how to get rid of that pesky american accent

So you’ve finally learned German, and probably spent years learning all of the erratic grammatical rules, genders, and adjective endings. But Germans still won’t take you seriously because you sound like this:

Yes, this is a problem many of us know well. Even after you’ve learned German and even summoned up enough courage to speak, you identify yourself as American immediately upon opening your mouth! And, as we know, in Germany (the west, at least), indicating that you are American is a sure way to get Germans to never talk to you in German, in favor of showing off their always-superior English. But how to get rid of the accent?

I won’t pretend that I have no remaining American accent. But, 3 years ago in Freiburg, I would introduce myself to someone in German and helpfully explain, “I’m from the USA,” and they would say, “Yes, I could tell.” Whereas this year, I was once on the tram speaking German with a few friends, and a stranger, having inquired about where we were from, told me he could only distinguish me as foreign because of my R’s. So I think I’ve come a long way. And I think that if I had put a concentrated effort into getting rid of the accent, I could have done it better and faster. So here are a few tips, which I think may apply to languages besides German, but how would I know?

Los geht’s.

1. Know your phonetics. This is obvious, and if you’ve been studying German for a while, you’ve probably got it down… but it doesn’t hurt to review! One effective and convenient tactic I’ve used for reinforcing the exact sounds of vowels, letter combinations, and words is to listen carefully to the pre-recorded announcements on public transportation (e.g. “Nächste Haltestelle, Hauptbahnhof!). They are all perfectly pronounced, and you’ll probably hear them so often that the sounds will be burned into your brain.

2. Spend time talking to and listening to native speakers. Preferably native speakers who speak conversational, but not overly slangy, German, and preferably not a strong dialect. Luckily, most college-aged people fit these criteria. (In many places, older people generally speak dialect and this will probably lead either to confusion or to you picking up the dialect!) What you want to do is to get an idea of how people really talk, and to pick up some useful phrases and pronunciations that are commonly used but are probably not in standard textbooks.

Native speakers’ everyday speech is generally less crystal clear than “textbook” German (z.B. saying something closer to “ham” or “hab’n” than “haben”), and far fewer end consonants are voiced in German than in English. This is the kind of thing you learn and grow accustomed to by listening to real, live Germans! And, of course, these relationships will give you a chance to practice your speaking skills.

3. Fake it ’til you make it. I was always petrified to talk in German class because I knew I was pronouncing things wrong… especially those damn R’s. It did not help that my German name in German 1 was “Britta”… I couldn’t even pronounce my own name correctly (and I picked it!!). At some point in college, where our professors expected us to speak a lot more in class, I knew I just had to do it… approximate the R sound the best that I could and hope that people would buy it. At the time, this led to my R’s sounding a lot like L’s… but at least I was saying the words!

Over the years, the sound has gotten easier, more natural, and closer to what it should really sound like. There are still some words heavy on R and CH that I may never say with full Germanity*, but I’ve come a long way since the days of my botched German name freshman year of high school. (Vis: I used to exclusively introduce myself as being from “den USA” because that avoided the R sound in “Amerika.” But now, I am more or less comfortable with either, although “die USA” is more geographically accurate.)

4. Sing! One of the best things I have done to improve my German accent is to sing in German on a regular basis! In case you didn’t have enough reasons to go to church while abroad… here’s another one! German hymns are perfect for practicing your German pronunciations. They contain a variety of important and common words and sounds; they are often repetitive so you can reinforce correct pronunciations; and because singing is much more deliberately metered than speaking, your pronunciations will be careful and intentional.

Because an entire congregation is singing along with you, it is a safe environment: no one will be able to hear you experimenting with different pronunciations or making mistakes along the way.  Plus, you’ll be able to hear everyone else singing the same words, so you’ll know if you’re doing something vastly wrong! I have been able to overcome a lot of insecurities about my German accent by singing the hymns and participating in Mass responses every week. As a bonus, German hymns are incredibly beautiful and I’m glad I’ve gotten to learn some of them! (Here is one of my favorites from the Christmas season, and this one is a German translation of Adoro te devote by St. Thomas Aquinas.)

5. Repetition, repetition, repetition. This all takes patience and lots of practice.  A fellow DAAD scholarship holder I met in Braunschweig told us that, after being made fun of for his American accent, he would spend hours in his room practicing. Apparently he practiced the infamous guttural R sound so much that he gave himself a sore throat! But it appears to have paid off because his accent is impeccable. Don’t give up hope… if you are really motivated to improve your German accent, you can make it happen!

And here’s another Ben & Jerry’s commercial, because they’re fun!

