Saturday, March 17, 2012

Life in Germany

I haven't updated much about life in Germany in a little bit, because honestly, I've been mired in work trying to get through the first season of preparing my students for the IBs. (They leave school at the end of April on a week long "study leave" before the exams begin, so I'm certainly not out of the thick of it yet.)

But, little updates about Germany. Nothing big because we haven't traveled much recently, but just little things:

  • Did you know that Germans typically get married while they're having the public ceremony at the city hall? As in, instead of that part just being a paperwork thing, the entire family goes down with them to witness that moment when they get married. In fact, the entire wedding is planned around that appointment at the local town hall. Of course, this creates a bit of issues because Germans really like to get married on "easy to remember" dates, such as 4/8/12. (That means, by the way, August 4. European-style dates, as I now prefer. It really makes more sense if you think about it, than mm/dd/yy.) My friend Mandy, for example, had to reserve a place to hold her wedding reception a year in advance, and then only 6 months in advance of her wedding date could she go down to the town hall to make an appointment for her wedding. The line was very long -- there were people who had arrived at 5am to wait (in sub-freezing temp), even though the town hall doesn't open until 9am. She got the last appointment available for 4/8/12, and there were still about 20 people in line behind her who didn't get their appointments made. I asked her what would have happened if she didn't get that appointment, and she said that basically she would have had to try another town hall, and then maybe another. But, this is not good because that means that they would have had to hire a bus to take all of their family members to possibly a far away town to get married, and then to take them back to the wedding reception area. Phewey! And, by the way, most German weddings are very small and only involve family and maybe a couple of very close friends.

  • In terms of German schooling, I've heard from a math teacher that her child is in a public German school, and they start streaming / grouping by levels in as young as 4th grade. By the 4th grade, kids are already carrying planners around with them all day and there are very high expectations of independence.

  • Of course, this is tied to cultural expectations in general. On the streets of Berlin, I often see very young children (maybe 3 or 4 years old) crying while riding/wobbling on their bicycles for the first time down the street. Their parents are typically at least a block ahead of them and not stopping to wait and nurture the kids as you would expect American parents to do. Of course, for months before that (maybe since they're 2 or so??), those same kids have already been running down the street on their little training bikes going as fast as their parents on the big bikes.

    Training bikes look like this. The kids glide on them so fast even without pedals, they're practically already riding bikes down the street.

    But yes, it's definitely tough love. That's why one of my German colleagues could not understand why a 6th-grader's parent did not want us to just leave the kid at a cafe in a train station by himself to wait for his parents to come with his passport before hopping on the train to catch up with everyone else who would have already been on their way. To Germans, 6th-graders should be perfectly capable of doing these things.

  • And if you have been following the German scandal with their former President, Christian Wulff, you might know that many Germans are very happy to see him step down. The President of Germany, different from their Chancellor (Angela Merkel), is more of a figurehead than anything else. They say that he is "kind of like the Queen of England, except he is elected." Because of that, they expect him to be basically perfect. So, even though his scandal involved possible corruption from when he was a governor, he had to step down. Our German friends were following this bit of news closely in hopes that he would.

  • I recently witnessed the German BVG people (sort of "subway and bus police") come around and check tickets on a bus. It was very funny because the bus was very crowded and the stops were too frequent for them to be able to catch people getting off the bus right away when they had gotten on. They ended up jumping off the bus at the first stop, because they thought someone who didn't have a ticket was running away. The whole thing was pretty comical, and I wish they would just stick to checking tickets on the subways, which seems to work pretty well for them. Busses are just too chaotic for doing that kind of thing. ...But, I have to also say that I think people should just buy bus tickets legitimately. We need to support the public transit!! The German transit system is by far the best I've seen!

  • Something for me to investigate is cigarette laws here. Geoff and I met a Marlboro marketing guy when we were in Turkey, and he said that in Germany it's legally allowed to post cigarette ads everywhere. In fact, Marlboro right now has a huuuuge campaign called "(May)Be" that has the word "Maybe" but the first part crossed out. I never understood what it meant until he explained that it means that instead of being a "Maybe" smoker, you should just "Be" a smoker. How terrible that this is allowed!!

    This definitely has a negative effect on the young smokers. I regularly see teenagers smoking around schools. I have also seen them at the bus stop rolling their own cigarettes, which is interesting because it looks like something else. I can only imagine that if you roll your own cigarettes, the filter doesn't work very well and you're getting even more carcinogens into your body.

    I don't mind when adults smoke (as long as they are not disgusting about it), but I think it is really bad that we let kids, whose bodies are still growing and whose minds are not yet ready to make their own decisions, be exposed so readily to cigarettes. :(

  • On another note, I've been learning German, slowly but surely. I am really glad that I make weekly appointments with my private tutor, because if I didn't, I surely would not feel motivated to be doing stuff every week on top of being incredibly busy at work. But, with her I feel that my reading comprehension is certainly getting better, and my understanding of the German grammatical structure is as well. On top of it, I've now finished the Pimsleur Book 1 audiotapes and have begun Book 2. I am happy because I think I am moving along about as fast as I did when I learned Spanish, and I was certainly comfortably conversational in Spanish by the time I had left El Salvador. Right now I can make broken sentences to say to my German teacher to tell bits and pieces of a story, but sometimes I still lose patience and switch over to English. By the end of the year, I hope to be able to say everything in German!


  1. Those balance bikes are popular back Stateside, too. Miles has a red one called a Toot Scoot, but Corey's bike shop sells the Strider brand. They are super cool!!

  2. I DO see that fierce independence in the few Germans I know. You've shed light on that. That training bike is too cute, and so German (sleek, beautiful, efficient). I remember growing up and going to the fair grounds, my brother would look under the fair rides to see if they were "Made in Germany." If not, he wasn't getting on them!

    We used to have "bus police" like that in Portland (OR) during my college years. I know, the riders -- mainly teenagers -- scramble off the bus when they get on. Thanks, Mimi!