situational irony

I came here to study water management. It seems I got my wish because it has rained every day since I arrived.

The first week, people kept saying, “It’s supposed to clear up by Monday. Yeah, on Monday it will be really nice and it’s supposed to be warmer, too!”

I don’t know what I expected, but it is now Thursday, and the weather has been the same ever since.

On Tuesday, I checked the weather forecast, which predicted that the rainy, gray nastiness would clear up by today.

So I guess when I went out today to jump through the first of many bureaucratic hoops necessitated by German life, I expected that it would, in fact, be pleasant. Which is why I wore Toms and, for the first time in a week, left my raincoat at home in favor of a regular jacket.

I won’t say I regret anything, though. Now I’ll always be able to remember that first thing I did after I became an official resident of Dresden was to run through the Altmarkt in a downpour, proceeding buy the first umbrella I could get my hands on.

Here’s to having lots of water to manage for the next 10 months!

on culture, language, and memory

This is the longest I’ve ever spent in the former DDR (East Germany). I’m learning so much already, mostly through conversations with my host mom. Herr Braun is gone this week, so we’ve been able to talk one-on-one at dinner and such. 2-person conversations in a foreign language are always easier.

It didn’t even occur to me until one conversation this week that most adults who live in Dresden have probably never lived in any other part of the country, because until about 20 years ago, they literally would not have been allowed to leave East Germany. In talking with Frau Braun, I have come to understand (maybe) a little more personally this concept that I’d learned about so often in school.  The oppressive communist regime in East Germany, the general mistrust of your neighbors, the lack of freedom.

Maybe I’d romanticized this time period while learning about it in school, or watching movies like my favorite Das Leben Der Anderen. But something tells me that living here for the next year will give me a new perspective on the former DDR and the differences between here and the US, and even between here and west Germany.

Frau Braun told me a little bit about her experiences before the Mauerfall, when Germany was re-united (a day we’ll celebrate on October 3!). She told me the story of the first time she can remember experiencing “freedom”: when she was 25. She had been invited to the wedding of a cousin in West Germany, and the government had allowed her to go. (She did have to leave behind her small son, almost like a bargaining chip to ensure that she would eventually return; I can’t remember how old he was at the time, but does it really matter?)

She said that, in that short time in West Germany, she was so high on the feeling of freedom––of not having to be afraid that every person she interacted with was a government spy, of being able to buy things in the stores–that she could barely sleep.

This is something I had definitely taken for granted. Many adults I’ll come in contact with in Dresden lived through the DDR-Zeit–maybe they were interrogated by the Stasi; maybe they were spies themselves. They definitely don’t speak English as well as their Western counterparts, because even though teaching English in school was not forbidden before 1990, there were so few English teachers in the schools that many students weren’t able to complete all the necessary language requirements to graduate.

I told her about how my World Literature class watched Goodbye, Lenin! and Das Leben Der Anderen my freshman year in conjunction with a few things we read about totalitarian regimes. Her first question was whether my classmates really understood it. I responded that we’d watched the films with English subtitles, but what she had really meant to ask was whether we could actually comprehend the subject matter of the movies. We probably couldn’t, we American 18-year-olds in 2009. 

I’ve learned a lot about the Wiedervereinigung (German re-unification) period in school, and I’ve seen some of it “firsthand” in Berlin; the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, the Wall, etc., but it will certainly be an interesting experience to live here, in Dresden, 20 years after the fact. It’s easy to forget the oppression that happened here just before my lifetime, because to look at it, Dresden is mostly similar to other western cities (and maybe American ones, if you look hard enough). But each place has a specific history, memories of the things that have happened here and the people who have created history. 

It would be pretentious to say that in a year I’d be able to figure out the collective memory of the city, but the people in every place have a story to tell, and I guess I’m excited to see what impression this city will leave on me.

in which i enlist your help

Yes, YOURS! I have 2 requests, dear Blog Follower.

First, now that my acceptance to the university seems imminent (fingers crossed), I can move on to more interesting things, like TRAVEL! Based on the academic calendar of the university, I am making a list of tentative times I could take trips and matching them up with places I want to go. Here’s what I have so far. Requests for suggestions look like this.

October:

  • Prague with my roommate and some of her friends (Yay Aggi! She reads my blog!)
  • Cologne for DAAD orientation, followed by individual sight-seeing there and a day or 2 at Schönstatt
  • We have Reformation Day (a Monday) off: any good Halloween destinations in/around East Germany?

