Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Daily Chuckle #2

A twelfth grade student discussing the power dynamic between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth:

Student: She questions his mankind in this scene, so she is more powerful.
Me: We often say "questions his masculinity" in this kind of situation.
Student: Ah yes, masculinity. Or manhood. What makes him a man. She questions it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Market

A very German way to celebrate Christmas is going to a Christmas market. If a craft fair and a state fair loved one another very much and had a baby all through December, that's a Christmas market. Except without the "my animal/vegetable/mineral is bigger than yours" posturing.

My city is on the small side and its market is sized accordingly, so I spent this afternoon in Wiesbaden on the recommendation of a friend who used to live nearby. She told me the market was nice, and she was right. I arrived around 3:30 to preserve a bit of daylight for taking pictures. My camera gives up at night.

Market Church, in the main square.
It looked really pretty as the sun went down.

Ambulances standing by, just in case. How German.

An example of the stalls.

This orchestra played for over four hours.

Ooo, sparkly!

The light is fading...

This gives you an idea about how many people were there.
So I wandered about and ate gingerbread and drank Glühwein (mulled wine, essentially) and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The problem with the crowds was that you couldn't actually walk in some places, you had to be sort of carried along in a collective slow movement. This got rather frustrating sometimes, especially when the process was further slowed by not having designated lanes.

The market is called "Sternschnuppenmarkt"...

which translates to "twinkling star Christmas market"

Slightly blurry, but dramatic nevertheless.

The Germans do love their sausage.

The market was especially pretty after dark.
 Not that my camera cares to show you, but it's true - all the trees were hung with lights and most of the stalls were edged in them. Everything smelled good, everything looked good, and we had live Christmas music the whole time. It was great.

No nativity controversy in Germany.

A final shot of the lights.
The flowers-made-out-of-light threw me off a bit. They were everywhere and very bright, but unlabeled. I'm debating between poinsettia and tulip. Thoughts?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Daily Chuckle

One ninth grade class attempted to pronounce the word "whore" today, resulting in:

1. wuh-HOO-er (by far the most common)
2. HOO-er
3. HOO-reh
4. HUR
5. veh-HOO-er (in German the "w" is pronounced like a soft "v")
6. HO-are (good morning Brooklyn!)
and finally...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas, German-style

Think of your average German.

Got a good picture?

If you picked "lederhosen and beer" or "stiff businessperson," you're in line with my anecdotal evidence (also known as two friends I randomly asked) regarding German stereotypes. And as with most stereotypes, those ones aren't all wrong - Bavarians un-ironically love lederhosen and beer, and few Germans are at all demonstrative outside of soccer matches. Despite this national psyche, the Christmas season seems to bring about the tasteful magpie in German public spaces. The older of my two malls, for example, has been all decked out since the end of November.

Down the center of the mall you can find a bunch of Christmas-specific temporary retailers, selling a whole manner of traditional shapes and forms for celebrating the season.

The German "Christmas Tree Shoppe"
Lots of pretty glass ornaments
The candles make the little windmills turn.
Besides the little retailers, every surface that isn't a store window or the floor has been festooned with decorations. To be fair, most of any mall is windows and floor, but still.

All the skylights have this.
A jumbo version of the little candle windmills.
Decorated the whole way down.
Notice the two Christmas trees by the bottom of the huge windmill? Every escalator has two little trees flanking it.

Could you call this garland? I'm going to.

The Christmas Tree outside the mall
Germans of a variety of religious bents are also rather enamored of Advent calendars, counting down the days until Christmas. A number of shops whose merchandise is otherwise unrelated sell Advent calenders seasonally to take advantage of this interest. You can get many different themes, rather like Valentine's cards or wall calendars in the US. To top it off, we have a small-scale replica of one famous church as a huge public Advent calendar.
They open a door every day at 5pm.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

On the scale of "Tennessee Christmas" to "frightful," the weather outside is only rather chilly but otherwise pleasant. However, in an unexpected turn of events, we're actually having something of a white winter! Saturday was one of the first truly sunny days we've had in a week and though my fingers protested, I was delighted to run around taking pictures of a rare snow in southern Germany.

