Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ein Sommernachtstraum

Yesterday evening I went to a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Thalia Theater in downtown Hamburg ( Unfortunately there are no good picture of the set online, but the basic design was a giant revolve with two rooms (one visible at a time) that would appear as an "H" from above. The walls were covered in a large patterned elegant wallpaper that formed a simple backdrop for the wacky and mostly contemporary costumes. A back drop with blue sky and clouds was the only other notable set element, however many props such as potted flowers, toilet paper, sheets of plastic, and sleeping bags.

As far as the production, it was a very entertaining combination of contemporary references to pop culture, often confusing mixing of languages and accents, and slapstick humor. One of the students in the group I assembled was convinced by the pointy ears and mannerisms that several of the characters were based on those from Lord of the Rings -- given the casual mixing of elements I would not be surprised, but I was not entirely convinced. In large sections the lines of Oberon and Titania were a sloppy combination of English (with an irish accent) and German. And one of the hopeless male romantics always spoke with a French accent and apparently made make mistakes in speach. Otherwise, the most interesting aspect of the show was the progressing reflection of the increasing chaos in the story through the physical states and appearances of the set and characters; the walls of the set fell, swivelled inward, and in places were burst through (being only made up of wallpaper).

For some visual interest... completely unrelated... I am continually surprised and dismayed that a Burger King took over this evidently very old, elegant, Temple-like structure with such a beautiful fountain/scupture before it. An interest contrast in ideas and cultural sensibility certainly, but hard to comprehend.

...And here is (or was) a poster depicting a member of the Christian Democratic Union, Gemany's main right wing conservative party and that of their current chancellor Angela Merkel -- a clear sign of the local Hamburg liberal sentiment.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Harburg, Pants, Kiez, and Bikes

This past Thursday there was another party in the social room at my dorm, this time commemorating if not somehow celebrating the start of school for students at the local Bergedorf college. This was a great party because there were so many new faces from outside the dorm -- I met a number of cool people and got to know some earlier acquantances better.

Despite returning to my room at 4:30, I forced myself up around 10:30 to go look for some work clothes at a Hamburg builder supply store. Between my bike and two trains, it took my about an hour to get to the place, which was in the suburb of Harburg. The guy helping me, happened to be the same one who I'd chatted with at their Bergedorf (my city) location 2 weeks ago... as an American on an unusual quest I seemed to peak his curiosity, leading him to indulged my interest in German work clothes, and ultimately to special order a pare in my size (thinner and taller, aparently, than most German laborers).(Indicidentally, since I'm admitting to the rest of this somewhat nerdy purchase... he is selling them to me for the wholesale price).

Harburg is also the suburb where I spent three weeks on an exchange with a high school group summer of 2002, so it holds sentimental value for me. Biking through this city after ordering the pants, I was amazed how many even minor details I remembered about my time there... mostly places where I had spent a lot of time with my exhange partner and his friends. I made my way through the neihborhoods and eventually to a large lake in a state park I did not know was there. Morbid as it sounds, the other places I went biking was a large cemetary at which we had hung out in 2002. It is incredibly well kept up and each plot is lush with differnt plants and trees that create long shades hallways. there were also several less ornate sections with row after row of graves from the early 1940s. This was one of the wider car paths:
Saturday I went to the Hamburger Kunsthalle with anothe teaching assistent from the US. They had a broad mix of work from the middle ages to contemporary pieces, and a special show on art from China which was particularly interesting. That evening I met up with several other American for a couple beers at their apartment -- from there we went to the area known as St. Pauli, the Reeperbahn, or the Kiez, known otherwise as a redlight district. This area is completely full of people every weekend, so it is always a great place to people watch and dance free at several clubs.

At some point on Saturday I got an e-mail from one of the older teachers with whom I had connected in the previous weeks -- one of the more liberal, relaxed types whom all the students like. He invited me to go for a ride on his motorcycle along the Elbe -- once again, it was a bit rough getting up early, but it was a fun trip, particularly in the amazing weather we had.

