Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bamberg

So, Germany. It was beautiful. I was in Bavaria this time, and for you weak-in-geography types (I recently found out that Italy touches Slovenia. Hmm. College degree and all..), Bavaria is a state in the southeast corner of the country. It's actually a huge state; maybe the biggest in the country. A large part of it is rural, but it still has some big metropolises, namely Munich and Nuremberg.

I was in Bamberg, up towards the top. I befriended two German exchange students at MWSU last year, and lo and behold, they decided to move in together once coming back to Germany. Two birds friends with one stone visit.

Angie and Steffi graciously let me stay at their house, where they had an extra bedroom. Originally, the plan was to speak only in German, so I could soak up as much as possible, conjugate my verbs with perfection, leave after 5 days with a much better comprehension..

In theory, it sounded great. But the truth is that the Germans are f-ing awesome with languages, especially the far-inferior English. So most of our exchanges were a mishmash of English and German, heavy on the English. I helped them erase the classic foreigner mistake of pronouncing iron "eye-run," and they helped me pronounce German tongue twisters, like this: Zehn zahme Ziegen zogen zehn Zentner Zucker zum Zoo! (Ten tamed goats carried ten tons of sugar to the zoo!)

Bamberg is, excuse me, but SO GERMAN. I don't know if you could find a more German city. Its population is around 70,000 and it's got a university with about 10,000 students. Lots of bikes, lots of ped ways, lots of little shops. But, it has an H&M, so you know that it's not too small. This is my constant gauge for how hip a city is in Europe. Oh, you have dozens of cathedrals and ancient ruins? That's great, but do you have a popular Swedish chain department store? No? Hmm, sorry. Not a real city.

The city largely avoided the bombings of World War II, so most of the beautiful architecture is still standing. Lots of baroque, gothic, and other styles that I won't pretend to know...in short, very pretty. Very colorful and a surprising number of baby Jesuses hiding all over. Bavaria is one of the Catholic hold-outs in a country of Lutherans and Protestants, so I'm convinced they go double-time with their religious relics to make up for it.

Most of the week was pretty tranquille. Angie was busy studying for her last final (of college!); Steffi was working on her thesis. I spent a few mornings with multiple hot mugs of coffee while studying some German and periodically looking out the window to admire the beautiful landscape. We still had lots of time to go to caf├ęs, take pictures, get our hair done (I missed the blonde), stop at a tea salon, take some more pictures, browse bookstores..it was very "go-with-the-flow." I spent some afternoons on my own while the girls were doing their own thing, and that was fine. I kind of like exploring alone, anyway. All I need is my iPod, camera and a free afternoon. I didn't expect them to go out of their way to accommodate me--but they were very helpful and adopted me as the third roommie for a week.

We went out for dinner one night at a very typical Bavarian restaurant. Mmmmm sehr lecker! I'd like to tell you what I had, but I can't remember the 70-letter words for it. I therefore have made up my own translations: Potato balls and meat with meatsauce. Voila.

At the restaurant, I was the only (native) English speaker of the group , but they all were speaking English to each other, which I found strange. They were doing it to be polite, which was really nice of them, but unnecessary. I told them to speak in German because I was the only one out of five that didn't understand German, so I was by far the minority. They proceeded to speak in German, and even though I didn't understand much, I enjoyed listening to them speaking it. I recognize where I am on my so-called language ladder. I understand lots of words, and I can pretty faithfully do conjugations if I think about it for a minute. German has its ridiculous declension system, so listening carefully, I can tell you that hey! They're saying something and it's in the dative case! Or hey, we're going ins Kino because it involves movement! But if we're sitting in the cinema and there's no movement, we're im Kino. A few years back, when I first came to France, I was at this same level. I'd often have this kind of comprehension:
Today, I went to the supermarket and I bought XXXX and it was so XXXX but XXXX and then I XXXXX lady XXXX asked if XXXXXX but noXXXXXXX and then I came home and XXXX so do you want XXXXXXX we go to dinner?

Nonsense. Clips of phrases and verbs. I'm missing lots of language stuffing. But I'm getting there. I have a few more rungs, so to say, before I'll be to a level where I can have a conversation that doesn't involve "What's the word for that again?" Even though the week was largely in English, I still picked up a lot of words. It's so much easier when you learn it right there, on the spot, and you can use it immediately. Learning from afar with books only gets you so far, and the memorization (for me) takes much longer than if an actual native says, hey, this is the word. Use it here. And now, lets have a conversation and I'm going to use this word five more times and you will remember it forever!

I ended up extending my visit an extra two days because I liked it so much. I originally intended on having a four-day "staycation" in Paris before school started again, but the more I thought about it, I figured that I might as well spend my sitting around and doing nothing time in Bamberg, with friends, than at home, alone. So I stayed, ate my bodyweight in bread and wine, watched horrible/wonderful German TV, took pictures, tried to read a book in German (failed), read a book in English (succeeded), had a photoshoot with the world's next official problem solver (enterprise to follow; I've been promised the job of media coordinator), laughed with friends, had fun. It was great.

I'm officially in love with Germany.
More pictures here.

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