Thursday late afternoon is looking a bit snowy
The train station at 7am on Friday has a light dusting
We're on the way...
Now you're talking!
Notice the accumulation on the fountain
At this point (the middle of fourth hour) the rest of school was cancelled because some buses stop running when it snows and the students could be stranded at school. I never did confirm whether these were only the buses that drive along back country roads, or if the German public transportation system is just deathly afraid of ice on the streets. My landlady noted with disapproval that some people use salt when it snows, to the detriment of the environment. I refrained from telling her that salt is de rigueur in the States, at least where I come from.

Saturday dawned bright and clear
Recycling bins with festive caps of snow
The pigeons are cold
Return of the swans
Let it be known: swans are evil. Pictures of swans in the snow are rather pretty. Of course at this point one swan started stalking towards me and hissing, so I backed off. When I relayed this story to my parents, they chided me for reinforcing the swan's behavior and encouraged me to become the alpha swan by standing my ground and hitting the thing when it got too close. I'm not sure its worth the possibility of a bite or buffet. Swans are heavy, I think they could do some damage. Plus, I have no idea about their protected status in Germany - Siebenschläfers are protected, why not swans?

The Germans are big on Christmas, so I'll share some pictures of Christmas decorations around my city just as soon as I take them on Monday. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Integrative learning

One of the teachers at my school has quickly become a role-model for me. She's very natural in teaching and managing her classroom, and does an especially good job of expanding her lessons for the younger students beyond their textbook. To help them connect their grammar and their overall theme of the US, she made up a foreign exchange student named Cilly who is spending a year abroad in the States. Cilly began in New York (their first chapter) and then traveled to Texas (their second chapter). Every time they learn a new concept, grammatical or thematic, she has them write a letter between Cilly and her friend back in Germany. This seems to work pretty well, and I've noticed they're better and more comfortable than the other class at using the grammar they learn when talking with me.

Of course the family they made up is a rundown of every American cliche ever. Upon arriving in Texas Cilly starts a homestay, where she lives with a blue-eyed, blonde American family. The father of the family is a lawyer, the mother a teacher. The daughter is a not-very-nice cheerleader named Emily and the daughter's boyfriend, Jake, is the captain of the football team. The twin younger sons play in the school's marching band; one is shy and the other is a "playa," according to my class. Cilly likes the "playa" twin, but thinks the shy twin likes her. They also have a cat and a dog, but oddly enough, no guns. I find this whole family uproariously funny. The students take it very seriously and can't understand why I would laugh.

My teacher for this class is very clever and had her eleventh-grade class practice their grammar and new vocabulary by writing an installment of the story for the eighth-grade class. So, having settled into her homestay, Cilly experiences a homecoming dance. The mother informs her that "y'all need to go shopping today" (I was impressed by this correct usage of Texas speech) in order to buy a dress and, under duress, Emily takes Cilly along. While the two are trying on dresses Jake shows up, because there's nothing high school football players like more than going dress shopping with their girlfriends. But, in a stunning turn of events, he sees Cilly from behind, thinks she's Emily, and compliments her dress. Emily overhears and flies into a jealous rage. Specifically, she's angry that Jake mistook Cilly's "elephant legs" for Emily's own slender ones. Great drama ensues.

Let me tell you, if high school homecoming dances came with that kind of show, I'd have actually gone to them. Soap opera story notwithstanding, the project is a fabulous way for both classes to practice what they've been learning, and I hope to use a similar tactic some time in the future. Perhaps the twelfth grade class can write about Cilly's spring break, which will naturally be to Mexico to get very drunk. I would hate to interrupt the cliches this late in the game, after all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lost in translation

Many teachers at my school use a particular set of textbooks to teach their students English. These books are predictably grammar-heavy (the older classes don't use them nearly so much), but also do a reasonable job of touching on some of the highlights of the US, even though I'm fairly sure the authors are German. Sometimes their choice of highlights is funny to me - for eighth grade, the chapters go from New York City to Mesquite, Texas to the American West with nary a pause in between. Sometimes the choices are just really odd.