November:

There’s a holiday on a Wednesday during November, so since I am already planning on having no classes on Monday or Friday, I think a longer trip is in order. My plan right now is London and Scotland. (A friend from UT is in London currently, plus I’ve never been, and a friend from my time in Freiburg is at St. Andrew’s in Scotland!) What should be on my list for 5-6 days in these places?

December:

  • Prague with my family 
  • Via Facebook, maybe a rendezvous with the Bermans in Brussels??? Maybe.
  • If Brussels doesn’t work out, I’ll have a few days between Christmas and classes starting again. Where should I go??

January: 

Not much in the way of holidays during January. I’ll leave this one up to the Research Fates and see how much time I have to travel 🙂

February-March: 

Semester break! During this time, I’ll probably take a trip to Spain once Daniel is there. Besides that, I need some inspiration for trips. Maybe a few 5-7-day trips during each of which I could see several cities? (Gotta multi-task!) I have already been to and will therefore probably eliminate Vienna, Krakow, and Berlin.

April:

May:

  • Any special places to celebrate May Day? This would probably be a day trip.
  • A long weekend in Freiburg.
  • Pentecost Week in Norway/Sweden/Denmark, I think! We have a whole week off, so I have my eye on the Swedish Water House and some sites from Kristin Lavransdatter, which I fortunately finished before I left the states! 

After that, there aren’t many holidays to speak of, and I might need to make up for some research time lost while doing all this traveling 🙂 However, I guess I would appreciate some recommendations for places in Europe that are fun but not crazy-touristy during the summer months? Thanks to anyone who offers their input (in the comments or by email or something). I know i’ve asked for suggestions before; they haven’t gone ignored 🙂

Second, something a little less ground-breaking: I acquired this nice swatch of fabric at the Opera open house the other day. 

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They were giving away scraps, and this is the biggest one I could find. Plus, the pattern is nice and the colors aren’t terrible. What kind of little on-the-train hand-sewing project could I turn this into? Or should I just use it as a babushka?

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a day at the opera

I have been tiiii-iiired. I guess it takes more than 1 night of sleep to shake jet lag. Yesterday I was “about town” for about 5 hours, and when I got home at 3, I promptly took a 2.5 hour nap…

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Today, though, I got to make up for a few days of laziness by experiencing some Culture. (In German, Kultur. Who says it’s a hard language!)

After Mass, I met up with my host mom at the Semperoper (opera house), because today they had an open house! A bunch of opera- and theater-related activities, all for free!

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We tried to watch some ballet, but the room was really crowded and we couldn’t actually see anything, so our first workshop was an Opera Prufe (practice). The singer was actually from the US, but he spoke all in German… I thought he was pretty good (at German… VERY good at singing, of course). It was funny when he would mess up and say something in English, like “Ugh I did it again!!” or “Too fast!” It was strange to hear an American accent from someone who had been speaking German.

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We then went to a little workshop of a section from the opera “Die Pfledermaus,” in which we had to sing some parts, and some people learned a silly dance to it, and then the actual actors came and performed it with us.

Afterwards, we went to the actual opera house main stage and saw a few performances. If I learned one thing today, it’s that opera singers have some super-powerful voices. It was apparent in the little classroom with the American performer, but those strong voices really shine in the big opera hall.

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Interesting fact about the Semperoper: like most of Dresden, the whole thing was destroyed in the war. They rebuilt it, a project which was only completed in 1985, to be a near replica of the original. It’s beautiful!

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Our opera adventure concluded with a little tour through the workshops where they make the shoes, masks, and costumes for the productions. It was interesting to see the costumes from past shows and upcoming ones, too!

two days unterwegs

(That kind of almost rhymes if you pronounce “unterwegs” properly… almost.)

It’s been a relatively busy 2 days.

My bus ticket and map of the bus and tram lines

My bus ticket and map of the bus and tram lines

If you’ve seen me or talked to me in the past 2-4 weeks, you know that it’s been a heck of a ride trying to actually be accepted to the university here.

First, I needed to find new advisors; then, I got the application after the application deadline had already passed; then, it seems that my documents got lost in the mail.

Then I learned about the issue where the requirement for my scholarship was to have obtained my bachelor’s degree already, but the requirement at the university to enroll as a foreign student is to be concurrently enrolled at an American university.

Say what now?

In any case, I NEEDED to talk to a real, live university employee in person to force them to enroll me have a reasoned discussion of why this shouldn’t be an issue.

A pear tree; because it was pretty

A pear tree; because it was pretty

So off I went to the International Office (Ausländisches Amt), just a short (40+ minute) bus-ride-and-walk away. I was the 4th person in line, and the woman answered all my questions: yes, they finally have all my papers, minus one, which I was then able to give her; hopefully the people in the special Scholarship Office (which I did not know existed) will e-mail me by Monday.