..and Monday it was back to school and try to piece together a schedule with the English teachers; until then I'm still a little scattered.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Back on the Banks of the Elbe

The day after I got back from orientation I went to a theater festival in the city called, simply Hamburg Theaternacht (Theater Night). It was a showcase of ongoing productions in all the major theaters in the city (of which there are Many). For 12 Euros you get access to 30min versions or segments of these ongoing shows and transportation between the theaters. Unfortunately, because it is only one evening, and the packed busses limits the amount of travel, it is only realistic to see a max of 3 or 4 of these segments. Started at 7:30 and heading home at about 12:30am I saw three of them... with a little help from some nice people on the street.

"Mein Ball: Ein deutscher Traum" was a bazaar but immensely enjoyable combination of Hitler and his people, Soccer, and American Rock 'n' Roll; interspersed with surreal, slapstick bits on military drills and short vignettes on soccer were a series of rock numbers, featuring all cast onstage singing and moving to such songs as Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations". Their american accents in these numbers were so good that it was pretty impressive.

The second show was at veriety theater featuring a slack-rope performer, an illusionist utilizing a 2foot metal ring (incredible control and seemingly inhumanly smooth movements), and what can only be described as a breakdancer who also did some clown and mine bits. Each one left the audience, and myself, thoroughly wowed.

The last show, which I got help finding from a couple on the street, was at the Hamburg Staatsoper (opera), and was an excerpt from the Marriage of Figaro... inerupted by an audience sing-along section led by a "fool".

* * *

Wednesday evening I joined a group of people from the dorm on the banks of the Elbe for some grilling. We were on the industrial far side of the river from the downtown area on a mostly empty beach. Getting there was a bit of a task, considering it was quite a ways away: first we stopped for meat and beer... ...then made our way to the subway station where we almost received 3 tickets for trying to travel with bikes on the train during rush hour. And finally, after 25min on the train, through the long, cold tunnel under the river:

If you can't quite see it, that is an entire case of beer on the back of Patrick's bike... which ALMOST all it all the way. In the last 1/5th of the journey he got help from a pedestrian to carry the bike down the stairs and several of the bottles jumped out and spewed over the steps.

That evening, the only thing visible of the skyline were a number of the blue neon "goals" that had been erected across the city as a sign of solidarity during the World Cup earlier in the summer. Some of the German flags that were also prevalent during soccer season still remain in household windows... another show of nationalism that hasn't been seen in Germany on quite this scale since the before the war. A positive turning point.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Koln (Altenberg) Orientation

I just got back this evening from the orientation for all Fulbright students. It was held at a monestary outside of Köln, where we spent four days of focussed classes on teaching various grade and high school levels... and more importanly, getting to know the other students in the same position. After spending four days not being able to express myself in a nuanced way nor recognize my speaking voice, it was refreshing to meet with English speakers (all of whom share a significant interest in German). (There were 5 of us from Univ. Puget Sound--pictured on the steps beside the Köln cathedral are Matt Beckman, Amanda Corbyn, and Sarah Carnahan)

It was actually very intersting how relatively well everyone at the orientation got along; good combination of similar interests, drive, and mix of excitement and apprehension at a major transition. We were in classes and meetings all day, eating together in a big high school style lunch setting. The closest town was effectively out of reach, but there was a cute little bed and breakfast that operated a quant restaurant overlooking a pasture of grazing Holsteins (black & white). More than one of the evenings, a small group of people with whom I quickly bonded went there for part of the evening for some Furstenberg Weizen, a delicious beer very much like Hoegaarden. [One of the nights there was also a Corvette car club gathering... I know, if you have Porsches, BMWs, and Mercedes at your fingertips, why pay extra to import a Corvette.] To keep people from getting restless back in the monestary, the organizers provided us with beer every night for about a $1.50 a bottle (Kölsch and Bitburger, and cheap wines)... which we drank by the case.

