Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stolz und Feiern in Berlin

Over the weekend, Anna and I again ventured beyond the confines of Göttingen, this time to Berlin.  We stayed with Katie, Loren and Simon's friend from Brown currently studying in Berlin, with whom I had stayed several months ago when I was in Berlin the first time.  However, although I had previously spent almost a week in Berlin and stayed for four days this time, I repeated very little (with the exception of the quick peek at the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag for Anna, who had not been to Berlin before this trip).

We left Friday afternoon almost immediately after class, and spent the three-hour train journey watching the four men sitting across from us become progressively drunker (they went through fourteen half-liter beers while we were on the train with them, and another passenger told us that they had gone through an entire case before we boarded).  Fortunately, they were not too disruptive, and did little other than laugh loudly and clink their pile of glasses around.

Once we did make it to Berlin, we took the U-Bahn over to Katie's apartment.  After a bit of catching up, we headed out to Mustafa's for dinner.  This was the first of many trips over the course of the weekend, and Mustafa's remains the best (vegetarian!) döner kebap I've had in my life.  We brought our dürüm (wraps) back to Katie's apartment to eat, and there we met up with her friend Adam.  The four of us and Katie's roommate, Thomas, then went out to Mind Pirates, a Berlin bar that from the outside looks like an abandoned building but inside is decked out with giant tapestries, found-object chandeliers, and old school science fiction book covers.  After a beer and a bit of exploring there, we moved on to Die Golden Bohnen (The Golden Beans), another bar in the area, this one with back rooms upon back rooms upon back rooms.  The real dance party was about four back rooms deep.  Once it got too sweaty in there, we moved on to the third and final location of the night: Das Hotel, a tiny basement dance club that played American dance music from decades past.  By the time we left it had long been light out, and by the time we actually got into bed it was past six in the morning.  True Berlin style.  On the way home, we encountered a rather crazy man on the U-Bahn platform.  He was wearing pink lacy women's underwear on his head and collecting abandoned beer bottles.  We thought at first this was because he wanted the Pfänder (bottle deposits), but then we saw him pour all of the leftover beer into a glass and begin drinking it.  At about this same point, he struck up a conversation with us.  It was rather one-sided, given his mumbles and our accents, but we managed to establish (somehow) that we were all three named Jessica (pronounced "Yessica") and didn't want any of his beer.  He did give us tic-tacs, however (no worries, they ended up on the platform under our seats as we all very appreciatively "mmm"ed).  We parted amicably when our train arrived, as he waved both arms at us and blew kisses.  All in all, a very Berlin experience.

Consequently, the next morning we woke up in the afternoon.  Fortunately, we were still awake with plenty of time to make it over to the 2011 Berlin Gay Pride Parade.  It was a fantastic experience, and so much fun.  As you look at the pictures, turn on (or at least imagine) a soundtrack of pumping, ear-drum-splitting, raging techno beats and cheering.  It was fierce in every sense of the word.

The pope(s).

"Sex creates beauty."

Berlin Bears.

His underwear had no back.

"We are diversity."

"Is this not my world?"

"Am I not your girl?"

Exactly what it looks like...


So that was but a small sampling of some of the parade-goers.  Once our ear-drums could no longer happily sustain the booming techno and our feet were becoming weary of being repeatedly stepped on by overzealous members of the crushing crowd, we decided to move on and get something to eat.  So we took the U-Bahn back over to Katie's neighborhood, where we settled in the comfortable outside chairs at Tibet Haus for some Momo, Weißbier, and conversation that lasted several hours.  The wonderful thing about German restaurants with outdoor seating is that they provide blankets that can either be used as seat cushions or, as we chose to take advantage of, warm shoulder wraps.  Nothing quite equals eating delicious food outside while cozied up in a big fleece blanket!

Once we had finally wrapped up our conversation and finished our beers, we headed back to Katie's for a quick nap before going out once again, this time to Thomas and Katie's friends' apartment for some drinks and snacks.  It was a small group, with several Americans (that would be us), a few Canadians, some Swedes, and a Norwegian girl.  Much of the conversation revolved around SemiDomesticated, an up-and-coming organization owned and operated by two of the group and with which several of the others collaborate.  SemiDomesticated works to promote artists and designers working in the realm of sustainable design, focusing primarily on vintage items, up-cycling, and re-appropriation of everyday items.  I went to an event of theirs the last time I was in Berlin, and it looks like they are doing some great things.  It was also very interesting for me to see a bit "behind the scenes" of such an artistically-oriented start-up.  In any case, we ended up staying over at their apartment and eating homemade hummus until well past four in the morning.

