Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
    The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.