Monday, July 25, 2005

A Week of Stupid Firsts

This is near where we were.

Last week was the English Summer Camp at Jugend- und Feriendorf ERNA e.V. near Papstdorf, not too far from the border with the Czech Republic in the Sächsische Schweiz. It was a cool week, with 13 kids from a school in Dresden. These kids have just finished the 5th grade, and have had one year or more of English in school already, which is standard in Germany. Most start learning English in the 5th grade, if not earlier. This was not an official school event, but the idea of one motivated father of a student at the school. So in total, the organizers were 2 dads and me. It was a lot of work, we spent many hours planning the week and developing materials, but it was worth it. The kids are really interested and excited and incredibly bright. The crowning achievement of the week was a performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in English, with the play adapted by me and songs composed by one of the dads. Very cool, the kids loved it. We had about 60 spectators from the camp and a few parents even came out.
Snow White is dead!

Though it was a successful week, some really stupid stuff happened. For example, on Tuesday during play practice, I had the bright idea to get up on a chair to take a picture of the kids. The trouble was, it was a 3-legged stool which I climbed upon, and on which I promptly lost my balance, making a graceful fall to the floor right over 2 other stools. I crashed onto the cement floor, scraping my hand and getting some really wild big bruises on my legs from the other stools that cushioned my fall.

The rest of my bruises come from climbing through various windows of my bungalow. There was only one key to each bungalow, and it was so much easier to just climb through a window than go running around the camp searching for the key. The one window that was usually open was the one to the men’s restroom (there was only one man in the bungalow, and he usually had the key, so no worries of jumping through the window of an occupied toilet), but the trouble was that it was sort of high. So, we needed to get one of the famed 3-legged stools to climb through. Fortunately, no one fell, and the kids extended their general knowledge-how to climb through a window into an otherwise locked building-a useful life skill.

Another really stupid first of the week was being served turkey as a “vegetarian” meal. What vegetarian eats turkey? The next day I got a piping hot plate of mashed potatoes and fish sticks. I just gave up at this point, gave the kids my food, and asked if I could just have some mashed potatoes. The really funny thing is that, while the vegetarian food was not at all vegetarian, the non-veg food was amazingly 100% lacking in meat. Huh.

And the final first of the week was not at all stupid. It made the whole week okay! I returned from the forest on Saturday at 5:58 p.m. at the central station here in Dresden, and a friendly motorcycle rider came to pick me up (in a car, of course). I was stinky and tired and so happy to be back, and we went to my place, got the mail, came up the newly painted staircase (it took the painters months to paint my landing, now the other 4 floors have all been painted with the first coat in a week!), got to my familiar door, went in, put down my bags, and on the first look into the living room-“oooh!” My apartment had been strewn with rose petals, 2 bouquets of roses were awaiting me, as was a chilled bottle of sparkling wine and chocolate. Not bad. I should go away more often!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Access Denied!

On Sunday I took a day trip with Roman and Virginie to Görlitz, a charming little old city east of Dresden on the border to Poland. We took a nice Sunday stroll through the old city center and looked at the 16th and 17th century buildings on the meandering streets, a great way to spend an afternoon. Then we came upon the foot bridge that crosses the Neiße River and goes into the Polish part of town. We thought “Hey, why not?” and started across the bridge, identification ready for the guards on the other side. Virginie was concerned, because she wasn’t carrying her French passport, just her identification card, and had come with French friends before who were denied entry for a lack of passports. The guards let Roman through, no problem, Virginie also, and then here I go with my American passport…

Border Guard: (taking my passport) What is this?

Me: (shocked that a border guard doesn’t know what a passport looks like) An American passport.

Border Guard: You can’t cross here.

Me: (looking at second guard to see if he’s laughing at this joke) Really?

Border Guard: (dead serious) No, you have to go to the other bridge to the real border crossing. You need a stamp.

Me: (remembering times entering the Czech Republic where no stamps were given, you practically have to beg to get a stamp, and Canadians denied entry who needed an actual visa) Would I need a stamp or a visa?

Border Guard: You need a stamp, not a visa. You have to go down there. This bridge is only for EU citizens.

So we walked away laughing, and I don’t want to play the know-it-all we’re-number-one American here, but who the %*+& builds a bridge that only EU citizens can cross? Come on.
We put our own little trade embargo on the Polish side and went for ice cream instead on the German side. Roman and Virginie jokingly suggested that I let “Uncle George” know that Poland wouldn’t let me in, even though they were such good friends in the war in Iraq.

I really have nothing against Poland now, I would really like to go there, and the Poles I know are great too, but I guess if they (whoever built the bridge, Germany, Poland, the EU??) keep building bridges that I’m not allowed to cross…

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Motorcycle Diaries

Yesterday I had an adventure.

My first motorcycle ride! I certainly didn’t drive, driving in Germany isn’t my thing and I don’t have the proper driver’s licence anyway. My gracious host however invited me along, and how could I turn down such an interesting offer?

