Happy New Year

I just wanted to check in very quickly to wish everyone a Happy New Year let everyone know that I had a great Christmas here. I've been traveling a lot over the break, which explains the abscence of posts. I'll be out of town for a lot of the rest of the break, but afterwards I should have some great stuff to catch up on!



Before I came to Germany, a friend of mine who used to live in Germany told me that one really nice thing about Germany is the Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) that are open for most of December.

The Christmas markets, along with many other traditions and sweets, make Advent a really nice time of year in Germany, despite the not-so-fantastic weather. Old town centers and marketplaces decorated with bright lights host residents braving the cold December nights.

I've been to four Christmas markets so far, and each one has its own flair. The Adventskrämchen in Rheda is small and family-oriented.

I walked through the one in Gütersloh, the next town over, and it seemed alright.

The Christmas market in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, was pretty big, but it seemed to lack a certain atmosphere.

The best one I've been to is the one in Wiedenbrück, called the Christkindlmarkt. It's nestled between historic buildings and takes up the entire plaza in the town center.

All kinds of stands surround the beautiful tree in the center. Our neighbors have a stand in which they sell their copper and glass artwork, there's food stands, drink stands, arts and crafts stands, clothes stands, and, of course, Glühwein stands. Glühwein (literally: glowing wine) is the staple drink of a Weinachtsmarkt. Glühwein is wine combined with spices and served hot, often mixed with liquor. It is delicious and perfect for the aforementioned cold winter nights.

This stand has absolutely delicious baked potatoes. A potato smothered in butter and cheese always hits the spot at the Weinachtsmarkt.

Along with lots of opportunities to eat, drink, and shop, there's a small stage where various oompah bands, singing groups, or brass bands play mostly Christmas music.

They also somehow managed to squeeze a carousel through the small alleys leading to the town plaza. My host parents and I decided that I'm a little too old to ride it, but it really did look like fun...

Wiedenbrück just looks nice at night during this time of year.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful December. Dress warm, don't catch a cold, and feel free to leave a comment!

PS: Do we have anything like a Christmas market in America? I've never seen one but I'm not sure if there is one somewhere.
PPS: What do you think about the new layout? Anyone have suggestions for the appearance of the blog itself or features that I should add?


German is Easy

"German is easy." Definitely a bold statement. I don't think it's true, but there are definitely some elements of the language that make it easy for English learners:

1. Spelling
Spelling in German is straightforward. No student of German has ever had to learn a rule like "i before e except after c and in words that rhyme with..."

2. Pronunciation
I find pronunciation in German much easier than in English. Read a word just like it's written and you'll pronounce it correctly almost all of the time. The main exception to this is found in French words that have been imported into German, like Portemonnaie, a kind of wallet, or Kampagne, a campaign.

3. Vocabulary words
If you can speak English, you already know a bunch of very impressive-sounding German words.

Take any abstract term, scientific term, or political philosophy, spell it just a little bit differently, pronounce it differently, and you've got a German word, and you'll sound highly educated.

the agitation = die Agitation ah-gee-tah-zee-ohn (used mainly in a political sense)

the inflation = die Inflation in-flah-zee-ohn

anti-Americanism = Antiamerikanismus an-tee-ah-mehr-ee-kahn-ihs-moos

4. English is a Germanic language
English is very closely related to German. In addition to the above vocabulary words that have been brought back over to German, there are many similar words that stem from the common ancestor of the two languages. "Tür" and "door" and "Grab" and "grave" are just a couple of examples.

For you polyglots out there, what do you think? What makes German easy for English speakers? What makes German difficult for English speakers?

Stay tuned for the coming post "German is Hard, or "deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache".



In the time leading up to my arrival in Germany, I got more and more anxious about encountering a lot of anti-Americanism here. George W. Bush, the War in Iraq, and perceived unilateralism in general have led to fairly negative American sentiment throughout Europe, with Germany appearing to be a stronghold. In Germany, the number of people holding a favorable opinion of America has fallen from 78% in 2000 to 37% in 2006.

I thought I would have to do some winning of "hearts and minds" of my own.

But since I've arrived here I've encountered less anti-Americanism than I expected. I've been met with just about nothing but hospitality. From my first experience out in German society to my arrival here in Rheda to everyone who's helped a slightly confused American understand a schedule, a system, or a tradition, my experiences have generally been positive.

That said, politically, the Germans are, in general, very critical of America and the American government, I do get called "Ami" here, but I generally don't find it offensive at all. Germans do, as referred to in an earlier post, tend to have an image of America developed through media.

But I think what the Germans do understand is that there's a difference between a government and its citizens. Although they are almost all completely opposed to George Bush, they don't take it out on me. It really seems like it's a lot easier for people of different cultures to understand each other with just simple person-to-person contact. Maybe that's why this whole exchange this could be a good idea, after all.