Here is a sign in their parking lot warning that the hand of death will descend and steal your things if you leave them in the car. Also interesting was a small stone statue incribed with a passage from the Bible: Begreift Ihr Was Ich An Euch Getan Habe -- which loosely translated, means: "Grasp y'all what I at you, done have".
This is a picture of the cathedral that was attatched to the monestary in which we stayed (one side of which joined the ancient U-shaped dormatory to enclose a courtyard where we spent a majority of our free time.)

This picture I took on a short walk I went on with one of the other students -- beyond the far trees is the pasture which bordered the outdoor tables at the hotel.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Nothing Familiar

Part of what is difficult about this transition is clearly the lack of family and familiar people (perhaps that's most difficult). However, the heightened state of arousal from struggling with another language and constantly figuring things out and providing my full attention alleviates this somewhat by simply dominating my consciousness... and that's why the evenings thus far have been a bit depressing -- because the stimulation has subsided along with the personal contact, leaving me with only my thoughts and memories of people in the U.S.

I always expected it would be tough to leave friends and have to start anew alone, but what never occurred to me was how different daily life would feel. The very sensation of being. Because there are no preexisting schemas for the way things look, traffic patterns, or expectations as one meets people on the street, they all remain in a seperate category governed mostly by the heightened arousal. The sensation is difficult to describe, as is that while riding this inclined escalator at the supermarket:

[similarly, the shopping carts that accompany this device have grooves in the wheels and slightly raised feet which catch in the corresponding grooves of the escalator, preventing it from moving in transit. Incidentally, all the wheels on these carts are free moving (unlike ours, where the back two do not spin), making manuvering a full body workout with completely differnt motions.]

Endlich in Hamburg (From 8.29.2006)

Despite short delays due to bad weather in Chicago, I made it to Hamburg via Frankfurt this morning. The flights were not bad, and although I thought I could hold up for the rest of the day, after running around with my mentor for several hours looking at the school and starting to familiarize myself with Bergedorf, I needed to crash for a few hours.

The dorm I'm staying in is a cast concrete bunker from about the 1970s, which should provide some good sound privacy... and it has a wall of windows on one side, and a door which opens out to a small patio (connected to the other student's patios). I met a few of my cell-makes as well today -- they seemed very nice, but were not as immediately friendly and accomodating as one might expect in the US; however I'm confident they will be good people with which to hang out. Incidentally, most are doing apprenticeships in the area.

After the initial excitement of being in a new place, it quickly struck me how really alone I am... I guess that would be the expected culture shock... everything being SO new and not yet having anyone to sit down with, or with whom I can share my concerns. I expect part of this weighty feeling will go away as the jetlag does... but certainly starting a routine should help make things more familiar -- I hate transitions -- this point where I have to figure out where everything is, at which places I will shop, how to use the transportation, etc... is the worst. I'll ad some photos as soon as the airline drops off my other bag, holding a majority of my stuff...including my power adaptor for this slowing draining computer.

On the Way Out (from 8.15.2006)

It was only in the last several days that is struck me how soon I will be in Germany... and how drastically my life will change.

Being a compulsive worrier with cyclical and delicate self-confidence I once again was creative and persistent in finding things over which to stress. Again I have bundled all hypothetical problems that I imagine for myself (realistic or otherwise) into one growing ball upon which I sit and bite my nails without efficiently seeking solutions to any one -- ("for, after all, there are so many, how could I possibly easy ANYTHING... so why even try").

Anyway, my emotions are mixed going into this journey... however I am confident that everything will work out for the best in the end, it is just a matter of how long until I am comfortable (and how well I deal with my new challenges).

Deciding uncharaceristically-spur-of-the-moment to fly to Seattle for 5 days, less than 2 weeks before I depart is certainly symptomatic of my travel/change anxiety... (and perhaps it's not the best timing) but I know I'll have a good time seeing friends (+ lover), and more pertinent, will be able to preoccupy my worries away.

Hold your thumbs for me.