One eighth grade class just started the American West chapter and is learning gerunds (nouns ending in -ing, as in "I like swimming") through the story of a teenager who lives in the mountains of Wyoming, far away from everything. His name is Dean and he has to drive two hours from his house to get to school in the morning. Apparently his parents didn't consider a) homeschooling or b) enrolling him in a different school when they found a place to live. The two hour commute is already a little strange - I've been to Wyoming and yes, it's pretty empty, but mostly people live near one another or avoid one another on purpose. They don't live far away and resent it the whole time. Plus, Dean's parents own a gas station, so clearly he's near some kind of town. Nevertheless, the point is that Dean spends four hours a day commuting to and from school and never has time for friends. His mother suggests, in all sincerity, that he go to live with his friend, Michael, whose parents own a ski lodge and who only has a twenty-minute commute to school. Nobody in the story mentions that it's kind of odd for a seventeen-year-old boy with a happy home life to go live with his friend because...I'm not quite sure why. The solution is offered and accepted, and they arrange that Dean has to come home once a month to see his parents. His mother's parting words of advice are "Don't be spending too much time on the slopes or at the rodeo or parties, study hard!"

Slopes and parties, I get. He's seventeen and living near a ski resort. But the rodeo? A den of iniquity if I ever saw one. And an entirely typical hangout for Wyoming's teenagers. Or maybe it is? I was too busy laughing hysterically to consider the possible truth of the situation.

One of these things is not like the other...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Film studies

I woke up yesterday and it was December. Craziness. Since I live along the Rhine this month does not come with a blanket of snow or Jack Frost nipping very hard at my nose, but it does come with two very exciting movie premieres.

Guys guys guys, The Hobbit and Les Miserables are both almost here!!!

Now The Hobbit comes out on December 14 in the US, just under two weeks from now. It premieres on December 13 in Germany. I would stick out my tongue like a child at anyone in the US who is also a Tolkien fan because I get to see it first, except maybe I don't.

Here's the first trailer as seen in Germany. Notice it's not in English (and seems to have a touch of 3-D in the backgrounds). When I looked up the movie theaters near me, their websites all seem to indicate that they'll be playing the film, like the trailer, in German. Sadface. The dilemma is that between knowing the story very well and generally doing pretty well with German, I'll understand most of the movie. Its visuals will be gorgeous, its music will be stunning. But the voices will be wrong, the songs will be different, and I'll have to work to understand everything instead of being able to sit back and let it wash over me. All my attempts to find an English-language version have come to naught. Of course I still need to stop by the movie theaters and double-check that their movies will all be in German, as the sites don't say, but it's not looking good for our boys in blue.

So I might need to wait until I get back to the US on December 20 to see The Hobbit. I'll probably have to swear off Facebook for the period between the US premiere and when I get home, because everyone I know shares my love of Tolkien and can't be trusted to keep quiet. Despite this possible setback, I haven't given up! Updates to follow.

With Les Miserables I have no such angst - it comes out December 25, and I'll see it sometime after that. It is very likely that I will drag along some friends who haven't seen the play, and spend the whole movie either squealing with delight or muttering how Broadway did it better. My poor, long-suffering friends.

But! In case you haven't already seen it, I present the Les Mis trailer for your enjoyment. In English, this time.

While my expectations for this one aren't nearly as high as for The Hobbit, I'm still really excited. Throw in a Christmas Market, friends, family, and home, and this is shaping up to be a lovely holiday season. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to clean my apartment while listening to Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas albums, because it's that time of year.