Friday, November 16, 2012

I'm Alive!

"You know, maybe I am free in a very small world and you are a prisoner in a very big cage."
"Yes, yes, I feel exactly what you're describing..."
Sorry, friends and family, that I haven't used this thing in a while. The longer I went without doing it, the more daunting the task seemed. It won't happen again.

So! Since September I've had lots of time to settle in here and have a wonderful time. Our University classes started 4 weeks ago, so I've been reasonably busy since. My program, Academic Year in Freiburg, offers several classes specifically for the Americans here. I'm taking three of these -- a language course, taught by the same woman who taught our September class; a general German literature class, which sporadically chooses texts to read based on the current interest of the class; and a German history course, covering the years between 1870-1990. Of these, I would say the history class is my favorite. It's all very interesting, but being an engineer, I'm not used to reading so much. It's a little overwhelming. Besides these classes, I'm taking one course at the Pädagogische Hochschule [=teachers college] called Migration Literature. We read books written by first and second generation migrants to Germany. My shining moment thus far in the class was contributing to the analysis of the most recent novel we read: "The text is written with simple language. The american girl said she could read it without a dictionary." Don't worry, I laughed. My last class is the one I'm most excited about: Betriebssysteme [=operating systems]! Not only is it enjoyable to be learning something technical again, back in my comfort zone of 100 people lecture halls with power point presentations and no expectation of speaking to more than one person at a time, but it's also two days a week I get to go to the technical campus, and have absolutely no chance of meeting another american! There are several other engineers in my program, but none of them decided to take any technical courses. It's wonderful because I meet and speak to almost exclusively Germans. Also, their computer lab has a resident Lab Cat, and you really can't beat that.

Germany has a national holiday on All Saints Day, and since it was on a Thursday and I don't have Friday classes, I went to Prague with my friend Marisa for a long weekend! From Freiburg Prague is about a 9 hour train ride. We left at 5am on November 1 (which meant no Halloween celebrations for me the night before. Not that the Germans do much for Halloween anyway) and arrived late afternoon. The hostel we chose had an awesome location. We were right down the road from Charles Bridge and right around the corner from Old Town Square, which was my favorite place. Every time we walked through the square there was a new band performing in the middle, in Czech. And there were constantly old antique cars driving through (taking people on tours, naturally) and horse and carriage rides passing. Old Town Square is also where the Astronomical Clock is, which was apparently voted the most disappointing tourist attraction in 2011. It was beautiful but the hourly performance wasn't much to see. Legend has it that the Old Town Councilors captured the clockmaker after it was completed in the early 1400s and burnt out his eyes, so he could never make another clock like this one again. After taking a walking tour of Prague, you notice they have a bit of a bloody history. The other most interesting place we saw was the Old Jewish Cemetery, which is incredibly small and houses over 100,000 bodies. Only the rich were able to afford stone headstones, and roughly 12,000 stones are visible today. If you look inside, all you see are piles and piles of headstones. In the deepest areas, bodies are piled 12 high. Our tour guide also said that the cemetery contributed to the spread of the plague by poisoning the groundwater in the area, but since coming home I have found no evidence of this online.
I did not take this picture. But I did see these things!

Along with seeing all the necessary sights in Prague, we enjoyed a ton of delicious food and delicious, cheap beer. On Thursday night, after we found our hostel, Marisa and I were walking around and stumbled upon a blacklight theater, which apparently is a Czech tradition (for the last 25 years). We decided to take a gamble and saw blacklight Faust. The music was really good, but it was really weird. Imagine lots of flying props. It wasn't a spoken show, so everyone could understand, but I would say "understand" is a strong word to use. Maybe reading real Faust would make me understand why it was so weird. We also visited the Kafka museum, which gave us lots of German to read. Kafka grew up and lived in Prague, but he was educated in German and primarily wrote in the language. Hopefully we'll be reading some of his work in my AYF Literature class. On Friday night we also went to Central Europes's largest night club! We hardly drank anything and spent the whole night on the "oldies" floor dancing to 80s music. It was great.

Don't be deceived. This is actually Pragian cake. Good
thing you read the caption.
I can tell my German is getting better, but some interactions still go awry. Today I was in a Café and wanted a piece of cake. The word for cake is Kuchen. So I asked the waitress what kind of Kuchen they had. She answered "German", which I thought was weird. But then I realized she thought I was saying Küchen, which means kitchens. We're in Germany, of course they have a German kitchen. We laughed when we realized what the problem was (and I got my apple cake). But I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to say it correctly (cake is an important word, after all), and I still can't manage to differentiate "u" from "ü". Hopefully this will come with time. Man, life is hard here :)