*This is a made up word, obviously, but I guess making up your own words goes along with the spirit of “Fake it ’til you make it.”

in which i teach you german in 5 easy steps

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to learn German if you’re planning on living or studying in Germany, and it’s no secret how important the German language has been to my life for the past almost 9 years. I’ve even written a blog post in German, although that was 3 1/2 years ago and it was actually pretty terrible. But recently I’ve been getting comments from new acquaintances about how good my German is, so I figured I’d share the wealth a little bit. I won’t even charge you.

Step One: The first thing that Americans need to know about German is that “die” is not pronounced like “dye” or the word that means “to stop living.” It is pronounced like “dee,” and it means “the.” 

Except you should also know that “die” is specifically the definite article for feminine nouns.

And plural nouns.

Masculine is “der.” Neuter is “das.”

Yes. German has three genders for some inexplicable reason.

And the word for girl, “Mädchen,” is neutral.

Okay, that’s complicated. I shouldn’t have mentioned that first.

Step Two: All right, nouns and verbs! This will be better. German is awesome because all nouns are capitalized all the time, so it’s easy to tell the parts of speech apart. 

Also, lots of nouns in German are cognates of English words, so they’re easy to figure out. “Mutter” means “mother,” “Apfel” means “apple,” “Haus” means “house,” “Maus” means “mouse,” und so weiter.

But… be careful. “Gift” means “poison.” 

Verbs are special in German because they always go in the same spot in every sentence: position two. It doesn’t matter what’s in positions one, three, or four hundred… the verb is always number two. For instance, “Ich spreche gut Deutsch.” “I speak good German.” 

Well, okay, no, there are some exceptions. Like if you use the word “because,” the verb in that dependent clause goes at the end.

But only “weil” (because), not “denn” (because). 

There are other words that “kick” verbs, too, like “dass” (that), all helping verbs, and all modal verbs.

Also, if you’re asking a question, the verb usually goes in position one.

Okay, that’s a little confusing. We’ll come back to it.

Step Three: Phonics!! This is a good place to start, because German phonetics are really simple compared to English phonetics!

The vowel sounds are all very specific: A is “ahhh,” E is “ehhh” (like “A”), I is “eeee” (like “E”), O is “o” (easy enough), and U is “ooohhh” (no voiced “y” sound).

An Umlaut ( ¨ ) effectively adds an E after the letter it adorns, so Ä is like “aeeehh” as in “egg”, Ö is like “euurhhh” as in “nothing in the English language,” and Ü is “euuu” as in “what you say when you discover moldy cheese at the back of your fridge.” 

Got it? Good. You can probably sight read any German word now.

Step Four: Past tense! Okay. Here’s the deal. There are past tense forms of verbs, and there is a really simple pattern to figure it out. Take the infinitive (for instance, “blicken” meaning “to glance, see”), reduce it to its root (“blick”), and add “te”: “blickte”! Simple, right? You can do this for almost any verb!

Except for the really commonly used verbs like “to be,” “to eat,” “to read,” “to go,” “to know,” “to see”… So you should probably just make flash cards and spend hours memorizing them.

But wait! I forgot. Germans don’t often form the “simple past tense” by simply using the past tense of a verb… instead they use present perfect by using a helping verb! So to do that, you use a helping verb in position two… something about adding “ge-“…

But wait! I forgot. There are two helping verbs, “haben” and “sein.” “Haben” is the most common, but you’ll want to use “sein” anytime the verb you’re using is “traveling,” like if your subject is walking, going, flying, driving, becoming, or, inexplicably, staying. So just make sure you remember to use the right one.

Step Five: Screw it. Maybe you should just learn Spanish.

eating together: sharing conversation and culture

“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.”

-Michael Pollan

I read a book about understanding literature before my first year of college, and it emphasized the importance of any event that involves characters sharing a meal. Because of the communal (as in, being in communion) aspect of eating together, and the inherent intimacy of such an act, eating together is a fundamental human interaction.

Especially while abroad, I’ve found that the very best way to enjoy the presence of friends is to prepare and enjoy a meal together!

meal blog 6

Felicitas and Riccarda literally breaking bread in Struppen

Food is an important aspect of culture, and what better way to share your own traditions from home with your new friends abroad? Several times, my friend Domi, from Hungary, had a group of us over to enjoy a traditional Hungarian meal that he had prepared. We listened to Hungarian music and learned some limited Hungarian. For instance, Egészségére! means Cheers!

And that is all that I know.

And that is all that I know.

