Deutsch lernen und Wein trinken

did, Deutsche-Institut, Berlin

did, Deutsch-Institut, Berlin

Rüdesheimer Platz: "wine garden" celebration with Boschies and did teachers

Rüdesheimer Platz: “wine garden” celebration with Boschies and did teachers

Before landing in Germany, I had about 40 hours of private German tutoring. This may sound like a lot, and in some cases it is, but at the time I was also working almost 60 hours/week, and taking MBA courses (and final exams) in the evening. So my German retention was not so good.

Upon arrival in Germany, the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program enrolled us at the did Deutsch-Institut, and the real learning began. We had three intense hours each morning, in a class of 6-8 beginner Boschies. After a quick 45 minute lunch break (normally a picnic lunch on the roof deck), we returned for another 1.5-3 hours of specialized training, covering grammar, business, conversation, and phonetics. I remember one or two college professors telling me they once took a summer to learn German, and I’d always wondered how that was possible, given Mark Twain’s famous dismay at the language’s difficulty. 

But I did it. After two months of language school, I am at an intermediate level. After six weeks, I had an hour and a half business meeting completely in German (and I understood at least 60% of it). Needless to say, I highly recommend did, for its teachers, training, and location, in Berlin’s central Mitte district.

Above, I’m pictured with several Boschies and two of our favorite did teachers, Jochen and Catharina (third and fifth back, on the right). This was our celebratory picnic night at Rüdesheimer Platz, in western Berlin, another place I highly recommend.

You can bring your own food, and order wine from the counter. Vineyards are on a two-week rotation, allowing you to try many different styles and brands. Jochen is a wine expert, with a side business in wine sales, so he’s an excellent teacher for both wine and German. Perfection.

When I’m older, and tell people that I spent a summer learning German, I won’t make it so mysterious or wondrous as it was presented to me. “I had great teachers at a great language school in Berlin.” Hm, maybe that is pretty magical after all…

Retired life works for me

Cute coasters and good beer at Paulaner

Cute coasters and good beer at Paulaner

Nordfriedhof - beautiful cemetery in North Bonn

Nordfriedhof – beautiful cemetery in North Bonn

M and I have enjoyed living like retirees this week. We get up late, spend most of our days napping and/or reading, and taking walks.  Today we came across what we thought was a park, which turned out to be the Nordfriedhof cemetery. Cemeteries in Germany are so beautiful, peaceful, and well maintained (so many trees!) that we’ve actually mistaken several for parks.

“Peaceful” just describes Nordfriedhof perfectly, and it was a nice place to sit and think about my Grandpa, actually, and his recent passing. It might sound a little morbid, but it was actually kind of comforting. As we walked, we read the names on the tombstones, wondered aloud about the people they had been, what they’d seen in their long or short lives. Somehow everything felt more connected and natural, rather than distant and sad – as can tend to be the case when life events happen while you’re far from home. (Though of course “home” has become wherever M is – he keeps me cozy, sane, and happy.)

Next, we needed a drink! So we trekked back into city center, to what has become one of our favorite spots – the Wirthaus Salvator, affiliated with the Paulaner brewery of Munich. We had some delicious dark beer, and indulged in two Schweinshaxe (pork knuckles). The waitresses wear traditional dirndl, and one lady in particular, with her matching maroon hair and lipstick, set against that blue dirndl, is all too perfect. She always indulges our German with a wink, and she pulls a lighter out of her bra to light the table’s candles. Now that’s service!

After rolling our bellies home, I finished the book Gone Girl. I am not really into murder mysteries, but this was a total page turner, and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor several times. I’m desperate to discuss it with someone, so M has sweetly agreed to read it.  (And even though we are not Ben Affleck fans, and I do like the Yankees, this story is funny enough to charm us into seeing the movie, too.)

palaces schmalaces

Poppelsdorf Schloss and its botanical garden, Bonn

Poppelsdorf Schloss and botanical garden, Bonn

Germany is a saturated fairy-tale of old palaces and castles. Like cathedrals in Spain and Italy, it’s almost hard not to become numbed to the “Schloss” here. But the 5 year old in me still does a little internal cartwheel each time we see an intact palace. What can I say, it’s my Thing.

M and I have been taking daily strolls to acquaint ourselves with Bonn, and after walking down a long stretch of tree-lined gravel paths (making me nostalgic for Middle Path at Kenyon College) the beauty you see above: Poppelsdorf Schloss, which is now part of the University of Bonn.

Its backyard is a beautiful botanical garden, which was mostly filled with mothers and their busy toddlers. Like children ourselves, M and I poked at giant, prickly leaves and carefully squeezed the growing exotic fruits whose names auf Deutsch don’t yet do us much good. We are not 100% certain that it was free, but no one stopped us as we slipped through the gate that clearly stated, auf Deutsch (this time we understood it), “This is not an entrance!” Oh well. We’re rebels.

It’s been such a gift to have this time off together, to recharge and refocus on Us, and explore this new city of ours. Work doesn’t start for another 11 days, and I’m so glad!


