One requirement that American citizens have when they live in Germany is to get a visa. Now, I have friends studying in other countries this year (Spain and Italy, just to name a few) who also needed to get visas, but they still needed to get them while they were in America, before they arrived in Europe. We don't get our visas until we're already here, and Americans staying in Germany are allowed to stay in the EU for up to 90 days before getting a visa.
My problem with getting the visa resulted mostly in not having all the required paperwork until about a week and a half before my 90-day stay was up. The Austausch office (for exchange students) on campus provides the visa service for free for students, but it requires 3-4 weeks to complete and they take my passport. Since I couldn't make an appointment at the Rathaus on such short notice, I had no choice to go through them, but that meant possibly being illegally in Germany-yikes!
Long story short, I'm still legally here. So long as you go through the paperwork and process within the 90 days, all is good and dandy. Yay!
The answer, Gottseidank, is YES. You have no idea how relieved I was at the end of my first week when I realized I would be FINE in all of my classes. It helps that most of my classes are for exchange students, so the professors don't expect our German to be perfect and therefore speak slowly and simply, but it also helps that I'm interested in all of the subjects.
Deutschland in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus: Germany in the time of the Nazis. So far it's looking like it's going to be an interesting class. We've already watched the movie "Mein Kampf," the professor speaks very clearly, and it's interesting to be able to hear the speeches given at the time and try to understand not just what was happening, but why it was happening, from a German point of view. The one problem: Even though the professor speaks clearly, he doesn't speak very loudly, so I need to make sure that I get there early enough to sit in the front row.
Berlin zur Zeit der Mauer: Berlin at the time of the wall. The professor for this class is outstanding. He is so animated when he speaks, you can't help but want to listen to him. Downside: There's a lot of reading for the class. It seems to be a reasonable amount of reading though, as long as I keep up with it. The other bad part is that the room is far too small for the number of people in the class. Yesterday I arrived 20 minutes before class and still ended up sitting on radiator instead of at a desk. (The benefit was, I sat next to the control, so I could figure out if I wanted it cooler or warmer. I hope the other 3 on the same radiator didn't mind me too much.)
Kulturelle Orientierung in Berlin: Cultural Orientation in Berlin. This is actually taught by the same professor as the first class, and since I knew this when I went in, I made sure to nab a seat front and center. It's a four-hour long class, and we take several trips through Berlin, learning about different time periods: during the Prussian era, WWI, the time between the wars, WWII, the time of separation, and up to the present with reunification. While it sounds interesting on paper, when the professor was talking to us, I wasn't nearly as interested as I thought I would be, so I decided to drop it.
Europe in the 20th Century. Okay, I broke down, I'm taking a class in English. I figured I needed a break, and that this would give me an opportunity to finish up my General Education classes for Davis (and thus make it all but guaranteed that I would graduate in 4 years-woohoo!). I thought, given all I had heard about the German university system, I would have to write a paper by the end of the semester. Instead, the professor said that we need to take a final on the last day of class, and that would be it for the class. Nevertheless, I plan to take the class, even though it won't count for any GEs or for either of my majors, because I find the class interesting and it's my only class with actual German students. I plan to ask the professor if I can also do a paper ("Excuse me, do you mind if I do extra work for your class?") so that I can count it towards my GEs, but I would consider that an extra benefit at this point.
Sprachkurs: Berliner Geschichte zwischen Ost und West: Another language class, like my Pre-ILP and ILP classes, but this time I moved up a level and actually get a topic for the class (Berlin history between East and West), rather than simply learning grammar and vocabulary. Unfortunately, my teacher doesn't speak very clearly, which isn't helpful for a language class! It's also more work than all of my other classes put together for the same number of units, and I'm not quite sure I would be learning anything much different, history-wise, than in Berlin zur Zeit der Mauer. It's also half an hour after my English class, and the walk from building to building is 20 minutes, right at lunch time, so I would have from 10:15-3:45 with no break for food. And, lastly, as I said before, I'm tired of taking Sprachkurse. Hence, the class is dropped.
Sprecher Übungen: A class that has been recommended to me several times by Kristen, it's basically a class to help practice speaking German and correcting pronunciation. I think anybody who has tried talking to me in German knows I desperately need to improve my speaking abilities. I'm hoping that by the end of this class, I'll no longer have the native Berliners switching to English when they hear me speak. (I don't have a problem with people noticing I'm not German, as I can't hide that very well. I have a problem when they notice it and immediately assume I'd rather speak in English.)