In late November and early December, I celebrated Thanksgiving not once, but twice, as a way of bringing new German and international friends into our American holiday tradition and to express to them how grateful I was for their friendship! Food and fellowship are two of the main facets of the holiday, are they not?

Thanksgiving Part 1 in Dresden, hosted by Felicitas and myself

Thanksgiving Part 1 in Dresden, hosted by Felicitas and myself

Thanksgiving part 2 in Jena, hosted by our fellow American Allie

Thanksgiving Part 2 in Jena, hosted by our fellow American Allie

Of course, preparing the food is an important part of the experience. Because I’ve had the time this year, I’ve started to really love exploring new recipes and experimenting with different ingredients. And cooking with friends is even more fun!


Cooking Thanksgiving turkey in our tiny kitchen!

Felicitas and I in Jena. We cook together on a regular basis, but just never take any pictures of our efforts...

Felicitas and me in Jena. We cook together on a regular basis, but just never take any pictures of our efforts…

A community or potluck dinner really is the perfect atmosphere, I’ve found, for getting to know new friends, because a dinner party is centered on conversation. This is especially a perk when you’re working on your language skills! You learn so much about the people you dine with if you are able to foster lively conversation.

last one

blog meal 1

For this dinner, I cooked “Cajun chicken pasta” and then had trouble explaining what exactly “Cajun” means…

Plus, group dinners widen your social circle. You invite your friends, someone brings his girlfriend along, someone else invites their roommate, and pretty soon you have a party! I’ve learned a lot this year about making conversation with people I may not know well, but who are undoubtedly interesting and worth talking to! It turns out small talk doesn’t come any more naturally to me in German as in English, but it’s worth it when you keep interesting company.

Of course, some of the best meals are provided free by the DAAD ;)

Of course, some of the best meals are provided free by the DAAD 😉

For anyone wanting to know how to build a stronger friend group or community, I’d recommend starting a tradition of regular dinner parties with your friends and acquaintances! And I say this even as the staunchest introvert… it’s worth the effort to put yourself out there and invite people to share a meal with you, especially one you’ve cooked. (Plus, cooking for yourself and your friends really cuts down on how much you spend at restaurants, which is a great frugal bonus.)

And we all know that every good dinner ends in dessert, so make sure to plan for that, too!

The cameraman caught me eyeing dessert... busted!

The cameraman caught me eyeing the dessert… busted!

unsolicited advice: studying in Germany

A few months ago, a friend from college sent me a message on Facebook asking if I would have any advice for a classmate of hers who wanted to study abroad in Germany.  As a fairly opinionated person who feels strongly about study abroad experiences, especially in Germany, I was able to come up with a good number of things that I wish I had known before I first came to Germany, as well as things I’ve learned since I’ve been here that I think would be helpful for someone in the planning stages.

So I’m making my foray into the scary world of online advice blogging! (I do have a few similar posts in the queue, so keep an eye out for those!) I know no one asked, but that’s why it’s called “unsolicited”! Here is a list of things that you should know if you want to live in Germany.

I wrote this list for a student wanting to study abroad, but many items on this list could apply to young adults wanting to get a degree at a German university or work in Germany for a short or long duration, as well!

1. Learn German. Do you already know German? Good. In the time between now and when you set foot on German soil, do everything you can to get more exposure to the language. Read an article or two from Der Spiegel every week. Take or audit a German class at school. Watch a German TV show! (I’ve never seen it, but Türkisch für Anfänger always gets good reviews!)

Wait, what’s that? You don’t know German? Well, there’s no better time to start than right now. I know that plenty of people study abroad with no knowledge of the local language, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. Yes, you can get by with English in Germany, but do you really want to just get by during your time abroad? It’s much easier to establish friendships with Germans if you make an effort to learn some German… not to mention being able to orient yourself in your host city and as you travel around. If you learn as much as you can before you leave and keep an open mind during your time there, your language abilities will improve drastically… I know several people who went to Germany with a very limited grasp of the language, and after a year or so of living and working there, were able to converse quite easily! It is possible!


Here, I’ll help you get started

2. Go for a year or longer! My biggest regret about my semester in Germany during the summer of 2011 was that it was only one semester! I know that a year abroad sounds like a really long time, especially if the norm at your school is to go abroad for 6 weeks, if that (like it was at mine). But a year goes by quicker than you’d expect (especially if you plan to travel), and one semester is barely any time at all to get adjusted to a new country, language, school, city, and culture, not to mention to make friends!

