Friday, May 24, 2013

All the world's a stage

Today my "middle school" students saw several plays in English, performed by the British traveling theater group White Horse Theatre. The sixth and seventh graders saw a play called My Cousin Charles and the eighth and ninth graders saw one called Two Gentleman, a modern adaption of the Shakespeare play The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

The theater group did very well presenting these plays to a young audience of English language learners. They spoke slowly and loudly, and usually accompanied everything they did with over-exaggerated actions (rather in the style of Monty Python), to make the whole thing very clear.  Mostly the students seemed to understand, laughing at all the right points, for example.

My Cousin Charles is about a girl who tries to play tricks on her hated cousin, only to have the tricks backfire. This past week we had my two sixth grade classes think about tricks they could play on hated cousins. Some of the options:

 - play hide-and-seek, tell the cousin to hide first, and then not seek him/her
 - put toothpaste/a mouse/gum/dust in the cousin's shoe
 - lock the cousin in a room
 - lock the cousin in a dark room
 - ask the cousin to crawl into a box and then not let him/her out
 - trip the cousin so that he/she falls into mud

The slightly older students saw Two Gentlemen with a changed ending, and mostly were able to follow along. What they didn't catch, they discussed with great animation and in German during the half-hour of class we had left at the end of the day. I was gratified to see them so interested in the play and can only hope that they'll keep their interest in Shakespeare for the twelfth grade, when they read him.

In the spirit of enjoying Shakespeare, I leave you with the Reduced Shakespeare Company's rendition of all of the Bard's comedies in one four minute segment. If you have the time, you can find other clips from their Shakespeare show online. The Othello rap is a particular favorite.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Weekday quiet

It's a recurring, overused, beat-the-dead-horse joke that the United States has a lot of space and Europe does not, comparatively speaking. I'm of the opinion that the difference in space is at the root of many differences, political and personal, but that gets into "serious discussion" territory. Instead, let me show you two pictures.

Picture #1

Picture #2
Two "suburbs", separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Obviously Picture #1 is American and Picture #2 German, as indicated by the space differences. The American suburb has single-family homes, front yards (albeit small ones), trees, and houses set back from the street. The German neighborhood (Europe doesn't have suburbs quite like the States, but this is a reasonable approximation) has a row of houses on either side, all sharing at least one and often two walls with a neighbor. You walk out your front door and there is the street, just a step down. No front yards, no green space, no sprawl. German homes are very compact.

At the end of the street here is a little park and the Rhine River. In the States, where anyone not living in a city has their own green patch, parks are nice but not particularly crowded unless they have a play structure for children. If you want to sit outside after dinner on a nice spring evening, you do so on your deck or on your porch or in your front lawn or whatever. In Germany, where a few lucky people have a balcony, the green spaces are overrun on nice weekends. This past weekend was gorgeous: mid-60s, sunny, hint of a breeze. It's a very pleasant time to stroll along the Rhine, as I and everyone else from the area proceeded to do. And everyone who wasn't strolling was covering the small green space with blankets, picnic baskets, portable grills, and lawn chairs. The sheer number of people here, where usually we have the construction workers and the period person+dog, was a little startling. Certainly there are places in the States that are equally busy during certain times of the year. At home, there's a park where everyone goes to watch the fireworks on July 4th. But I've never seen a public green space quite so full of people, so constantly.

The close proximity of so many people does not mean that we're all friends and hang out and have one big barbeque together. Quite the contrary - Germans are good at pretending like the other people they live so near don't exist. It's probably the only way to get around the fact that you have very little private space. But it was really nice to see so many disparate groups spending time in this green space for a weekend together. Groups of teenage friends, elderly couples, families, and single walkers all moved around one another like currents in the river.

And today? Well, I have Mondays off because I'm spoiled rotten, but nearly everyone else has to work. The park is nearly deserted except for a young mother and her young child, and only a few people are walking their dogs along the river. Everything is very quiet. I'm headed out for yet another walk and bask, all by myself. I think I prefer the quiet, as a ferocious introvert, but there is a loss of energy with the loss of so many other people.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Stop in the name of a pedestrian!

Germans really earn their reputation for being a rule-conscious, order-conscious people. This manifests itself in a number of ways, from street cleaners literally sweeping the sidewalks at 5am to homeless men chastising you for putting a recyclable into the trash can. Not that I would know.

The concern with order really comes out in things like traffic signals, perhaps because American me is accustomed to Bostonians ignoring walk signs and nearly getting themselves run over twice a day. Germans wait until the light tells them to go. Pedestrians usually don't walk across the street until walk signal comes up, even if there aren't any cars coming. When cars come to a crosswalk without signals, the presence of a pedestrian hovering at the side of the road will cause them to stop, even if there are no other cars behind them and they have to brake hard to keep from jutting into the crosswalk. I can count on one hand the number of times a car has not stopped for me.

I certainly don't mind waiting a few extra seconds while the car that is nearly past the crosswalk already goes on through. Also, I don't trust that the driver is actually going to stop, because American, and usually wait for the car to fully halt before crossing. This makes some people impatient, as all the Germans step blithely out into the street, secure in the knowledge that they will not be run over. Often I end up scurrying across the street like some sort of foreign mouse to keep from feeling like I've overly inconvenienced the person who didn't have to stop for me in the first place.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

This practice of yielding-to-pedestrians-with-a-vengeance became especially surreal when I left school yesterday to walk to the train station. I got to the street I always cross (it doesn't have a signal) and did my normal fearful inching out, only to step back smartly when an ambulance came around the corner. It didn't have lights or sirens, so I can only hope that it was just out for a relaxing drive and not headed to the hospital because it stopped and waited for me to cross the street.

My scurrying was especially fast, I assure you.