Thursday, October 22, 2009


My weapons for the last year. I forgot to include my Life Saver -- my Oxford English-German Dictionary.

Today, everything has changed.

I am done.

I am done with Germany's Integration Course.

This six-month course has taken over a year of my life.

I started at the beginning of October 2008 and finished today.

At the end of December 2008, my first language school took a holiday break and I went to London for a bit. I returned to Hamburg in February. I tried to get in to a class at the same class and that was not possible until March 2. The Friday night before Asmus got a contract to work at a bank in Kiel, Germany. I nagged about 10 language schools in Kiel in search for a place in the three module of the course. There was just about no room at the inn. InLingua had a spot in its third module that began in mid-June 2009.

It was tough going for a long time. I bought a Berlitz book to help me with my German while I was living in London. I didn't use it much but then it saved my life this summer. My school in Hamburg, Colon, was full of new immigrants. We all suffered through German pronunciation and grammar together. We complained and whined as one. And when we were done, we had a beer. I complained about them but I missed them this summer.

My class in Kiel was full of German residents. They spoke the language at the speed of sound. In response, the teachers did the same. I came home angry and frustrated. I sat there from 8 am until 12:15 and had no idea what was going on. A few times that I tried to speak, a few people in class laughed at me. The teacher said nothing. Once I was too excited construct a true sentence in German and simply said, "Kein respekt! Kein respekt!" There was silence for a few seconds but no apology. After that, the laughter stopped.

I hoped my learning experience would look like this. It didn't.

Soon, I took a peek at my Berlitz book to see if it could help me. I was happy to notice that it was the same as the book we were using. The big difference was that the directions and instructions were in English. I started to work before hand. I gathered a vocabulary list and created flash cards. My German got much better. By August, I had the respect of the class. Some turned to me when they were not certain about something. Olga, the silent Russian emigrant who sat next to me, would simply copy my work. For a while, I was forced to sit across the room from her and she would come over to steal answers from me. I had several philosophical discussions about this with Asmus. I think Olga should learn on her own and I did not want to contribute to her cheating herself. Asmus didn't think there was no harm to me, so I didn't need to care. I was too cowardly to shoo her away.

I did become racist. I now hate Turkish people. (OK, not really.) About half of the class hailed from Turkey. They were the ones laughing at me. I was impressed by their unity and disgusted by it, too. They would only talk to each other. If the teacher would ask a Turkish classmate a question and he did not know the question, a few of his countrymen would give him the answer in Turkish. There was this crazy clique. And they were annoying. When we got our practice tests back, they asked everyone in the classroom their scores. Didn't tell theirs but asked for others. I almost peed on myself when Selma told the teacher that she got an answer wrong that Ebru got correct. The result: Ebru lost a point.

Now, I have nothing to complain about; no chapters to read; no place to go at the crack of dawn. (Because of Hamburg' s latitude, the sun rises about 7:15 now.)

I wanted to feel sad about the end of my time in class. I feel nothing. I will miss Thomas, the one teacher who slowed his speech down and explained things when I was obviously confused. I will miss the interesting and capable office manager Anja. Because of the nature of our relationships, Anja and I and Thomas and I could not have been friends. I hoped to gather some friends in the integration course. But now I just have happiness that the course is over.

Here is a view of a room at the school, where I learned about German language and culture.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On the Road

Behind the tree, sits the Kalk Mountain.

Another nice thing Germany does for its people -- cheap travel.

German rail offers lots of cheap ticket options. There is a ticket option that allows unlimited travel in one of Germany's 16 states for a group of 5 people for about 30 euros. It is a surreal experience buying a train ticket. It is like a trip to New York in the early '90s. I remember that I used to visit my friend Kara who was living in the West Village. I was walking down the street and some guy started walking to close to me. He was not going to bump into me but glide by. As he did this, I heard a faint voice murmur, "Smoker. Smoker. Smoker" He was letting me know that he would sell me some pot. When you walk up to a kiosk in Kiel, some 20-something inches up to you and asks if you are going to Hamburg. They want to split the cost of the ticket with you. You don't even have to sit with them; just be in the same car. But, I don't like getting hooked up with strangers, so I used to say, "I'm sorry but I only speak English." That never worked. People taking the train from Kiel to Hamburg seem to all speak German and English. I was forced to reject them.

Asmus and I used the Schleswig-Holstein ticket to go from Kiel and Hamburg and vice versa. A few months ago, we decided to use the ticket for one-day getaways.

First stop, Bad Segeberg.

Segeberg required a run from a late train to Luebeck but we made it. The town sits on a see but it is home to a mountain, Kalk Mountain. (Kalk means Chalk but the mountain actually contains gypsum. Wacky Germans!) We came for the cave on a Sunday. We took an almost horizontal trek from the train station to the mountain. We got there just in time for a tour. I love a tour!

We walked down some steps and into a refrigerator. The cave was cold and dark. Unfortunately, the cold was the most interesting thing about it. There were no stalagtictes, no stalagmites, no ancient artifacts, no bats. The tour guide pointed out a few rock formations that look like characters from Snow White and other gruesome German fairy tales.

It was a bit scary. Right next to the cave, there is a amphitheater, which has been doing old-fashioned cowboy and Indian shows. As we are walking down the steps to the cave, the ground shook from the cap guns. Plus, once the door to the cave shut, it was a frightening.

The cool part of the visit was a snack stop after the cave. We got ice cream at a restaurant outside the theater. We ate sundaes as rain poured onto awnings that shielded us. It was a good day.

I Heart Deutschland

What a time it has been!

Germany is really good to its people. Last week, I started the orientation course, which is a two-week section of the Integration Course for German visa holders. I have learned lots about the new nation [For the uninitiated, there was an area in central Europe that was occupied by a variety of dukedoms and many spoke the same Teutonic language. The area officially became a nation in 1871. That fell apart a few times. A democratic nation was formed May 1949; West and East Germany came together as one nation in 1990.].

In exchange for high taxes:

Families with children get money until the child turn 18, if they start work after high school, or 25, if they go to college

Parents of newborns get money from the government for two years

Money to help pay for child care

Money for unemployed people

Money for older people

I am starting to wonder about the wisdom of the American way of life. I would like to have money from the government for being married or having children.

Plus, I was shocked to learn that for most nonviolent offenses, the punishment is monetary, not jail. And you pay. None of these repeated calls from collectors. People (accompanied by police, if necessary) come to your house and take things that equate the cost of the debt. I like that more than the chaos of the criminal justice system in the United States. If American jails and prisons rehabilitated people, I would support them. At least in the German way, criminals aren't simply stored together.

Plus, pregnant women are forced from work six weeks before their due date. They get to sit home and get paid. Then they can stay home for a year and get paid. When they return to work, they can NOT get fired for two years.

I would like some stuff from the government. As a working adult, the only thing I have ever gotten from the government was a student loan forbearance.

I learned a lot in the course but it is mess. We are not assigned homework. We go over the information in class and learn as we read along. I am having trouble translating the words, so I cannot really learn. So then I started reading texts the night before. We have the orientation course test tomorrow. But wait. Get this. We have the test at 11 am, right after we have three hours of lesson. So there is some teaching and there is a test. That is why I read the night before. We did a practice test today and about one eighth of the information in the book was on the test. Oh well, in 24 hours, it will all be over.

Then what do I do?