If a year would not be possible for whatever reason, go for as long as possible. Plan to arrive as soon as possible before the semester begins, and stay as long as possible after it ends. Many programs offer a language course before the semester begins (which would help with #1!), which also provides time to get acclimated to the city and maybe meet some people!

liebe dich

3. Location, location, location. Spend some time deciding where exactly in Germany you want to go, because the city you live in will obviously influence your experience greatly. The different cities and regions in Germany are quite distinct. As you consider, pay particular attention to the size of the city in question, and also whether it is in (former) East Germany or West Germany.

Even 20+ years after Germany’s reunification, there are still some lingering differences between east and west, particularly where language is concerned. In the west, it is much more likely that any given person on the street or in a shop (especially of the older generation) will be able to speak English. If you aren’t yet fluent in German, that could be helpful. However, if you’re trying to BECOME fluent, the atmosphere in the east might be helpful… people may be less likely to automatically switch to English once they hear your accent!

If you will be staying for a year or longer, as I advised you above, choose a larger city as opposed to a small one (or a small city with easy access to a large city). That way, there will be more to explore during your time there. Also, larger cities generally have easy access to smaller outlying towns and attractions and good public transit to get you there.

Basically, do your research to find out whether the city you’re interested in has everything you’re looking for. A few odd tips: living near a border gives you easy access to international travel; living in Berlin will give you an exciting and eclectic, though debatably “un-German” experience; it is really hard to find an apartment in most cities with universities, and Munich is notoriously expensive.

4. Go as an exchange student. (Or directly enroll in a graduate program. Or get a job working with Germans.) Integrate yourself into society!!! I know for some students studying abroad, a university-affiliate or professor-led program is necessary to both study abroad and graduate on time, but if at all possible, do a direct exchange! It will require some proactivity on your part, because all your classes/travel won’t be planned for you, you won’t have a ready-made community of fellow American students, and you’ll probably have to deal with some university bureaucracy, but you will have a more authentic and rewarding experience (and for pretentious folk like me, that’s what it’s all about 😉 ).

5. Be proactive about your living situation. I lived in a terrible student dorm in Freiburg because that’s what I was assigned. However, I have a feeling that if I’d searched around a little more before committing to student housing, I could have found a better option. So before I moved to Dresden, I looked on all the WG websites to find an apartment and roommate. Wohngemeinschafte/living communities are like shared apartments among young people in Germany, and there are plenty of websites to locate people who need to sublet their room. I used My roommate, Agnes, is awesome, and living with a German peer has really helped me practice my language skills on a daily basis, make a few friends, and have a nice atmosphere at home rather than the gross, utilitarian dorm of days past 😉

6. Buy a bike. Having a bike gives you flexibility of transportation and allows you to get places quicker so you can do more, plus it’s very scenic and beautiful to ride around during the summer and experience your new city from that vantage point! Hypocrite alert because I don’t have a bike in Dresden (but I might still buy one). This was the most important thing I ever did in Freiburg, though, because I lived far from school and the center of town, and all of my friends had bikes, so if I ever wanted to do something with them, I could just tag along instead of having to meet them somewhere using public transit. Here, the city is big enough that public transit is necessary to get to certain parts of town, and I live within walking distance of most places I go on a daily basis, so I haven’t NEEDED one, but I’m still on the look-out for an affordable used bike, because I love biking!

7. Make German friends. This will help with #1, for sure! It will also help to integrate you into life in Germany. Making friends familiar with your city/region (and fluent in German) is also incredibly helpful as you figure everything out for yourself. It is, in my experience, more difficult to make friends with Germans than to stick in a group with the other Americans/international students (and there is merit to making friends with those people, as well). Two ways I’ve found it helpful to meet people: getting involved at church and taking part in extracurriculars. I’m Catholic, and I’ve been able to meet nice, generous, friendly people at the Katholische Hochschulgemeinde (KHG) in Freiburg and the Katholische Studentengemeinde (KSG) in Dresden. The Protestant groups are called EHG/ESG. And this semester I am finally taking my own advice about the sports/extracurricular activities tactic by taking a dance class! I love dancing and thoroughly enjoyed my classes at UT, so I figured I’d keep it up and meet some people along the way.

8. Travel! Self explanatory. Obviously the requisite trips to London/Paris/Milan/whatever are awesome, and you should go for it, but I also recommend day trips in your area and really getting to know your particular region in Germany, as well, because they’re all very distinct and it will cultivate a real feeling of regional identity, which I quite enjoy 🙂

9. Don’t compare your experience to anyone else’s. Every person’s time abroad will be unique, so don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking that your experience is “worse” because you can see on Facebook that your high school friend has visited more cities than you have. Make the most of YOUR experience… explore the areas around where you’re living, go to social outings, do something new every week, take pictures. Focus on making your memories, not glancing at someone else’s to compare.