Going to bed around 5am for the second night in a row meant that we again woke up in the early afternoon.  As it was Sunday, we decided to make some sandwiches and head out to explore Mauerpark and some of the nearby flea markets.

A view over Mauerpark from the hill.

Anna and I had a bit of a photo-shoot in front of the Mauer (wall) itself.

I accidentally head-butted her.  Oops.

There we go.

On the way back to Katie's house after several hours of exploring and people-watching, we found what appeared to be a condom-dispensing machine by the side of the road.  We were mistaken.  It was a sex toy vending machine.  Oh, Berlin.

You'd think they'd have at least one condom option...

Back at Katie's, we chilled out a bit more before grabbing some (more) Mustafa's for dinner and coming back to watch a movie projected on a big, blank wall in her apartment.  We started with Ilha das Flores, a 1989 Brazilian short film.  From there we moved onto the main feature, Charly, a 1968 adaptation of the book Flowers for Algernon.  The movie was fine, but I think in the future I would stick to the book.

The next morning, we actually woke up in the morning!  Anna and I took a stroll over to the Brandenbuger Tor and the Reichstag to fulfill her touristic duties.  Then, after finishing up tourist-time with a walk along the East Side Gallery, we just explored the nearby neighborhoods.  Along the way, we came across the best ice cream I have yet tried in Germany (and some of the best ice cream I've ever had...ever).  Moral of the story?  German ice cream is fantastic when it's not trying to be gelato.  I tried the rhubard and cinnamon tea flavors.  Delicious!  It's also worth noting that Germans appear to love rhubarb-flavored things.  It's everywhere! 

Eventually, it came time for our aimless wandering to end and we made our way back to Katie's apartment to collect our bags and grab one last dürüm from Mustafa's before taking the Bahn over to the Hauptbahnhof to catch our train back to Göttingen.

And you know what?  Berlin was amazing and I would take any chance I get to return, but it was surprisingly nice to come back and have Göttingen really feel like home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Das Leben in Göttingen

Going away to Leipzig for the weekend was fun, but being back in Göttingen has lately been, to my surprise, even better.  A few days after our return from Leipzig, Anna and I met up with our Italian friends we had met a few weeks prior in the park.  We were slightly (but pleasantly) shocked to find that they were not only happy to see us again, but had actually come up with a daily plan for things to do with us for what might be the remainder of our time in Göttingen.  So that is how, the night after we had met up with them for the second time, we found ourselves (and Joe) going out with them and a bunch of their Erasmus friends to a (quite literally) underground bar in one of the university buildings that is only open on Tuesdays and requires a secret code to get into.  I might add that it's name is "Bar-racuda."  Har har.  Not too shabby for only our second week here though!  Beer, hilarity, and a little craziness ensued.  We were out until 4am and for some reason the whole Erasmus group was convinced that Joe's name was actually Josh.  That night I also met several more Italian speakers and spent a good part of the night speaking with them in Italian.  Little did I know when I got on the train in Bologna that I would be speaking almost as much Italian in Germany as I would be speaking German!

The next night the three of us, with the addition of Pablo, again went out with Emanuele, Giulio, and the rest of the Erasmus crew to a student concert in one of the Mensa (cafeteria buildings).  It was, to say that least, not quite what we expected, and it resembled a high school battle of the bands more than anything else.  We arrived two hours late, so we were only in time to hear a French screaming rock group followed by a British classical wind quintet before the half hour of tearful thank yous and the horrendous encore (a seemingly endless rendition of Stand By Me cut with random bits of other songs, most notably the Imperial March from Star Wars).  The best moment of the night was when the wind quintet performed an instrumental version of Bohemian Rhapsody and invited the audience to sing along.  This didn't work out quite the way they intended, as no one in the audience but the few Americans had any kind of grasp of the lyrics.  The sing-along was, as a result, more the most part rather weak.  The notable exception was when Joe quite loudly hit the long high note.  The whole audience broke into hooting applause.

