Archive for February, 2010

The Time Between

February 18, 2010

There’s a reason I don’t like modern (non-serious) music.

I always sum it up in the sentence, “It moves me too quickly.” People puzzle at that, generally. But it’s true. I don’t like how the simplicity and the brevity both have this control over me – this stirring emotional quality which is over in a few minutes’ time. It’s mean.

So there’s me, standing in the kitchen of my dad’s house, with a cup of tea in my hand – something which I’d longed after and so highly praised when in Germany – rummaging around in my jeans. I slide out the campus card from Heidelberg university and read the words “Ruprecht-Karls-UNIVERSITÄT HEIDELBERG” and “Service für Studierende“. That, coupled with the crappy music radio 1’s pumping out in the background (needless to say, je ne suis pas un fan de radio un (… French is awful)), moves me. I’m standing there, thumbing this plastic card, slightly bluened by its being in my jeans’ pocket, but only on the one side. STUDENTENWERK HEIDELBERG. Anstalt des öffentlichen Rechts. The genitive. The capitals. The German.

I turn it over, some green advert for some local concern. The Studentenwerk. In allen Mensen & Cafés des Studentenwerks. Frischste Zutaten. Eigene Herstellung. Biologischer Anbau. Regionale Produkte. Dative plural (+n), genitive (+s). Superlative, plural adjective. Feminine noun, masculine noun. Plural adjective.

I thumb this side for a bit too. Bluer around the edges. The strong German print on the right.

English voices on the radio.


So it’s the Time Between. I’ve finished in Germany. Heidelberg flew past like a blur. 6 months, 7, I sometimes counted in my head. August the 10th, last year. February the 14th, Valentine’s Day, this year. That sounds like a long time. August’s in the middle of the year. February’s the other side of celebration. But it flew. Just like they said it would, it flew. I had a different attitude to the entire experience after Xmas and NY. Obviously. I was returning to something I so enjoyed, conscious of the fact that I had barely more than 2 months to make the most of it. To speak German without end. To get rid of everything English-thinking and English-speaking. And I pushed myself and I was successful. Almost without exception.

Exceptions would probably be something like Sophia. And other English speaking friends. But I spent most of my non-Germaning (or alone-ing) time with her. She went to Straßburg briefly, the end of a weekend spilling into the beginning of the week. In that time, I spoke almost nothing but German. But I love it. I love it. I love it totally and through and through.

That’s actually not all that true. And this is the part where the blog falters from the spontaneous part of me running from the in-the-kitchen-with-a-cup-of-tea-thumbing-my-mensa-card, into all the fragments of blog I’ve had in my head since whenever I last wrote that entry about the bakery.

Orchestra. Auftakt, the orchestra I joined in Germany.

This is one of the very, very best things I did in Germany. Joining an orchestra, while at the very beginning made me hugely conscious of the fact that I had a sizeable gap in my vocab which was to be focal part of language for those rehearsal hours, has firstly annihilated that – I learnt some wicked words in orchestra (list incoming: abkanzeln, anmotzen, to name just two. Schund, Ramsch, Habseeligkeit, zierlich, Beuteschema, zimperlich, Pfütze, da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer, flink, poofen, lauschen, Nachruf, Nachhall, gammeln and abprahlen to name a few more) – secondly, met some amazing people and had a huge self-confidence boost, when they were honestly saddened at the last concert. They bought me a post card on which is a scene of Heidelberg and then cut out our encore (Zugabe, in German, which was (and this is the reason I opened the brackets in the first place…) that famous Shostakovich waltz that everyone knows *sings*) and stuck it onto the front. On the back, in Dagmar’s very beautiful hand writing was a note about how they’d really come to appreciate me being in the group and how I’d been fun. And the feeling was mutual. It really was – they’re a lovely bunch of people and they accepted me wonderfully, grammatical mistakes and all. With this card came one of the largest chocolate bars I’ve ever seen in my life, which was filled with crunchies and yoghurt. And – by the by – was scrumptuous.

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But it’s all over.

Oh yeah – just remembered how I got on to orchestra.

