Tuesday, February 26, 2008


26th February
The approach of Spring entered my active consciousness this morning with the startling departure of the bus stop fluorescents. While I've been enjoying the morning light for a while now, the shift seemed to stand out as I watched the sky while waiting for the 4th leg of my morning journey.

It actually occurred to me when I first left the dorm this morning to the chatter of birds --It has been a long winter of dark, night-like mornings-- and this new consciousness left me pondering the things that HADN'T changed in my morning routine. The middle-aged woman whom I appear to zoom past ascending the ramp to the train stop, her slow, excruciating steps doing their silent best to avoid some unseen suffering under the erect weight of her tall German body. Or the small mentally ill man in down winter jacket, knit hat and boots who seems always to be winning a race with her to the station entrance -- his stride is shorter, but with the quick, dragging sound of rubber on pavement that more commonly accompanies grade school recess; of course, the leather briefcase swinging with one arm is a clear reminder that we are beyond that stage.

Twenty minutes after having fought for a place to sit on the S21 I'm already securing a position at the door in the very first train car. When lucky, I have two minutes to make it down, up, and again down three flights of stairs to my next connection. While the trains tend to run on time, this window is usually closer to one minute or less; about half the passengers in this first car are in the same boat.

Sitting in my bus, the three trains behind me, I often draw the curious, little-girl stare of a graying, baby-faced forty-something. Each morning she gets on the bus with me at Norderstedt Mitte in her jeans and winter coat, free from purse or baggage, and rides to the industrial district one stop before mine on the 393. The picture suggests a job-turned-career at a machine on the concrete floor of a large one-story manufacturer. Her lack of the weariness and aging of regret hint at decades of settling in among a group of buddies and a comfortable routine; the coziness of a small bubble and the wide eyes of a wider world yet undiscovered. While her small talk with the young mustached man and his girlfriend seem to confirm this fantasy, it may well be far off.

Not infrequently I find myself conjuring false first impressions, an apparent product of a couple cultural factors distinguishing this one from that at home. While Germans tend to commit to and own their occupations more so than I feel Americans, they tend not to build an identity around those professions which might automatically set them apart from those of other classes or branches of work. As in the US, people still tend to group along similar education levels as well as according to class-related social factors. However, the practitioners of specific professions (whether in skilled labor or white color work)--that Americans associate much more readily with education level and social class--in Germany provoke a weaker and less biased first impression of an acquaintance.

The reasons for this may simply be the greater value and respect attributed all contributors to society, a bi-product of the social mentality of a welfare state. This respect and honor in each trade or business spurs the kind of commitment to and pride in one's work that is often evident where we might not expect it.

This is more of a discussion topic than a thesis; I welcome comments/other ideas.

Monday, February 11, 2008


...this has become the embodying word for my personal substantiation of the infamous German bureaucratic machine. The word itself refers to the formatting requirements for identification photos (required for everything from a passport to a subway pass); the proper contrast, color, size, and ratio between facial features, etc. compatible with facial recognition software.

It struck me as a fitting ersatz symbol for the Amt (=bureau) experience, having once politely asked a state employee for specifically WHY my photo was not suitable, and receiving only murmuring about the size, and then a sort of chanting of the word as though it were the German Standards Organization (DIN) mantra: biometrisch, biometrish, biometrisch...

At any rate, this occurred to me as I was collecting my thoughts to summarize an update the paper trail toward my apprenticeship and eventual school registration. To hold your attention, I'll be breif:

A week+ after dropping my application for a work permit in the foreigner bureau mailbox (they were mysteriously closed for over a week without explanation) I tried calling them up (4th time is the charm) for an update, only to learn my application had been forwarded to the neighboring state for a week to 14 days of processing because my employer is located JUST over the border to the north of Hamburg.

On another bureaucracy note, in attempting to register with the finance bureau in order to be paid at all for my disappointing Amsterdam gig, I entered the babel of Amt-speak, the German equivalent of the legal language you find in the fine print of warranties or software agreements. After an hour of deciphering with my resident native speaker, the forms remained eerily ink-free. I now have a long list of questions for woman at the Amt, if I could only find the time to call (their hours are different every day).

Press your thumbs for me that all goes well in the next couple weeks.

(a windmill and one of many thatched roof farmhouses about a 10min bike ride from where we live -- taken weekend before last)