Why is this so important? Well. First, I have to get my acceptance letter; with this letter, I will be allowed to matriculate. Everything depends on matriculation. While I still haven’t matriculated, I am unable to: register with the city, get my visa, get a student ID, start getting paid for my scholarship, get a new bank card (I forget my PIN from 2 years ago…), buy a student pass for the buses and trams, or take advantage of discounts at the Mensa and museums. It’s important, yo. But hopefully it’s coming soon.

After this promising meeting, I walked to the actual university 2ish km away. It’s a really large and beautiful campus with lots of old buildings. There was one particularly striking one (the photography building, as it would happen) that was red brick and covered in green, orange, and red ivy, but I couldn’t take a picture when I passed it.

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One thing worth mentioning about this walk is that I was sweating like CRAZY because, after being pretty cold the previous 2 days, I had way overdressed. I was wearing my fleece-lined tights under jeans, 3 layers of shirts plus my raincoat, and boots. I was super miserableSo when I reached the Geographie building, first I found a bathroom and removed all unnecessary clothing. (At least now I know that I have the clothes to handle temperatures like 20 degrees south of the weather now.)

In the Geographie building, I met with a lecturer, Cindy, from the department who had volunteered to give me a tour and to tell me a little bit about the department where I’ll be studying. She was very nice, and she is taking an English course currently so we switched back and forth between English and German… it was interesting. She showed me a lot of features on the website that have proven very useful, including the course offerings.

The tour included the library, the Mensa/cafeteria/dining hall, and some general places of interest around campus (the nearest tram/bus stops, etc.). By this time, my feet hurt like no other, so I decided to call it a day and go home.

The course offering site that Cindy showed me really piqued my interest, so I stayed up till 12:30 coming up with different timetables for my semester (some things never change). I’ve found about 12 courses I’d take in a heartbeat, just from within the departments of geographical and hydrological science. Watershed management, the geography of cities and settlements, limnology, urban water…. how can one choose?

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I sometimes take my interest in these things for granted, only to be reminded that not everyone is super interested in water and rivers as I am…. I told Daniel about them and he just kind of laughed and said he was glad that someone is interested enough to study wastewater or whatever. (You mean, everyone doesn’t think that river catchments are super fascinating?)

(Daniel is my boyfriend, and he’s coming to Spain in/around February, when he will hopefully become a more regular feature on the blog because of our European adventures!)

Also: I might be able to have a schedule with only Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday classes. Schööön.

This afternoon, at the suggestion of my host parents, I headed to the Stadtmuseum (City Museum) because it is free on Friday after noon. It was raining, so therefore a perfect museum day.

Waiting for the bus in the rain is no fun, though

Waiting for the bus in the rain is no fun, though

The first floor of the museum had 2 art galleries, so I was worried for a second that the whole thing was an art museum… not that that would be terrible, but art museums, to me, are not as interesting as history museums. Which this museum, as I had thought, turned out to be! As close to a comprehensive history of Dresden as you can get, I think.

The 3rd floor (the 2nd is under construction) was about the 19th and 20th centuries, my favorite 2 time periods if I had to choose. The 20th century was such a turbulent and dynamic time in Germany that it’s easy to forget the 1800s, which themselves were full of growth and strife!

Das Museum

Das Museum

This floor, and the 4th floor (13th-18th centuries), were organized in a really interesting way: topically! There was one room about “Words and Weapons” (religious reform and the violence that resulted), one hall about a particular uprising in Dresden in 1848, one section devoted to the medieval justice system, one about the growth of cottage industries in the 19th century. Fascinating.

In the section about the 2nd World War and the DDR-Zeit, it was very interesting to see everything through a particularly-Dresdner lens. I’ve learned so much in my German and history classes about the 2nd half of the 20th century, but of course every city, region, and country experienced these events differently.

After I was done at the museum, I decided to walk around the neighborhood a little bit and discovered that I was only 2 blocks from the Frauen Kirche and the rest of the main square! (I’m just learning the layout of the city.)

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I went in the Frauen Kirche (beautiful!) and the Katholische Hofkirche (also beautiful, but with an interesting feel to it that I’ll have to get used to). I walked around a bit, bought some postcards and a Bratwurst, and headed back to the tram when it started raining a bit.

It’s nice to get out a bit and see different parts of the city. Tomorrow I’ll make it 3 days in a row, as I’m going to see my future apartment and then shopping with my roommate. This city is quite a bit bigger than Freiburg, so I have to take it in bite-sized chunks.