The more successful part of the evening was after the concert finally ended and the four of us and our newly adopted friend group went out into the park and chatted over cheap beers until 3 o'clock in the morning.

But das Leben in Göttingen (life in Göttingen) is a lot more than just going out.  I also take naps, cook dinner in our frustratingly inefficient and under-equipped kitchen, and, oh, go to class for five hours every morning.  Class is going well though.  I like the people in my section and we're currently in the midst of watching a gripping "Telenovela für Deutschlerner" (soap opera for students of German), Jojo sucht das Glück.  The two-minute webisodes are full of drama and German grammar.  All in all, not a bad deal.

Typisch Goethe Institut

The phrase "typisch Goethe Institut" ("typical Goethe Institute") has come to mean, among some of the Wash U students here, any situation at or involving the Goethe Institut that is slightly awkward, slightly confusing, and generally involving some level of miscommunication (from slight misunderstanding to complete inability to carry on a conversation).  This past weekend the Institut sponsored a trip to Leipzig, an East German city between south of Berlin and north of Dresden.  For only 60 euro (including transportation, housing, breakfast, and museum tickets), it seemed like a great idea.  And it was.  It was just also typisch Goethe Institut.

We took the train to Leipzig early Saturday morning.  When we arrived around noon, people were handing out free apples in boxes outside the train station, and our group of twenty-six assorted foreigners  was surrounded by an equally sized group in full costume heading to what appeared to be an animé convention.  We seemed off to a good start.

Anna, Joel, and I with our boxed apples.

We never did figure out what they were for.

We all took the tram over to our hostel to check in and drop off our bags.  The hostel was in quite possibly the ugliest part of Leipzig, and there was some mysterious difficulty with the check-in process that caused it to take approximately twenty minutes, while the 26 of us waited shoulder-to-shoulder in the small lobby.  Eventually, however, we got our rooms, made our beds (the pillows were actually just smaller versions of the blankets, which was amusing), and headed back into the Innenstadt (city center).

Across the street from our hostel.  Schön!

Right down the block.

We spent the morning wandering rather aimlessly around the city as an unwieldily large group.  It was, however, still quite enjoyable.  The city center of Leipzig is (actually) quite beautiful, as it for the most part escaped the WWII bombs that destroyed many other historic cities in East Germany (such as Berlin and Dresden).

Anna, Bart, and I in the Innenstadt.

Fire Juggler

Bart, Anna, and I re-enacting a scene from Faust.

Ceiling of the church where Bach is buried.

The man himself.

The Goethe Institut group with Goethe.

Jewish memorial in Leipzig.
"On November 9, 1938, the great Jewish synagogue of Leipzig
was destroyed by the arson of the fascist hordes.  Never forget it."

After the big group split up later in the day, some of us ran into a series of German something-along-the-lines-of-bachelor-parties.  Apparently it's a tradition in Germany to dress the bride and groom up and send them off separately with groups of their friends to embarrass themselves and try to sell cheap beer (or something along those lines) to raise money for the reception party.  They reminded me a lot of Italian graduation celebrations, actually.

Approach of the bachelor party.

We contributed a euro to the cause and got a great photo withe the groom (etc).

After a bit more walking around, we manged to find a restaurant with enough available seating to handle our (smaller but still) large group.  There was nothing vegetarian on the menu, but after a brief conversation auf Deutsch, Anna and I managed to convince our perplexed waiter to give us one of the pasta dishes without chicken.  I never miss Italy more than I do during meal times.  Better than the food, however, were the drinks.  I tried Gose, a sour beer that is a specialty of Leipzig.  The first one I tried was plain, but the Germans have a passion for mixing drinks (a là young children at a McDonald's soda fountain), so over the course of the rest of the trip I tried Gose mit Kirsche (Gose with cherry syrup added) and Gose mit Waldmeister.  I am still not entirely sure what Waldmeister is, and when I asked our waitress she was also at a complete loss for explanatory words.  The most I can tell you is that it is green and tastes good in Gose.

Don't worry, one was Anna's.

