Saturday, February 17, 2007

Köln Karnival

This weekend I went to Cologne for Karnival, the annual letting-loose celebration in which thousands of people dress up in costume, get drunk, and march through the streets (beginning on the first day of Lent, a religious connection apparently of little remaining significance, and culminating on "Rosenmontag" in mid Feb.). Remarkable about this celebration is how many people participate, including many of the older generation, whom one would not expect to dress as clowns and push a baby carriage full of beer and a boom box through the streets.

I spend much of my time with the 14 year old sister of my host (a girl who I met as a fellow Waldorf graduate through Facebook). The eighth-grader reminded me of the time in school when socializing is everything, so much so that all activities in school or discussions beyond it all come back to that one issue or feed the development and discovery of one's identity. I was initially surprised to meet such a progressive young person, only to see that her zest for progressive issues in politics was more of a naive ploy for attention and the undigested reflection of a rhetoric fed her by her parents (figures she attributed to these very beliefs). One can hardly lay blame for trying to find one's self and one's friends by latching onto issues popular in the lovable liberal media and proclaiming them one's own... but at what point do we separate ourselves from this petty vie for attention and truly act on convictions which are based on internalized morals?

What disturbed me about our conversation had to do with my own vain and uninformed arguments which I realized only stood above hers in there college-educated eloquence and not with a particular refinement, conviction, or resolve. I can't stand talking in circles around social issues when it becomes--as it often does--a kind of masturbatory oneupmanship in "goodness" that resembles a kind of secular replacement for Christian good deeds. Talk is cheap... I would rather cut my political conversations short until I stand firmly behind a issue for which I am also making tangible contributions than speak hypocritically of what I believe in--beliefs need be firmly backed with actions (a belief I have in many respects yet to support in my own life). In short, it was odd being confronted in a social context with someone of this age group. It reminded me of my youngest brother, from whom I have drifted somewhat in recent years. It made me realize again that he (and the the girl from Detroit, in Cologne) is not at the same stage of mental development and does not have the experience to think of the world the way I and older people can. [no doubt I will also look back at myself at 22 with the same sage condescension and wonder how I could have been so vain about other things].

Friday, February 09, 2007

Hold Steady

Last night I went to my first rock concert in Hamburg. The Hold Steady was at The Molotow club in the St. Pauli district. They are a group out of Brooklyn, but composed of two remnants of the Minneapolis band Lifter Puller.

Given the description of the band as sort of a mix of classic rock with a grunge flavor, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it -- however, when the band finally climbed on stage before the tiny but packed club and we made our way forward to just below the monitors I was really glad I had come.

The first song started with a quiet, almost spoken descriptive review of the social climates in the decades from the 1920s to the present, culminating at the end of the first stanza with the super loud entrance of the backup and bass guitarists, drummer, and keyboard... the energy was crazy, perpetuated by the band's encouragement of audience singing and continued to increase throughout the concert especially as they played several songs about Minneapolis.

At the end of the set the audience applause dragged the band back on stage for three more songs, the energy in the last of which building ever more before the band started pulling members of the audience up on stage (starting with me and then my two American friends).

Talking with the lead singer afterward, I found out he went to a rival college prep high school of mine called Breck, and spent part of his childhood in a house a matter of blocks from mine.

I'm still not sure if I'd listen to their music at home, but the combined energy of the musical style, their great performance presence and audience interaction, and the somewhat bazaar connection to my home town (in Hamburg) made for an awesome concert.

Monday, February 05, 2007

It does me Wrong...

Es tut mir Leid = It does me Wrong
"Ess toot-meer lite"
When Germans wish to express apology they will often use "sorry", uttered with the R's rolled just enough to get caught in the back of the throat -- however someone of the older generation, or one of the many Germans who, as I would, refuse to take part in the anglicization of their language, will say that the given situation or action "does them wrong" to express apology or sympathy. Amusing when one considers the alternative translations for "Leid": suffering, sorrow, pain, misfortune, harm.

Incidentally, none of these apply to my feelings at having neglected the blog... just a bit of guilt.

Considering the long gap since my last entry, let a brief summary suffice for the in between events:

December 15-18:
Visit to London / stayed with Areta from UPS / walked lots / saw 2 plays / minded the gap
December 24:
Christmas Eve dance party at the LoLa club in Bergedorf (plenty of beer / 4am to bed)
December 25:
Bernd Hoffmann's home w/wife, 2 daughters, 2 step sons, 2 South Africans, 2 dogs, mother-in-law, and a cat -- good food, warm and friendly company, without pressure of one's own family
December 26:
Kiki Looft & Bernd Trommer, Kiki's parents & grandparents -- more delicious food and warm, relaxed company / lively discussion with Grandpa about the war...
December 30:
in Bremen with high school friend Arne Börnsen / explore city on foot / play with giant dog / chill New Years with Arne's friends

January 21st:
I went "Kegeln" for the first time -- otherwise known as 9-Pin. In this odd version of bowling, the lanes are only about 18" wide and curved slightly upward on the edges, leading the ball (smalled and without holes) to drift backa and forth on it's path toward the nine pins, which are also smaller. Each turn consists of rolling 10 times, once per rack. The pins are re-racked after each roll by ropes from which they are suspended. This sport has a reputation for being played by an older, less sporty crowd, and my experience was no exception.

I was invited by a student of mine and her grandparents as a thank you for helping her with an application to study for a year in the U.S. So, I was actually tagging along with the grandparents normal monthly routine of gathering with about twelve of their 70+ friends in the basement of a bar on the outskirts of Bergedorf. It turned out to be a good time... and not only because several of the old ladies bought me beer and blackcurrent Schnapps.

This experience reminded me of the second day of Christmas, when I got a chance to chat with Kiki's grandfather about the Second World War and world politics. Having only just met him, and doing my best to articulate my opinion in German, it was perhaps not as in depth as it could have been... but it was fascinating to speak with someone of that generation, from Germany, about the war.

One thing we talked about, which has come up numerous times in conversations since I arrived, is how the rest of the world views Germany; specifically the United States. Without detracting from the magnitude of suffering or brushing off the atrocities of Hitler, I am always irritated and amused when Americans can only speak of the war when it comes to Germany. This is not an unusual shortcoming, but the product of a lack of WORLD CULTURAL EDUCATION. I believe it is important for our population in particular to learn more about the values and ways of life of other cultures, not simply about how WE fit into their history. Germans have their share of incomplete or inaccurate preconceptions of our culture, but so much of our media, language, styles, and products are exported that they have a better sense of who we are than we do of them.

Perhaps it is less important that the average Minnesota high school student learn about Germany's present culture and way of life, but I feel I have missed something when I read the news everyday about violence in Iraq, arguments over Iran, or continued tension in Israel, without some cultural (and, yes, historical) background. It is shameful that we whistle our way through articles about Iraq without a solid idea of what their lives are like or what their influences are. However stereotyped and unfair the generalizations, at least we "know" germans to be hard-working, Bratwurst & Sauerkraut-eating, stern, engineers and scientists... we know virtually NOTHING about the cultures over which our government dictates.

It is also important toward gaining a greater sense of sympathy. If it were more than 50,000 GERMAN CIVILLIANS that had been killled thus far in a war lead by the United States and not IRAQIS, would we not take greater heed as individuals and as a country? How can we identify more closely with the peoples we terrorize?