So, I went to six classes in my first week, and now I've narrowed down my list to four. I have class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, so I've got a 3 day weekend every weekend, as well as a free day in the middle of the week to do work in case I do something over the weekend.
Mondays: Deutschland in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus 12-2
Berlin zur Zeit der Mauer: 4-6
Wednesdays: Europe in the 20th Century 10-12
Thursdays: Sprecher Übungen 2-4
I can't get this good a schedule back at Davis! Comparing my classes to what some of the other EAP students are doing here, I feel a bit like a slacker. I'm taking the absolute minimum number of units, I don't have any "true" German lectures, and my workload is less than what I've heard from the others. But I'm taking the classes I'm interested in, at least half of them will definitely count for major credit, and I'm accomplishing what I set out to do this semester, so I'm quite happy with how my class schedule turned out.
There wasn't much time to relax after I finished classes last Thursday, though. I immediately packed up my suitcase and on Friday morning, I boarded the train toward Bremen! Why Bremen, you ask? Because it was time to celebrate Freimarkt!
The Bremer Freimarkt, or the Bremen Free Market, is the oldest festival in Germany and the largest in Northern Germany, and if it wasn't for the tourists that go to Oktoberfest every year, I think it would be larger than Oktoberfest in Munich. Considering I wasn't able to get down to Oktoberfest earlier this month, I was happy to be able to experience Freimarkt. It reminded me a lot of the county fairs I went to as a kid, except that I don't remember there being beer tents at those fairs. (Then again, the last time I went to the county fair, I was maybe 8 or 9, so maybe I just didn't see them. Somehow, though, I doubt it.)
I arrived at Bremen Hauptbahnhof at around 12:30 in the afternoon, after having slight difficulty with the train. I had bought a train ticket, but I didn't reserve a specific seat. Since I was on my own, I figured I didn't need to reserve a seat and I would just find one when I boarded the train. However, nobody informed me how to tell what seats were available and which ones were not, so I accidentally sat in a seat that was reserved, fully ready to move if somebody told me that I was sitting in their spot. When the train started to pull away from the station and nobody had asked me to move, I figured I was in the clear, and took off my jacket and scarf and proceeded to look out the window. Imagine my surprise when, ten minutes after the train left and I was already admiring the German countryside, a family tells me I took their seat! Fortunately, they were extremely nice about it, especially after I explained my situation quickly, and were even nice enough to tell me how to distinguish the reserved seats from the non-reserved ones. I then had to cart my suitcase down several car trains, looking for a seat, and it took between 5 and 10 minutes before I finally did find one. When I changed trains in Hamburg, I made sure to specifically look for a non-reserved seat, which on that train was simple- all but a few seats were not previously reserved, and those that were reserved were already occupied.
I arrived at Bremen Hauptbahnhof and waited for my traveling companions to meet me. Izzy, Jared, and Katy had all arrived the night before and were going to pick me up at the train station, but they were running a little late, so I decided to walk around a bit. I walked towards one end of the train station, and- low and behold- the Freimarkt was right on the other side of the door! It was fabulous to see all the booths set up, the lights from the rides shining even in the middle of the day, and the smells from all the delicious food hit me every time the door opened, which was almost constantly. It was so exciting!
My friends arrived, we stored my luggage in a locker, and then we walked around the city quite a bit, taking in the sights of the festival and non-festival areas of the city. We walked down to Altstadt, which was hosting the Kleinerfreimarkt (small free market), which was kind of like an extension of the main festival area next to the station. We looked inside two churches, one definitely Catholic and one that we determined was Lutheran, given that it was practically across the street from the Catholic church. We saw the statue of the Bremen City Musicians next to the Merry-Go-Round, and then we saw the real statue next to the Rathaus. We tried going into the Rathaus Keller until we saw the menu prices, so instead we went over to a bar and each of us ordered a Kölsch. Everyone else seemed to love it, I had the same reaction that I have with 95% of the beers I've tried here so far: it's not terrible, but it's not something I'm going to miss when I go back to the states. (I'm starting to think I just don't like the taste of beer.)
Izzy's dad has a house outside of Bremen that he let us stay at, so not only did we not have to pay for a hostel for the weekend, but we were able to save on food costs as well, since we didn't have to eat out every meal. Julie met us there, and we had our group of five for the weekend. Although we originally had plans to go out bowling and enjoying the night on the town, by the time we got to the house, we were really too tired to do much of anything.