That night several of us young ones (the majority of the people from the Goethe Institut on the trip had at least a decade on me) went out to a bar for a bit.  We decided to head back to the hostel around 1am, only to find that the trams were no longer running.  Crisis averted, however, when we were able to find a taxi large enough to accommodate six people.

The next day, the six of us who had gone out together the night before (Anna, Bart, Joel, and I from Wash U, Claudia from Spain, and Pablo from Mexico) decided to split of from the big group and do some exploring on our own.  First we went to the Stasi (Ministerum für Staatssicherheit/Ministry of State Security a.k.a. the post-war East German thought police) Museum located in der Runden Ecke (the Round Corner), which was where the former Stasi headquarters in Leipzig were located.  The material was fascinating, but the museum was not very well curated, which made the visit less enjoyable and educational than it could have been.  Aside from the fact that the exhibits looked more like a middle school class project than a historical museum covering one of the most repressive secret police agencies in the world and the city's peaceful resistance movement in 1989 that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin wall (the headings were all written with Sharpie on torn corrugated cardboard), a lot of the primary source material on display was clearly not being well-cared for (archival techniques do not include tacking original documents to cork-boards without anything between them and the public).  The lay-out was also confusing, with no clear flow from one exhibit to the next.  Furthermore, our particular group of assorted foreigners struggled with the fact that most of the material in the museum was written, and all of it was written only in German.  There was a paper guide in English that summarized the information from each exhibit, but it cost fifty cents and a lot of detail was lost.  We read as much of the German as we could, but by the end of the hour or so we spent there all of us were mentally burned-out from the effort and still had the lingering feeling that we had missed a lot.  Anyhow, I would recommend a trip to this museum only if one has the ability to read German relatively well.  I would, however, that everyone take a moment to at least read the Wikipedia article about the Stasi.  The amount of power they had and the way in which it was used is absolutely chilling.

After the museum, the six of us found a restaurant by the main square and lingered over lunch for almost two hours, chatting and drinking Gose.  When we finally moved on, we took the tram a little way out of the city to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Memorial to the Battle of the Nations), which commemorates Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig in 1813.  It reminded me of nothing more strongly than a 90s computer game interpretation of a Mayan temple.

Where in the world is Carmen San Diego? (Anna, Pablo, and I)

The whole group: me, Bart, Claudia, Pablo, Anna, and Joel

We met up with the rest of the Goethe Institut group at the train station, and began the long journey back to Göttingen.  It was a long journey in part because we were traveling from Eastern Germany to Central Germany, in part because we were all exhausted, and in part because there was a train strike that day and we ended up being stranded in Eichenberg for over an hour.  There is nothing in Eichenberg.  Quite literally nothing.  There are the train platforms, there is a massive building that looks like it should contain a train station but for some reason does not, there is a bridge, and that is all.  We were all cold and tired and, by this point, miserable, so we entertained ourselves by coming up with a rather detailed horror movie plot starring us and involving three-legged "tripod" ninjas and being stranded in Eichenberg.  By the time the train finally arrived, we had managed to sort out not only the general outline of the story, but also how and when each our characters would die.  Uplifting, no?

The entirety of Eichenberg.

Eichenberg as seen from above.

The horror movie cast: Reed, Pablo, Anna, Claudia, Joel, and I.

Eventually we all made it back to Göttingen (miraculously all still in one piece) and walked back home to the Goethe Institut.  It was then that I discovered that my roommate had, while I was away, removed her mattress, bedding, and a suitcase full of clothes from our room.  I am still not exactly sure what her motivation is, but since I returned from Leipzig almost a week ago, she has brought the mattress back and slept in our room only one night.  Which is fine with me, because I now, for the most part, have a single room.  Not too bad a deal, especially considering that we were barely on speaking terms to begin with.

Anyway, now that I have adjusted to the pace of life in Germany, in Göttingen, and at the Goethe Institut, I am starting to feel very much at home here and am very much looking forward to the upcoming weeks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Überraschungen und Kulturschock

Surprises and culture shock.  These have been the themes of meine erste zwei Wochen in Deutschland (my first two weeks in Germany). 