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(heh, heh)

For now, I’m drinking wine and watching German Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. If you want to be humbled in your language skills, watch a trivia show! 😉

{pretty, happy, funny, real}

Edited to say: If you’re reading this, leave a comment or something! It would help my writing stamina to know that people were reading, or subscribing, or whatever! If no one is reading, I won’t be writing ;P

I’m linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter to capture contentment today! 

round button chicken

{pretty}

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Downtown Dresden!We went for a little walk just before sundown.

Probably hard to see because of the lighting... sorry. Aren't the different architecture styles interesting? The middle building is part of the Schloss (castle) and the Catholic Church is on the right.

Probably hard to see because of the lighting… sorry. Aren’t the different architecture styles interesting? The middle building is part of the Schloss (castle) and the Catholic Church is on the right.

Much of Dresden was destroyed during WWII–in fact, it was the most destroyed city in the world during the war. So most of the buildings have been built recently (neugebaut) or re-built after the damage (abgebaut).

A better view of the cathedral. Maybe you can see the coloring that betrays the war damage?

A better view of the cathedral. Maybe you can see the coloring that betrays the war damage?

My host parents are very knowledgeable about their city! I learned so much in the short time we were out.We ran into a student group from Bayern who was doing a scavenger hunt to learn about Dresden, and Herr and Frau Braun were able to help them a lot!

3 castles along the Elbe

3 castles along the Elbe

The Frauen Kirche: The dark stones are the original, prewar stones. The light ones are new.

The Frauen Kirche: The dark stones are the original, prewar stones. The light ones are new.

Aren’t these buildings beautiful? I can’t wait to get to know the city a little better.

{happy}

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My own room! For the next 4 weeks! What luxury.

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I’m still in the process of figuring out where I should put everything.

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But for now it’s pretty cozy.

The Blessed Mother, my LG's Pilgrim MTA, and some Lourdes water from Daniel :)

The Blessed Mother, my LG’s Pilgrim MTA, and some Lourdes water from Daniel 🙂 Along with some helpful information about Dresden from my host family. These sit right by my computer and make me {happy}.

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Also happy, no picture: having not 1 but 2 (!!) people to pick me up from the airport! And being able to carry all my luggage myself. And the fact that all my luggage even made it. What a relief!

{funny}

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Check out this “learn traveler’s English” book I picked up here in the house, along with a German-English dictionary.

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These are obviously all phrases I use while traveling.

A second {funny} occurred during my tour of Dresden. After we had seen one side of the Frauen Kirche (below), it occurred to me to ask whether it was a katholische (Catholic) church or an evangelische (Protestant) one. Luckily I didn’t ask, because lo and behold…

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just around the corner was a big statue of Martin Luther. Question answered!

{real}

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 2.08.59 AM

Taken at 2:08 AM Texas time. The Düsseldorf airport is obviously exactly where I wanted to be.

My 6-hour layover in Düsseldorf was no joke. Whereas in Chicago (about 5 hours) I had my American cell phone so I could play games, make some phone calls, etc., in Düsseldorf I just had about a few hours’ worth computer battery and some Friends episodes. And an epic nosebleed.

angekommen in deutschland!!

Well, after 24 whole hours of travel between Monday and Tuesday, I finally made it to my “home” for the next 4 weeks at about 4 pm yesterday. I was so exhausted!! I will definitely not be planning any plane travel with 5+ hour layovers again. How terrible. The good thing is that I ended up at the Dresden airport, a small little airport where it was impossible to miss my welcome party: my host dad AND my future roommate! It was nice to have people waiting for me.

The first place we stopped after the airport was the Bäckerei, which made me remember quickly why I love Germany so much. German bakeries are the best in the world, no contest. Everything looked so delicious… I decided to get a little Mäuschen, a sandwich cookie that looked like a mouse with little M&M nose and ears, with Nutella in the middle! I enjoyed it for dessert last night and breakfast this “morning.”

After dinner, we took a short trip into old-town Dresden and looked around at some of the major landmarks. (Photos coming tomorrow.) I finally got to see the Elbe, the river I’ll be studying all year! It’s already pretty chilly here, especially at night. Hopefully I won’t die this winter.

This morning, I slept (ultimately) until 2PM after waking up for awhile earlier in the morning. It felt amazing to finally get some sleep!! We ran a few errands this afternoon and evening, and now I’m enjoying some TV time with my host family (and eating marzipan… another amazing European thing!). 

This was just a short post to get back in the swing of blogging. More to come as I actually start doing things! 🙂