Tourist Info Desk

Welcome to Fernweh, a blog concerning the (mis)adventures of one Fulbrighter during a year spent in Europe teaching English.
If you'd like to know what's going on, please see the welcome message here.
If you're wondering what the book reviews are about, I direct your attention to the reading list/classic lit challenge here.
Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Big Step

This is going to be short, because it's late and I'm tired and I'm going hiking tomorrow, which I am very much looking forward to. Anyway.
The point is: today, reluctantly and with much moaning and wailing and general shameful crybabyishness, I purchased my ticket home. My official arrival date in SeaTac is the 25th of July--one year and one month exactly from when this entire madness began last year in Vancouver. (So much for "You're never going to come back!" I was kind of hoping that would come true...)
The only ray of light in this terrible development (except the prospect of seeing my mother, dog, and friends, of course) is that my flight departs from--wait for it--Lisbon.
Didn't see that coming, didja? Turns out there's this psycholinguistics conference in Porto (northern Portugal) in July, and long story short, I'm going. In the two and a half weeks or so between the ending of my Fulbright contract and my flight, I'll be making a small journey through Italy, Switzerland, and France, hopefully stopping to visit Bethany on the way, and end up in Portugal for the conference. Afterwards, I have a few days of cushy leeway to get myself to Lisbon and think about how much I don't want to leave Europe.
For now, life is good. The wind is warm and carries the scents of exuberantly blooming flowers; the days are sunny and the nights clear and quiet. Tomorrow the Bienenmeister is taking me hiking at the Leuchtenburg, which we visited briefly in the snow last November. Now I'm going to see it in the full glory of spring, get some sunshine and exercise, and enjoy the hell out of every moment.
But for now, oyasumi!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Apparently my last post was a month an a half ago...oops. I apologize for this, especially for you multitudes that hang on my every word. How have you survived?

I actually see this as a good thing, because I seem to write and ponder more when I have less to do; reciprocally, when my life speeds up, I don't spend so much time whining into the endless echoing chambers of the Internet. What I'm trying to say is...I've kind of actually been busy. Yay!

So, we have a few things to catch up on. First, you haven't heard at all about Amsterdam, which was the first weekend in March; I'll try to get some pictures and a summary up soon. Also, the Berlin conference and our weekend out in Leipzig/Dresden, two weekends later. I've made new friends, started new classes, enjoyed new weather patterns, and sunk deeper into a rut of agonizing indecision about what to do with my life...but more on that later.

For now, I'll talk about the last couple weeks, which have been wonderfully exciting. This is mainly because classes at Jena have started up again after a long month of nothingness. As usual, I was overambitious and tried to take too many, but now I've settled on four: Language and Cognition; Spanish, second year; a Tolkien seminar; and Sociolinguistics.

If any of you just went "LOL, Tolkien seminar," you should know there is an epic story behind this, and it goes back to two years ago in Marburg. I studied for half a year in Marburg as an exchange student, and while I was there, I took a delightful seminar about Lord of the Rings with a wonderful professor named Alan Turner. Dr Turner is one of those people who is just so English--he and Stephen Fry are my archetypes of well-spoken Englishmen. Anyway, the seminar was great, but as Shannon or other people who knew me after I got back from Marburg can tell you, it took me ages to finish writing the paper from that class.

Last week, I had my first class in Spanish. I mentioned that I was American (always a useful thing to do) and one of my classmates invited me to the English conversation group that evening. I met her and her sister for dinner--two very kind young ladies who have both spent time as au pairs in the US--and we went to a small bar to meet a surprising number of enthusiastically chattering students and professors. As a side note, it's such a relief to meet students who are enthusiastic and excited about speaking English; I feel like the apathy in Stadtroda is sinking into my bones. Anyway, imagine my surprise as I'm sitting there enjoying speaking with my new friends when Alan Turner comes in the door! I couldn't help bursting out with "I know you!" in sheer excitement, which I think startled him a bit, but he told me he was giving another Tolkien seminar, and of course I couldn't resist. We're doing The Hobbit and some of Tolkien's minor works, which is a nice change.

As I mentioned, I've started with Spanish again, at least a bit. I feel bad that I've abandoned my Spanish to slowly rot away, so I'm trying to salvage what I can and build it back up again. Although the class is not very helpful--the teacher seems content to just do the textbook exercises, one after another--I have met some new friends, and I get to hear and read and try to speak the language again, which is painful and embarrassing but definitely good for me. The problem is that my brain's default non-English language is now German, so I keep trying to speak Spanish with German grammar...

I mentioned the weather, as well. It's been getting nicer and nicer, warmer and sunnier and brighter, and the flowers are coming up and the wind is warm and it's getting altogether better and more enjoyable to live here. I'm looking forward now, especially that I have only 2-4 classes a week, to exploring more and more of Thüringen's beautiful rolling green hills. We'll see.

Anyway, I'll try to catch up soon. I have so much to acquaint you with!

Bin Doch Kein Fan

Originally written on March 19th

I bailed out of the car and hugged my friend, shouldering my backpack. The usually deserted entrance to the Jena West train platforms was blockaded and guarded by six or seven hulking policemen in riot gear, but this didn't surprise me at all. I checked my phone--if there was a train at 44 after, it would be here any second. I wandered up to the blockade and the policemen looked at me expectantly.

"Darf ich bitte durch?" Could I please get through?, I asked, trying my best to look nonthreatening and not at all drunk, which was easy because the champagne was four hours and two bathroom breaks ago.

"Wohin fahren Sie?" Where are you going?, one of them asked me, standing in my way.

"Stadtroda," I answered, taking by the blank looks on their faces that they'd never heard of it. I didn't blame them.