To begin at the beginning (although I'm starting to realize that there is no such thing as a true beginning or end; things just flow into one another), I should explain a little bit more about the Goethe Institut.  There are twelve Wash U students students studying here, but we are still very much in the minority.  People come from all over the world to study German intensively at the Goethe Institut.  For example, the class in which I began, B22, had fourteen students and eight different nationalities represented (US, Russia, Holland, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, France, and Costa Rica).  The class to which I was, rather mysteriously, moved after two days, the more advanced B23, has twelve students of nine different nationalities (US, Sweden, Guatemala, Argentina, Libya, Syria, Cyprus, Japan, and Taiwan).  Studying German in such an international environment is a very unique experience, and very much forces you not to rely on English under any circumstances (English can be a bad-habit short-cut to explaining a difficult concept or bypassing a forgotten vocabulary word, and goes relatively unnoticed in a classroom full of native English speakers).  However, in the beginning this international group with very little in common culturally did little to assuage my sense of culture shock and isolation.

The turning point came the first night I went out in Göttingen.  A few of the Americans left the Institut to check out a few bars in the area, with no especial success.  However, on the way back we ran into a group of Erasmus (European exchange) students in a park, and began talking to them.  As it happened, two of them were from Italy (Sicilia and outside of Roma, respectively), on a semester exchange from l'Università di Perugia.  I spent quite a bit of time speaking with Giulio and Emanuale in Italian, which assuaged a sort of homesickness I didn't even know I had.  It was then that I truly realized how attached to Italy I had become, because, as my parents can attest to, I had never previously experienced any sort of prolonged homesickness.  At the end of the evening, Giulio asked if I would be willing to meet up regularly and practice my Italian and his English together.  I hope it works out, because that would be a perfect way to keep up my Italian while intensively studying German in Germany. 

After meeting the Italians and realizing that my Italian language abilities had not been rendered entirely useless and/or obsolete when I left Italy, I was ready for my next German adventure: der Supermarkt (the grocery store).  Here's a small taste of what we faced:

Yes, that is velveteen wrapping the Wild Africa Cream.

That would be the jarred hot dog section.  A whole three shelves.

Joe was excited about the Boogie Party.

So was Spencer.

Other culinary wonders included the complete-cheeseburger-in-a-box, the corndog-in-a-wrapper-like-a-slim-jim, and an entire five-shelf section containing only ketchup.  Every time I go grocery shopping, I discover new wonders.  Boogie Party, in case you were wondering, is basically fizzy apple juice.  Robby Bubble is another such fizzy juice drink, and comes in three flavours: grape, cherry, and Jungle Party.  What is Jungle Party, you might ask?  I would love if I could answer that.  Unfortunately, Robby Bubble Jungle Party remains, for now at least, a mystery.  Fashion in Germany is another source of mystery for me, especially having come straight from Italy (albeit the supposedly "least fashionable city in Italy").  Here's one of our favourites:

We had a game we would sometimes play in Bologna, in which we would count the number of American flags we saw in a day in Bologna.  It was really quite shocking.  I've seen more American flags this past semester in Europe than I had seen in at least a year before that.  Gotta love those stars and stripes, I guess. 

Anyway, having successfully navigated a German grocery store (an even more impressive feat, considering my vegetarian status and the current E. coli scare and the subsequent lack of fresh vegetables), I decided that I might as well go all out and try to have a real German friend (especially considering how awkward most of the cross-cultural, linguistically-stunted conversations at the Goethe Institut new Wash U friend Anna and I went out one night with a Polish guy and a man from Moldova, neither of whom had a firm grasp of German or English.  We spent a lot of time staring across the table at each other).  So, I called Immo and asked if Anna and I could come visit him in Kassel that weekend.  Fortunately, Immo was still excited about the idea of meeting up again, so we agreed that we would come the Monday afternoon of our long weekend (long in honour of Pfingsten, a.k.a. Pentecost).

That Monday, Anna and I made it to the train station on time and managed to board our train without too much difficulty or stress (this was rather remarkable, considering both of our incredibly poor senses of direction and our utter lack of map).  Unfortunately, we didn't realize that we were on the wrong half of our train, and consequently ended up in Eschwege, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, rather than Kassel.  Oops.