The next morning we headed back to the train station, but this time we were actually going to the festival! The fair itself didn't open until noon, but we got there early, so we were about to walk around and take pictures without worrying about people getting in the way. Afterward we went to see the parade, which had a total of 147 different floats/attractions! We could have been standing there for hours watching it-as it was, we stayed for about 2 hours before we realized it was about 1:30 and we should go enjoy the fair.
There were rides, there were game booths, and there was so much food! The five of us walked around a lot, trying to figure out what we wanted to do and what we were willing to spend money on. The rides were ridiculously expensive! There was one roller coaster I wanted to go on, but it cost 6 euros for one ride, and nobody else wanted to go on it with me, so I skipped it. Izzy, Jared, and Katy opted for one ride that had a deal of 7 euros for 3 rides, which didn't seem to bad, and Julie and I stayed back and watched (and held the bags). And then we found out why the rides were so expensive-the ride they were on lasted for a whole 7 minutes. I'm surprised nobody got sick, considering the platform spun, the chair spun, and the chair flipped.
After the ride, we went to get lunch and then headed into the beer tent. Unlike at Oktoberfest, we didn't have to reserve a table and we didn't have to wait. We just went in and, after a few minutes of searching, we found an empty table. Everybody immediately said they wanted to get a Maß (1 liter) of beer. Even though I don't usually drink that much, I decided to do the same, and we went out to get our drinks. When I got back to the table, Izzy and Julie had mixed drinks, Jared had a half-liter, and Katy had a glass of Fanta! Thanks, guys. But it ended up okay, because about 10 minutes later, a group of 5 girls from Hamburg joined us at the table and started talking to us. They asked where we were from, and were shocked that we were all from California, until we clarified that we did not, in fact, fly out to Germany just for Freimarkt and that we were studying in Berlin. They then began listing the stereotypes we didn't fill, such as, "Wait, you're Americans? Then why is your German perfect?", and, "Hang on, you can't be Californians, your skin is too light. You all look like Germans!" (Mind you, Julie is Chinese.) This was all taking place in German, fortunately, until they said in English, "Okay, if you don't believe that your German is perfect, let's switch to English. So....what are your names? Nope, too hard, we're speaking in German now."
Yeah, they were pretty drunk.
After the beer tent, we headed back to the house, happy with how much fun the day had been. Sunday we sadly had to head back to Berlin. Izzy, Jared, and Katy were leaving at 1:30, my train wasn't until 6:15, and Julie's was an hour later. Julie and I walked around the fair a little bit longer and decided to go on the 7-minute spinning and flipping ride. After recovering for a bit (we were extremely dizzy), we went out for an early dinner of Döner, but it was really strange. Instead of putting it in a pita, the meat and vegetables were put on a roll. I didn't find it nearly as satisfying as the Döners we get here in Berlin.
We headed back to the train station and we parted ways, and I went to get on my train. The problem was, my train was about 10 minutes late. That might not seem like too late, but I was supposed to have 9 minutes to change trains in Hamburg, so I was a bit worried. I finally boarded the train and started looking for a free seat...except I couldn't find one. None at all. I don't know if they overbooked because other people missed their connection or what, but there were seriously no seats left. I ended up standing the entire ride to Hamburg next to the bathroom with three other people. That's definitely not an experience I want to repeat any time soon.
And, as I feared, the train was late getting to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, so I missed my connection. I really wanted to go over to the Deutsche Bahn travel service desk and give them a piece of my mind for not having enough seats and then causing me to miss my next train, but I didn't. I didn't even mention the seat thing, I just bit my tongue and said I needed to get a ticket for the next train to Berlin. The guy there quickly wrote a note on my ticket, saying it was now good for the next train and told me what platform the train was leaving from and what time, all in the typical fast-and-completely-serious way. The train was about an hour after my original train, yet surprisingly enough, I got in only about 40 minutes after I was supposed to. And, yes, I had a seat.
So, to wrap this up, what I've learned in the past week:
1) My hard work has paid off and, as long as I continue to work hard, I shouldn't have too much trouble with my classes.
2) It's not "lazy" if you accomplish what you set out to do, even if others seem to be doing more, because they have different goals than you.
3) It might cost more, but ALWAYS reserve a seat on the train, even when traveling alone.
4) I can officially handle time-sensitive problems in German.
5) Always, always, ALWAYS be nice to people, even if you might not feel like you should. They're more likely to be nice to you back and help out.
6) I need to get out of Berlin more often.
7) If you're still reading, I've got some pretty awesome people following this blog. =)