I moved into my Studentenwohnung, or the student apartment. I wasn’t expecting great things, to be honest, since I had signed up for a homestay and instead wound up in this single-occupant apartment, but once I arrived here, I felt a lot better about the situation.
First of all, I’m almost glad that I spent all day Friday figuring out the transportation system, even though it meant that I couldn’t go sightseeing like I had planned. While a couple people here decided that they were going to take the easy way out and call a taxi, I decided to go the cheap way and take the public transit, but it meant taking 2 S-Bahn trains and a bus and then walking to find the apartment. I also didn’t want to be lugging all of my bags with me, so I needed to take two trips. The S-Bahn was easy enough, now that I know what I’m doing, and I’ve had enough experience with buses at Davis to figure out the bus stops here.
(Speaking of Davis and buses, I’m noticing a few similarities between Davis and Berlin. For one thing, Berlin uses double-decker buses as well, although they aren’t the red London buses, they’re more like the newer double-deckers. For another thing, bikes ALWAYS have the right-of-way here. A car will stop for a pedestrian, but if you step in front of a bike, you will be run over and cursed and yelled at.)
After I got off the bus, it took me about 45 minutes to find the apartments, because it’s hidden behind a bunch of trees at the end of a road, and while the rest of the city has street signs everywhere, my street seems to be the only exception, or at least the only one I’ve found so far. Usually I wouldn’t be too frustrated (okay, maybe a little), but I had my suitcase and computer bag with me, which were heavy, and I happened to get off the bus when it started raining. At first it was only sprinkling, but then the rain continued to fall harder and harder, and before I knew it, there was thunder and lightening. (The thunder came about 8 or 9 seconds after the lightening, so it wasn’t TOO close, but still didn’t make me terribly comfortable.) Finally I decided it was time to ask for help, and I found the place.
Oh, and it might seem trivial, but totally made my day yesterday. My friend Julia (from Davis and on the same program as me), her sister (who is just staying for a few days), and I decided to go into town to do some grocery shopping and just to see what was in the area. We spotted an ice-cream shop and decided to buy some. We were trying to help Julia’s sister with pronunciation, so it was obvious we weren’t native Germans. The server noticed this and slowed down her speech, but continued to communicate with us in German. And even when we had a conversation of, “How do you say peach in German?” “Pfirsich.” “Okay. Könnte ich…. Wait, how do you say it?” “Pfirsich.” “Könnte ich Pfirsich haben im Waffle, bitte?”, the lady waited until she finished asking before starting to scoop the ice cream. Such small things really do make a difference.
And I know I have been lacking on pictures, so here are some of my apartment! Really, it's the first thing I've seen worth taking pictures of, given my lack of sightseeing on Friday.
Sunday was the orientation meeting, conducted in both German and English. There are people from all over the world here. A lot of people in my apartment building are from the UCs, but not all of them are. For example, there’s a girl here from Paris, and one guy that we met in line to get materials is from Toronto. The problem is, some of them don’t speak very much English and are here in order to take one of the German classes (semi-intensive or intensive), so it’s sometimes difficult to communicate, but I felt bad that they weren’t able to understand the orientation meeting very well.
You'd think, with such a big city in the heart of such a vibrant country, there's be stuff to do all weekend, right? NO. Everything closes early on Saturdays and doesn't open on Sundays. It's dead here. Sunday is meant to be family time, but for those of us without family in the area, it gets lonely. So that's the perfect time for me to catch up with friends and family back in the US, right? Wrong again, since the internet cafes are also closed. What a pain.
Monday, 19.7.2010 and Tuesday, 20.7.2010
Monday was the first day of classes, starting out with our interviews. I was incredibly nervous for mine, even though they said they it wasn’t anything to worry about, because it would just be used to put us in the right class for our level of German. But I get just as nervous when I don’t know what I’m going to be asked when an interview is in English.
I thought my interview went well, until they asked me what level I wanted to be in. I understood the question, I knew what my answer was, but I had no idea how to say it in German. (Intermediate, in case anybody was wondering.) Either it didn’t go as well as I thought, or I REALLY screwed up on the written portion, because I was placed in A2. (The levels go from absolute beginning to practically fluent with A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2. Basically, I wasn’t put in the absolute beginning class, but still in the class that was learning basic German skills-at Davis, it would be like starting about halfway through German 2.)
We only had about half an hour of class on Monday, but even then I knew I was in the wrong class. We had to introduce ourselves to a partner and then introduce the partner to the class. I told my partner, “Ich heiße Judith, aber die meisten sagen Judy.” (“My name is Judith, but most people say Judy.”) His response was, “That’s too complicated. I’m just going to say your name is Judith.” (Seriously, at the very least, say my name is Judy!) Then we had to answer a couple of questions about ourselves by writing them down, and the teacher took them to look over for the night.
Our first full day of class was yesterday, and I figured I would see if things would improve before talking to the teacher. They didn’t. She told us what she was planning to teach us for the rest of the week, which included things like past perfect, weil (because), and other basic sentence structures. And when the teacher started asking us question about our nights, what we thought about Berlin and the program we’re participating in, most people answered with only “yes” or “no,” or otherwise very basic answers, whereas one other guy and I answered our questions with very descriptive answers.
At the end of our 1.5-hour session in the morning, I knew I had to get out of there, so I talked to the teacher during the break and told her I felt the class was too simple for my level. Her response was, “Yeah, I was going to talk to you about that if you didn’t ask me first.” There wasn’t anything that could be done until after lunch, so I had to stay in that class for another 1.5-hour session. When I returned from lunch, though, the teacher immediately sent me to the office and said, “B1 has room, so we’ve moved you into that class. Mach Spaß!” So I headed over to the office and we spoke entirely in German, going through all the hassle of exchanging my textbook and making sure I was now on the list for the correct class. At the end of it, the person helping me out asked me, “Warum warst du in A2?” (Why were you in A2?) It certainly made me feel better that it wasn’t just me that thought I was in the wrong class.
I made my way to the B1 class and found about 2/3 of the 12-person class were other EAP students, which alone made me a lot more certain that this was the level I was supposed to be at. Not even five minutes later, the other guy that seemed to be leagues beyond the others in A2 showed up as well. Hopefully the people left in that class are now able to learn at the speed they need to, without the two of us dominating the discussions.
Last night we had our EAP orientation meeting, where we filled out the millions of forms that we need to live in Berlin (including the form to receive our 100 euro Grüßgeld, the welcome money given to new residents of Berlin), and then went out to a Biergarten with two EAP students finishing up their time here. It was also the first beer that I’ve ordered in Berlin, although not the first one I drank, and it was also the best one so far, called Kristallweissen. I’ll have to remember that, in case I see it on a beer menu again.
After class this afternoon we have a boat tour of Berlin. Fortunately, the weather is absolutely gorgeous today, a little humid but not too bad. I swear, I will have pictures up of that when I write a post about it, because I actually thought to bring my camera today!