After sitting in the abandoned train car (for we had reached the end of the line) for approximately twenty minutes, we decided to ask someone where we were. 

"Entschuldigung, wo sind wir?"  "Eschwege."  "Oh, ok, danke schön!"

Fortunately, someone overheard that little encounter, watched us sit right back down, and took pity on the poor, confused foreigners.  This man led us out of the train, gave us a train schedule, led us over to talk to the conductor about the fastest way to get to Kassel, and proceeded to sit with us for the entirety of the ride and lecture us about how to use the Deutsche Bahn (German train system).  So, it only ended up taking three hours for us to make what should have been an hour-long journey.  Immo bore with us, however, and met us at the train station with his dog, Lana.  He also laughed at us quite a bit.  I suppose what we did would seem like a very amateur mistake to someone used to the Bahn. 

In Kassel, we explored a park with a view overlooking the city with Immo as our tour guide, and happened to be just in time to see the weekly running of the water down the stone steps of the hill.  Then we enjoyed some crepes, a few beers, and music on one of the main streets in Kassel, which was celebrating that day with a Stadtfest (city festival).  One of my favourite moments was when Anna and I were trying to figure out how to say hedgehog in German (we had seen a hedgehog a few days earlier in Göttingen, and were trying to tell Immo about the experience).  Once he realized we were talking about der Igel, Immo asked us what it was called in English.  When we told him, he looked slightly confused.  Then he made a fin motion over his head.  "Shark?"  We nodded.  Sharks have fins.  Then he made a tipping motion by his forehead.  "Hat?"  We nodded.  Hats go on heads.  Then, "Hat-shark?"  No, not a hat-shark.  A hedgehog.  As in bush-pig. 

I always feel better about all of my linguistic failures when I realize that I'm not alone.

Anyway, after several hours of beer and chatting, we went our separate ways, Immo to a barbecue and Anna and I back to Göttingen.  However, before we went, Immo invited Anna and I to his birthday camping trip the first weekend in July, and he said that if he can he might come visit us in Göttingen.  This also made me feel like I am starting to find a place in Germany, and reassured me that it is possible to make friends almost anywhere.

The only other notable instances over the past week (since our schedule at the Goethe Institut is the same every day) have been the surprise fireworks and the crazy man outside our door.  As for the fireworks, we still have no explanation.  Joe, Anna, and I were sitting in Anna's room when we started hearing popping sounds outside the window.  Sure enough, there were fireworks, so we ran up onto the tower balcony to see them.  We still have no idea why they were set off.  As for the crazy man outside our door, it is exactly as it sounds.  Anna, Joe, and I were coming back from town when we encountered a stranger sitting on the steps of the Goethe Institut.  He told us, among other things, in a strange mix of German and English, that he was a Paraguayan kick-boxer ("the fastest in the world.  All the other ones want to be fast like me") who had written a story called Schwip-Schwap (which is, by the way, the name of a German soda) that J.K. Rowling stole to write Harry Potter.  Apparently she is more famous now ("richer than the queen!"), but he writes with more soul.  He also recited a little poem for us, that transitioned seamlessly back into his rather dubious life story:

"If you have the time,
I have a little rhyme.
I am cheese,
I am onion.
I am life,
I am death.
I am funny,
I am hopeless..."

At which point he forgot his recitation entirely and told us his age instead ("I am 44 years old...").

We stayed outside int he rain and listened to him for a long while (mostly because he was between us and the door and we didn't want to let him inside), but eventually one of the men who works at the Goethe Institut came outside and asked him who he was here to see and the three of us ran around and let ourselves in through the back door.  Normally, however, life in Göttingen tends a bit more toward the mundane (albeit a very unusual sort of mundanity).

The routine will be broken this weekend, however, as Anna and Bart and I are off to Leipzig with a group from the Institut.  Viel Spaß (a lot of fun)...we hope!

Die Abenteuer in Deutschland beginnen!

...und so beginnt das deutsche Abenteuer (and so begins the German adventure)!

