical in identifying the difference layers of these characteristics.