Cologne and Paris

So I've been back from Cologne (Köln) since Sunday but my regular posting schedule has been thrown off in the last couple of weeks. I usually find the time to post on weekends, but I was away last weekend and am going to be away this weekend as well.

Meeting the whole group of exchange students for the weekend in Cologne was great. It really is a fantastic group of kids. Although I've been able to meet with many of them during the year, a group of my friends live in Augsburg, Bavaria, and I hadn't seen them since the orientation. It was a blast.

But just because we had fun doesn't mean we didn't learn a lot as well. After comparing our experiences, we really did learn a lot about the diversity of Germany. Just being in one host family gives you the view of the country through that family's perspective. But talking to a friend who lives in a family with Polish heritage or someone who lives with a family who generates all of their own energy and produces all of their own automobile fuel will definitely show you different perspectives.

There's definitely a lot more to talk about as far as diversity inside a country goes, but I'd really like to get into it more in a more specific post. Just to start: how would you divide up the regions of the United States, taking into account social/cultural, political, and economic aspects of the regions?

When I talked about regions with the cultural studies class, I divided the United States up into 5 regions. I'll talk more about it later, but I'd like to hear your opinions.

This weekend I'm going to Paris with my host brother to visit my host sister who's studying abroad there. After we come back, I'll be celebrating Karneval (also called Fasching, a lot like Mardi Gras) in a nearby town with German friends. It's safe to say I'll have a lot to report.


American Culture?

No, the title doesn't refer to any personal experience of mine. I ran across this post in a bl0g the other day. The post refers more to general experiences with Germans and "insights" into German culture. What really follows seems like a series of shallow observations based on stereotypes that were formed before a short trip to Germany.

Skim through the post and then read this comment from "Manfred", a German guy who ironically speaks by far the best English of all the people weighing in there. His comment very eloquently portrays an unfortunately all-too-common view of American culture: that is, that we don't have much of it, and that it's shallow.

Both perceptions seems to be based on media and short stints in the other country. Granted, both have some basis in real aspects of German and American culture, but I feel that while the latter is much more thought-out and well-worded, both points really present an us-against-them, I'll-judge-you-from-my-couch mentality.

I'd like to hear from you guys about this, especially about what you consider American culture. Music? A melting pot? Our values? Modern art? Football? Baseball? Barbeque?

PS: I'm going to be in Köln, also known as Cologne, for the next 5 days attending the mid-year meeting with the rest of the exchange students from my group. We'll compare experiences and talk about "home", and maybe something interesting will come out of it.


The Awful German Language, or, "Deutsche Sprache, Schwere Sprache"

In a previous post, I discussed the aspects of German that make it easier to learn, especially for native English speakers. In this post, to the delight of German teachers everywhere, I will talk about the most difficult aspects of the German language. Hopefully I won't scare everyone away from learning German, because it really is worth it.

Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache
is a saying in broken German ("German language, hard language") used ironically when difficulties with German come up in a conversation.

So, here's what makes German a difficult language:

In German, each noun has a gender. A word can be masculine, feminine, or neuter. That means that instead of just using "the" for every word, you have three different possibilities if you want to say "The ______ is big." Masculine words use der, feminine words use die (pronounced dee), and neuter words use das.

2. Cases
There are four different cases in German, which indicate the role a word plays in the sentence. You can usually tell which case a word is in based on the article(a word like "the" or "a") in front of the word. That means that there are four ways to say "the" in front of a masculine word, 3 in front of a feminine word, 3 in front of a neutral word, and 3 in front of a word in the plural form.

That means, for the masculine word "man", you would say "the" four different ways, depending on the role of the word in the sentence.

Der Mann ist groß.
The man (subject) is tall.

Ich mag den Mann.
I like the man (direct object).

Ich gebe dem Mann eine Blume.
I give the man (indirect object) a flower.

Die Frau des Mannes ist nett.
The wife of the man ("of" relationship) is nice.

Changing the article (the word "the" in this case) according to the case is called declining a word. In Mark Twain's famous book "The Awful German Language", he says "I would rather decline two German beers than one German noun."

The gender and case working together result in a sometimes very difficult process of trying to decide how to say a word as simple as "the".

Sometimes I'm just a little confused.

3. Adjective endings
Depending on the aformentioned gender and case of a word, along with the article, you have to change the way you end the adjective. Examples using the German word gut, which means "good":

Der gute Mann or den guten Mann

Ein guter Mann or einen guten Mann

4. Plurals
The German words in plural form are much more irregular than the English. You can't just stick an 's' onto the end of a word to make it plural. There's somewhere around 12 different categories of plural words, plus exceptions.

Der Zug and die Züge (the train and the trains)
Die Zeitschrift and die Zeitschriften (the magazine and the magazines)
Der Spieler and die Spieler ( the player and the players)

All of that adds up to many small mistakes for those learning German, but they can get by anyway. A mistake in the adjective ending or using the wrong gender doesn't mean people don't understand what you say, it just means you make mistakes and you always talk a little funny.

Another effect of the complexity of the language is, in my opinion, a larger barrier between classes in German society. Often the people with a lower level of education will simply leave out the word "the" for whatever reason. Maybe it's because they don't feel like declining it, maybe it's because that's the way they always hear it in their group of friends. In any case, it results in very interesting sentences like "Come train station" or "I drive car to airport", which, quite frankly, sound a little bit neanderthal.

Does anyone else notice effects of the complexity of the German language on German society?

For all of you people out there learning German, what do you find is the hardest part about the language?



Over the break I've been unterwegs a lot, because I've been taking advantage of a special offer from the Deutsche Bahn. This offer allows me to travel with all forms of public transportation within the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen for just 18€ during the entire winter break, which is a wonderful two weeks long here.

So this is just a recap of my day in Münster last Friday and some (hopefully) interesting things about Münster.

Münster is a city in northern Nordrhein-Westfalen with a population of about 270,000 people, about 50,000 of whom are college students. Next to rich historical and cultural offerings, Münster is famous for being the bike capital of Germany. Special lanes for bikers and special traffic laws make for a very bike-friendly city. College students and businesspeople alike make up the bike-riding population. There are actually far more bikes than people in the city, with about 500,000 bikes at the last survey.

In the bike garage next to the train station. 3,300 bikes fit in this building, with sections marked off just like they are in a parking garage.

More bike stands in the back of the train station.

We started with a visit to the Picasso Museum, where there was an exhibit about real paintings in comparison to forged paintings and had the visitor try to discern real paintings from attempts to copy them.

In front of the St. Paul's Cathedral in Münster. Just inside the door was a stone from a cathedral in Coventry, England. The two cathedrals are part of a partner program for cathedrals unnecessarily and brutally destroyed during World War II in England and Germany.

A picture from the marketplace in front of St. Paul's Cathedral.

After eating some Chinese food (which is unfortunately just not as good here in Germany) we went for a long walk on the promenade in town. Afterwards we went to a bar in the old town and tried a local specialty, but had to leave a little bit earlier than usual to get back home for the night.

In the train station, while waiting for our train home, we played with the toy train set and met a few people doing it. We happened to run across another exchange student, who is from South Africa, and ended up having a very interesting discussion about national pride with another group of Germans, all because of the toy train set.

So, that's a very brief look at Münster. It's actually my favorite city that I've visited so far. The old town is very pretty, and there's a good combination of history, culture, and nightlife. The city is very accessible by foot or on a bike and is great to just visit.