View from our Bonner Balkon

View from our Bonner Balkon

On Monday, we had our first Autobahn driving experience, and drove a van full of suitcases and my bike from Berlin to Bonn – 6 hours! We managed to get an automatic so we could both drive, and more importantly, we managed to fit everything into the vehicle! It was close, and if M had listened to me and bought his own bike, it may not have worked. Since my parents are probably the only ones reading this blog, I won’t say how fast we drove. I will say that we kept both hands firmly on the wheel, were never the fastest car, and we had lots of fun. “This is exhilarating!” said M, just a few hours after we loaded the car, and he grumbled about what another stupid idea this was, and he told me not to buy the damn bike 😉

We stayed in a super cheesy hotel in the center of Bonn, with super steep stairs. We were in the August Macke suite, one of Bonn’s hometown art heroes. The “double bed” was,per usually, two twins put together – but this time one was about three inches higher than the other, and we couldn’t stop giggling as we went to bed that night. I awoke with a mildly sore shoulder, and more giggles, from reaching up to throw my arm over M.

At noon on Tuesday, we met our history professor landlord, and he showed us around our fabulous new home for the next four months! Highlights: balcony, washing machine, a million books in every language. Quirks: we can’t exactly stand up in our sleeping loft, and the building’s co-residents are mostly octogenarians. Both aspects suit us fine – we are in the childhood clubhouse of our dreams as we go to sleep each night, and the sweet neighbors soften our homesickness for my beloved grandparents.

Bonn. I think we are gonna like it here!

my new drug

Endorphins are my new drug! I needed Something, since burned coffee is testing my caffeine addiction. It looks like bicycle riding endorphins are the new It thing for me. This week, my buddy Allison and I have taken two long, awesome rides.

The first was to the Treptower Park Soviet memorial, southeast of Berlin (see photos/link). And also to see Berlin’s Molecule Man on the river. We rode 16.8 miles, or 27 kilometers.

Yesterday was our second big ride, and came in at 35.4 kilometers! This is particularly exciting because we are planning to ride to Potsdam tomorrow, which Google says is 32 kilometers from my apartment.

I’ve also been biking to language school most days, which is still exhilarating… despite having taken a tumble on Thursday. I’m totally fine, and just have a nice bruise on my knee (though Allison confirmed I’m somehow bruised from ankle to hip from biking, so it’s hard to tell what’s from the fall and what’s from, um, just riding). Traffic stopped, someone helped me, and all in all, it was quite the learning experience. Berlin drivers are VERY aware of bikers. And while at first I was hesitant to get back in the saddle, last night’s ride vanquished any remaining fears.

Today’s errand (there’s at least one every day, it seems) is to find an affordable bike. My rental is due back at 6:00 pm, and Potsdam is tomorrow. Despite being a little unsure how to move a bike plus my two large suitcases, rolling bag and backback to Bonn in September (and Michael’s wise warnings… and my waning bank account…) I think I’m going to take the plunge. That’s what addiction is about, right? Ignoring all sense and hyper-focusing on your drug?!

Germany 7-1 Brazil, from a non-fan perspective

So Germany just destroyed Brazil in Brazil, and I’m in Berlin! The fireworks outside my window are INSANE! So much fun! But –

As I told my fellow Boschies, I can either fake German or fake interest in the World Cup, but I can’t do both at the same time. #Buzzkill

However! Even though I stayed in tonight rather than watching the game in a biergarten (hey, it was storming), the fireworks outside my window and the screaming fans announced every single goal. So it didn’t really matter if I watched or not, I knew what was going on. (“Like when Obama won!” my husband texted me. Yes, just like that!)

Now that the game is over, the car horns and fireworks continue. Deutschland is proud! And even a hater like me can appreciate this fun, victorious atmosphere. I am genuinely looking forward to getting out and watching the next game this weekend, too!

But meanwhile I’m home and I’m me, so here are some non-soccer (ok ok, football) thoughts from a non-soccer fan. #Buzzkill alert:

1. The Brazil fans are sobbing. Absolutely sobbing. I mean, I get it… no, wait, I don’t. It’s a sport. It’s a game. There are so so many more important things going on in Brazil and in the world right now. Things that should bring us to our knees. And I know that tears are not finite, mutually exclusive resources. But adults sobbing over a game? Give me a break! (Ugh, I hate myself for having this reaction!) Sobbing Brazil players, you’re allowed to cry, despite what a League of Their Own says about crying.

2. A few different German teachers at language school have told us that the World Cup is the only time you will see German flags flying. Otherwise, nationalism is not really accepted – or if it is accepted, it is a clear political statement. Unlike the omnipresent (Made in China) American flag. A remnant of Germany’s past. This fun fact brings silence to a room pretty quickly, but I do find it really interesting.

Ok, sorry, this post is a total buzzkill. This is precisely why I spared my friends tonight, and just stayed home. Last game, I asked a fellow Boschie what her goals are for the year. “Umm… finish my beer and watch this game?” Oh. Yeah. Right. Cool. Sorry!