"Sind Sie vom Fußballspiel gekommen?" Are you coming from the football game?, another asked with a laugh. I guess I didn't really look like a football fan, so maybe it surprised them when I answered, "Ja."

"Sind Sie Erfurt-Fan oder Jena-Fan...?" Are you a fan of Erfurt or Jena?, the first officer pressed. I was starting to get irritated.

"Ich bin Fremdsprachenassistentin, ist mir egal," I said, thankful that I hadn't bought a Jena scarf at the game. I felt slightly guilty at disowning Jena so quickly just to avoid trouble with half a dozen armored German police, but only slightly, and that evaporated pretty quickly when they stepped back to let me past. I ran to the platform, where more green- and black-armored police kept an eye on the still-quiet station, to find that there was no 44-past train after all.

This escapade began yesterday, when I took the train out to Apolda to meet my friend Möhre, a now-former student who had organized this opportunity for me to go see a real German football game. Seeing a game live was one of my goals for this ridiculous/crazy/wonderful time here in Germany, and the one we'd picked was Derby--a third-league local game between blood rivals Erfurt and Jena. I spent the night at Möhre's house in a small town outside Apolda and about noon we headed into Jena for the game. On the way, we drank rose champagne out of plastic cups in the car, since the stadium was a no-alcohol zone.

The stadium, covered in Jena's bright blue-gold-white, was surrounded by imposing-looking police. Like I said, Jena and Erfurt don't like each other, and apparently it's tradition for all the hooligans to have a good post-game riot, thus the black-suited police with helmets and unfriendly expressions. All the people making their way into the stadium were Jena supporters, all sporting scarves or hats or gloves or shirts or something in Jena's colors; the Erfurt supporters had arrived earlier, presumably to avoid being mobbed, and were concentrated in a single section on the south end of the field in a rumbling red-and-white mass.

We found our seats and had some time to enjoy the sunny weather before the game began. The hard-core fans next door to Erfurt's block waved flags, screamed, sang and chanted, and when the game began the whole section was drenched in blue, yellow, and white smoke. Erfurt scored once during the first half, which most of the stadium welcomed with stony silence; in the second half, Jena played better and scored to the delight of almost everyone, with screaming, hugging, and high-fiving all around. It was looking pretty good, and then out of nowhere, Erfurt scored two more goals in the last ten minutes. We left the stadium sullen and despondent, with people mumbling "Das gibt's nicht, eh!" bitterly to each other under the watchful eyes of the riot cops. I was pretty happy--sunshine, a game, and time with friends is enough for me. I mean, I'm from Washington--I'm very used to the home team losing.

The game itself (summary, with pictures, in German), although fun, was a bit anticlimactic. From the concerned noises that people made every time I mentioned it, I'd had the feeling that we'd barely be able to see or hear the game over the fans howling team songs and throwing beer bottles and punches at each other. By the number of police, that's what everyone thinks. Despite that, everything seemed to be orderly and civilized--I can't decide if I'm relieved or disappointed.

I was pleased about this game not just because I got to go to a football game (always cool) and spend some time with my friend, but also it took my mind off the fact that the last week for the Winterschule is over and Stadtroda has become even more quiet and empty than it was before they came. You probably wouldn't be able to tell from the last few posts, but I've become quite attached to a lot of my students. We don't always have things to talk about, but just seeing familiar faces and being enthusiastically greeted in the hallway is encouraging.

At the students' Bergfest a few weeks ago, the liberal application of alcohol worked its wonders to get the English flowing, and I had a long, interesting, somewhat broken conversation with a couple of friendly first-year students who kept buying me drinks. One of them, a towering and slightly daft but amiable young man, made me promise to give him an American dollar. On Wednesday last week, I'd received the dollar from another American assistant (I don't actually have any) and I gave it to him at the grill party out the parking lot; he was pretty inebriated by that time and was immensely pleased, stumbling around to everyone in party showing them the dollar and asking if they were jealous. He kept coming back to put his arm around me and thank me, and the group of students I was talking with--from one of my favorite classes--would distract him long enough for me to slip away to the other side of the circle. That night is one of my best memories from this year: standing in the cold drizzle around a fire in the grill made from a broken-up pallet, chatting with Bayer and the Lukases and the Roberts, laughing and rolling our eyes and singing German songs.

The night before had been more of a private party; by the end of the semester, Möhre was inviting me up to her room for coffee every afternoon, and that day we just hung out, playing guitar and drinking champagne and chatting, the windows open to let in the unseasonably warm night air and the voices of those around another fire in the parking lot below and let out the endless stream of cigarette smoke. There was a feeling of peace and contentment, of being wrapped up in a warm blanket of easy friendship. Now I'm going through the same terrible transition that I have to make getting out of bed every morning, leaving happy dreams and warmth and stepping into the cold. I'm going to miss coffee with Möhre, and trying to teach each other songs on the guitar. I'm going to miss the cheerful voices calling good morning to me as I walk by the classroom doors on my way to English. I'm going to miss standing on the steps of the school in the sun, listening to the students chat around their cigarettes in the ten minutes before class. I'm going to miss dropping by Marco and Franz's room for a random discussion or singing practice. I'm going to miss the general chaos and ridiculous questions and silliness. But I think what is hardest right now is the thought that although I miss them terribly, there's no reason for them to miss me. They're all I have, what my life has revolved around for the last half-year, but for them I'm just one of a long series of Fremdsprachenassistenten. I guess I can hardly face the fact that I don't have any more chances to make friends, to get closer, to understand better, to learn more; it's over and there aren't any more chances, and I don't feel like I have much to show for it.

I'm really sorry about all this; I need to write it down somewhere to get it out of my head, and this is as good a place as any.