10. Find a “life abroad” confidant. For those times when it feels like living abroad is the hardest thing you’ve ever done and no one will ever understand you. Obviously parents are wonderful and significant others are great, but if they’ve never studied or lived abroad, they won’t totally understand what you’re gong through. If you keep in touch with a buddy who has had a similar experience, they will be able to affirm that the loneliness, anxiety, or whatever it is you might be feeling is totally normal, and hopefully they will encourage you to power through the tough parts so you can experience the wonder of living abroad! I know this sounds like the ultimate First World Problem but the truth is that it’s tough to live in another language in a new city with new experiences without an outlet for your frustrations or a sounding board to figure your stuff out. (This person should also be able to give you a good reality check and/or swift kick in the behind if you are being unreasonable 😉 ) Overall, living/studying abroad is a POSITIVE, life-affirming, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you should share those moments with your buddy as well, and meet up once you get back to cook foods you miss from abroad, go on bike rides together, and commiserate about reverse culture shock 🙂

Finally, an outlet for my many opinions 😉 If you are itching to study in Germany, or elsewhere in Europe/the world, I hope I’ve encouraged you at least a little bit!

To my fellow study abroad alumni: is there anything I missed?? Anything you disagree with? 

in mixed company

I’ve started doing some things with the KSG (Katholische Studentengemeinde) here in Dresden. I found in Freiburg that joining the Catholic student group was a wonderful way to meet friends and have some sort of social life while studying abroad, so I made sure to find a similar group here in Dresden once I arrived. Of course, no Catholic community is ever PERFECT or everything you’d want it to be, but everyone I’ve met so far has been lovely.

A Hungarian, two Germans, and two Americans climb up a mountain...

So a Hungarian, two Germans, and two Americans climb a mountain…

This past weekend, I went out to the Saxon Switzerland for a weekend with some KSG folks in Struppen. The KSG has a house out there, which was donated by the Diocese a number of years ago to be used by the students from Dresden, and a group goes basically every weekend. I enjoyed a few days of fellowship, food, nature, and manual labor… and it was wonderful! Everyone was so welcoming and warm, especially because it was a designated weekend for new people. It was about 60% students who are new to Dresden/the KSG, and 40% people who have been around for awhile, so it was a nice mix.

A beautiful view of the Sächsische Schweiz

A beautiful view of the Sächsische Schweiz

Something interesting that’s come up as I’ve met more people in Dresden and the KSG is the issue of language. I don’t necessarily have many problems anymore socializing in German… I’m generally pretty comfortable with it. But what’s really weird is switching between English and German. For instance, at the Neuenwochenende in Struppen, although most people were German, there were also 5 international students including myself: two from the US (myself and Flitzi), one from Hungary, one from France, and one from Britain. Of course, when I was speaking to one of the German students, we would speak German; and even with Geoffroy from France or Domi from Hungary, since we don’t share a native language, speaking (flawed) German was the natural choice.




But if I would be talking to Flitzi, especially since we often see each other one-on-one and obviously speak English, or Flitzi and our new British friend Nathaniel, of course our first instinct would be to speak English… but what if there were some other German friends around? Should we try to speak German? But then we’d run into things in the course of our conversation that would just be EASIER to say in English… or someone would point out how ridiculous it would be for two Americans and a Brit to stand around speaking German, or a German would want to practice their English… the list goes on. It was just a very linguistically interesting weekend. Flitzi and I would have an English conversation, only to change to German when we joined someone else’s conversation, and then start speaking German just between us.


And then, of course, language quickly becomes the topic of conversation!  Viki, one of the German girls I’ve befriended, worked as an au pair in Maryland for a year, and she prefers American to British English (she actually goes as far as to say she thinks American accents are beautiful! I’ve never heard that one before!). So naturally, while hiking 14 kilometers, we thought of as many differences between British and American English as we could and made fun of Nathaniel about them for a while. To his credit, he did maintain that saying “lift” instead of “elevator” is just economical, as is “flat” for “apartment.” I guess that’s accurate.


Apparently there’s a psychological concept called “mental load” that maintains that when the brain processes a certain amount of information, it begins to get fatigued. And one of the main ways that a brain can get tired is by regularly switching between languages! It’s kind of like lifting weights with your brain! And it is an active deterrent against dementia. Considering the state of my memory–I lost a debit card in August because I forgot to take it with me after paying at a restaurant, I left all of my drugstore purchases at the register last week and didn’t realize it until I got home, and today I almost forgot my lunch after paying for it–I guess a year abroad is exactly what I need 🙂


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.