We rode out into the Erzgebirge, and I was quite nervous for the first part of the ride, though the driver claims I didn't show it and it was quite easy riding with me, I didn't lean in any weird way or anything. I guess some people lean the wrong way and that messes up things like curves. Knowing this, of course, I had to think at every curve, even every straightaway, that it was my last. After a bit, though, I calmed down and started to really enjoy the ride, it's a fun and new way of seeing things. You know how much I love tooling around on my bicycle, well, this was 100x as much fun. It felt very adventurous and I just kept thinking "oh, geil geil geil!!!" (German for "cool cool cool!") when he went a little faster or passed someone, it's just completely exciting.

We went into Frauenstein, a sweet little town with a fortress up on a hill and had a coffee at a little cafe on the town square, then rode on a little further over the rivers, through the woods, and up and down the hills. On our way back to Dresden we stopped in Freiberg, a nice little city I'd never visited, and had ice cream. The ice cream was unfortunately not sooo great, but it was a nice break, with nice company. We had a look at the city, too, the city center is really cool, mostly original, as Freiberg wasn't entirely destroyed in World War 2, like Dresden. We saw some super cool buildings from the 15- and 1600's, and some others on the town square with 3 levels in the roofs. I don't know how that works, if they're just really narrow multi-level attics or what, but it looked cool in the roof with 3 rows of windows. We also noticed something strange about Freiberg: it was completely empty. There were a few people at the cafes in the center, but not so many, and really just no people out walking in the park or anything. We tried to figure out if they were maybe sitting at home watching racing on TV or eating cake and drinking coffee and staring at each other, or maybe on holiday. It was really a bit spooky, we had the feeling we shouldn't talk while walking through the town. Then we got back on the bike and had a fast ride back into Dresden, which was quite breathtaking. My favorite moment was when we were on the highway coming toward Dresden and had a panoramic view over the city, with the Frauenkirche, Catholic Church and castle all sticking up in the center of the sea of buildings, eight hot air balloons floating over the city, all on a lazy Sunday evening. It made me smile, and made me love Dresden again from this new point of view. We continued on through the city, over the bridge by the synagogue, and this view of Dresden also made me smile, with a closer view of the Altstadt in the warm evening sun, and this time I counted nine hot air balloons, all hovering close together over the city center. Yesterday was a good day for a hot air balloon ride, and for a motorcycle ride!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Intercultural Misunderstandings

German word of the day: Spaßvogel
Literally translated, this means "fun bird". When you call someone a Spaßvogel, it means they just do fun stuff all the time and little work. They just want to have a good time! You would say shpahssfohgle. That's based on American pronunciation, and is absolutely not the correct International Phonetic Script, but who can read that stuff anyway?

Somehow I got to thinking about things, and how a friend of mine once told me a story of talking to an American girl, a vegetarian, who was trying to describe some unknown vegetarian food to my friend. And she said it's mushy. A perfectly okay descriptive word. In English. In German, this word refers to a part of the female anatomy (think "the c-word"), and my friend, of course, made a fully innappropriate comment in connection with this to the girl, but she didn't understand because fortunately she didn't know what he was talking about. And related to the c-word in English, British English speakers throw this word around like nobody's business. I know a British English speaker here who calls everyone a c-word if they're not being nice. Especially guys! So next time you go to Great Britain and hear the c-word, it's not that bad. It's actually an acceptable swear. But British speakers, please don't say it in America, because there it is
really bad. It will make people gasp, blush, and probably get you a nice slap in the face.

Speaking of other words I find bad, let's check out the n-word. We all know the n-word. That's one that they say here in Germany, in German, and nobody flinches. The German word is
Neger. I really don't like this word and it still makes me cringe when I hear it, but I think it's quite an acceptable reference to people of color in German. So if you hear a German person say this in German, it doesn't automatically mean they're a neo-Nazi or member of the NPD or DVU or a racist, it just means maybe they aren't aware of the word's connotations in other parts of the world or in other languages.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Last night on the bank of the Elbe, Neustadt side, with a view of the Frauenkirche, Katholische Hofkirche and Art Academy in the background, REM performed. An impressive location for an impressive band. I was lucky as heck to get a ticket from my boss who happened to have a couple extras, as they'd been sold out for months. The venue was packed, it was impossible to see, and I think there were 3 times as many viewers outside the venue on the meadow and on the bridge looking in as official ticket-holders. I'm sure they had a better view than we did. I could go on and on about how this was one of the first rock bands I ever heard, probably because of my older brother, about how cool it was to hear so many old songs live that I just love, about the location, about the politics, about the cultural situation of all these middle aged East Germans finally seeing this West band who they've had a secret love affair with for a long time, about watching all the different people and seeing their reactions to the different songs and imagining what their stories are that go with these songs, what they did while listening to this song at some time in their life, why they're smiling or looking so reminiscent, how funny it was to hear people singing along to Man on the Moon when they really didn't know the words or what they mean (but who does?), but felt it in their hearts, but I'll save it.