We had a Probenwochenende (rehearsal weekend) one weekend, during which time, obviously, very little English was spoken. There is another native in the orchestra, an American oboist, with whom I did chat on occasion in English (sentences with weird word order are, strangely, not the fault of German, but of Henry James, being that I’m reading The Turn of the Screw at the minute, having unearthed it from my laptop bag while pretending to pack at the weekend). But. The whole thing was residential, so we all woke up, early Sunday morning, ready to go into yet more rehearsals. And it was early. I was being addressed – in German – very early on a Sunday morning. Normally, fine, not a problem, but that day, there was something different. I couldn’t get my brain to make the switch – to jump over ever-eroding barrier (imagery copyright of Sophia Stavrinides, 2010) between German and English. I was staring people in the face, as they were talking to me, understanding what they were saying (comprehension’s the first ability to gain and last to lose in any situation, I find), but just not being able to put sensical (interesting link to research on whether that is indeed a word) units of language together in some kind of interesting or vaguely appropriate fashion. And being instead and consequently, hugely uninteresting.

So I got back into Heidelberg the Sunday evening and I was craving native speech. My thinking was all over – I was half in one language, clawing at the precipices of my native language, struggling to save myself from an otherwise certain descent into some kind of language purgatory and surely the logically-following social vacuity (wow, that is a word?). I satisfied that, but found that I was making all kinds of connections between words I hadn’t previously thought connected in my head (like wirken and work – they don’t mean the same thing at all). But, as I found at other points during my stay in Heidelberg, a sleep solves everything.

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This is currently my desktop background. (language help here)


While I’m on the language rant: there’s something I’ve noticed while being back. I’m going to try and keep this succinct and short, but here it is.

Firstly, there’s an overwhelming feeling I get whenever I’m about to address a stranger (in shops or people in service roles (people who check train tickets, women I’m booking doctor appointments with and all that) to speak to them in German. You train yourself (and/or get excited about it that you have) to expect that everyone that isn’t you or a face you know speaks German. Obviously. And when you get back in your home country, you don’t make equal and reverse efforts – it’s England, you know you’re safe there – but it means you end up having consciously to switch (I hate you, split infinitive) in your head. It’s like a double bluff.

Secondly, a lot of German filler words have nestled themselves in parts of my English speech. I find myself wanting to say “also” and “genau” in places when they’d make sense in German and for which there’s no real equivalent that’s used as often in English (the first one sorta means ‘so’ and the second means ‘exactly,’ but Germans say it a lot of the time when they mean ‘anyway’ or sometimes just ‘yes’). There are also areas of expression which I’ve struggled with in German, overcome and since filtered back in to English. An example is “transition phase.” For which I (quite inaccurately) used zwischendrin Phase in German. And I got to the point t’other day, where I wanted to say “the stage in-between” in English, but, having trained myself into a way of expressing that in German, the German came to me first and I ended up saying it (having briefly paused because I’d realised what was about to happen).


What else has happened? I bought a new camera.

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Sarah Austin and I accidentally bought the same one, so I photographed hers.

This is turning into a procrastination and off-topic fest. So I’ll get something more serious going.

All in all, Germany was fantastic. I loved it. I remember Fay saying that when she was leaving France, she’d just got to the point where she’d started to develop some real friendships with the people around her and leaving then was worse because of it. I was the exact same. There are so many people who I’d just started friendships with, with whom something really worthwhile could’ve developed, had I been staying longer (Doris, Annika Konstantin to name but 3). And regarding language, I was at a point where yeh, sure, I’d come on leaps and bounds and my command of spoken German was far higher than it was when I arrived, but I could’ve been so, so much more amazing. It was a slow development, followed by a rash and rapid development and then a sudden drop, as I left.

What have I taken away from Germany with me?

Better German. Many, many good friends. The strongest and closest friendship I’ve ever had with anyone ever. Lots of Germans willing to correct things for me in 4th year as well as Germans to Skype just before oral exams and the like. The knowledge that I am definitely going back at some point in my life for more than 6 months (but should probably limit myself to less than 2 years, just for the sake of coming back – I can easily see myself getting stuck out there (happily stuck, of course) and not coming back). The ability to watch scary movies and not completely fall to pieces. A great, big smile.

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Sure, parts could’ve gone better. But parts could’ve gone far worse. I could’ve lived tidier, I could’ve lived in more German. I could’ve befriended people. I could’ve not ignored people (wholly by accident) who had made so much effort with me. I could’ve put less stress on “finding someone.” I could’ve knitted less and worked more.

But I did learn how to say “should have done” and “would have done.” Even though that grammatical point was my one and only Achilles’ heel.


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And what’s next? Syria.

3rd of March. London Heathrow. Terminal 1. 3.35pm. 5 hours, 10 minutes later, Damascus, Syria.

Two weeks yesterday. Visa applied for. Train tickets to London booked and arrived in the post.

Packed? Barely unpacked.

What adventures. They await.