I am writing now from my room in the Goethe Institut in Göttingen, a small town in central Germany (Niedersachsen/ Lower Saxony, to be exact).  How did I get here?  By train!  My last post ended with Rob and I sitting in the Bologna train station waiting for our hour-delayed trains to arrive to go our separate ways.  Eventually, our trains did arrive, and after a brief goodbye I struck off on my own.  I found my seat on the train without difficulty (and even managed to avoid upsetting too many people in the small corridor with my large quantity of luggage on the way).  Almost immediately after I sat down, the German man seated across from me began voicing his complaints (auf Englisch).

"I cannot believe these Italian trains.  Why must we have such a long delay?  When we left Rome we were only five minutes late, which in most parts of the world is considered on time."

And so on.  I got the sense that five minutes late was not considered on time in his personal part of the world.  However, after this small rant he became quite friendly, and moved into a nearby empty seat to allow me some more leg-room for the upcoming seven and a half hour overnight journey.  I actually managed to sleep surprisingly well, considering I was crammed into the corner of a six-seat train compartment.  It turned out to be fortunate that I had the window seat, however, because the sunrise over the mountains in southern Germany was breathtakingly beautiful.  The entire train journey was worth it for that sleepy moment.  Furthermore, we actually made it to München (Munich) three minutes early, much to the delight of my German compartment-mate.  I was also pleased, because it meant I was able to walk straight onto the next train to Göttingen.

After a bit of confusion in which I tried (unsuccessfully) to find what looked like second class before realizing rather sheepishly that I was, in fact, already in second class (my confusion stemmed from the fact that this German second class car was much nicer than many Italian first class cars), I settled into another window seat, curious what I would find at the end of this five-hour train ride. 

Turns out I didn't have to wait that long.

A few minutes after I had boarded the train, a guy about my age with a giant backpack (even bigger than mine, which is saying something) got on with his dog and settled into the seats across the aisle from where I was sitting.  An hour or so into the train ride he asked me where I was going (presumably because my broken, accented response to a train employee earlier had indicated I was far from German, and there is very little to attract foreigners to central Germany.  The most map-worthy city is Kassel.  Have you heard of it?  Neither had I).  This began a conversation that alternated between German and English and lasted for the rest of the trip (read: we made slow small-talk in German until it became painfully obvious that 1. I am not very interesting in German yet and 2. his English was almost as good as mine).  His name was Immo and he was on his way back from a two-month trip during which he had walked from Greece to Serbia with his dog, Lana.  Before he got off in Kassel, where he had been studying at the university, he gave me his phone number and told me to come visit sometime.

This was a nice confidence booster that held me together for the last twenty minutes of the train ride and through the taxi ride to the Goethe Institut, which is slightly outside of town.  Unfortunately, emotion and exhaustion collided during my oral placement test, which took place mere minutes after my arrival at the Institut (even before I was given my room keys).  Since for the majority of the placement test I was focusing more on trying not to speak Italian or burst into tears, I had little hope of being placed into a more advanced section.  Imagine my surprise then, when the results were posted and I was listed in the B22 section (out of a possible A1, A2, B11, B12, B21, B22, B23, C1, and C2).  Not bad, considering the placement test scenario and the fact that I hadn't spoken German (other than that night in Belgium) for approximately six months.

That night was spent battling culture shock and getting to know the other Wash U students in Göttingen.  There are twelve of us here, but I hadn't known anyone well before arriving.  Moving from Italy to Germany was quite a shock on many levels, from the language to the food to the pace of life to the size of the town.  I initially felt quite isolated, having no one to commiserate with about my culture shock, being surrounded by a group who already knew each other reasonably well, and having no internet to communicate with old friends and family (not having a debit card a.k.a. access to money didn't help either).  My culture-shock induced depressive mood was further compounded by the cold and heavy rain that was a constant throughout my first days at the Institut, and the fact that I didn't speak with my roommate for the entire first week.  I still don't think we're ever destined to be great friends (read: friends at all), but at least I know her name now.

Here are some photos of Göttingen to provide a mental picture of where I am now living:

Das Goethe Institut: my room is the triple window.

Chandelier in the Great Hall.

Downtown Göttingen.

Die Kirche.

Die Gänseliesel (goose girl).

Göttingen is far from Berlin.

Der blaue Turm (the blue tower).

The view from my window.  Not bad, eh?

The more time I spend in Göttingen, the more I am beginning to feel at home here and at the Goethe Institut.