Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Clean cups, clean cups!

New post, new post!

So, this weekend I had a friend over that I met at orientation (see Mom, not being completely antisocial and reclusive). It was rather fun - it's nice having another clueless American to explore the city with. We checked out some of the places I've already been (Frauenkirche, Altmarkt, etc.), went to the international bookstore so she could get an English fix (she's in a teensy eensy little town, so can't get anything there), and went to Neustadt and the Garten, both of which I hadn't been to yet.

Neustadt is cool; really, there's not another word for it. The buildings are old and multicolored (just how I like 'em :)), but they're not as well kept as in the Altstadt, so they're all kind of toned down to a similar shade. I'll have to take a picture - I like how it looks. And there's a lot of graffiti all over the place, and some buildings that are in disrepair, shall we say, from DDR days and before. There are little restaurants and cafes everywhere - a couple with standard German fare, but mostly very ethnic. I saw Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, African, Australian, American, Russian, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Algerian, Albanian... Pretty much any food you have a craving for, you can get here. I need to make it to the American bar and grill, actually, just for amusement. They advertise themselves as having "cheeseburger!!"

There are also, of course, a plethora of bars, clubs, etc. Some of them are dancey poppy places, but more often they seem to be subculture oriented - raves, goth/industrial clubs, metal bars. If I were a particularly social person, this is where I would go. Thrift stores abound here, and also just...weird...stores. There was one that appears to specialize in selling nothing but hookahs. I need to go investigate the place further - it was Sunday when we went, so everything was closed.

The Garten was very nice, but in a completely different way. It's really huge - one kilometer by two kilometers - and as soon as you're thirty paces off the street it's very peaceful and quiet, easy to imagine that you're not actually in a city. At one corner, there's a botanic garden, run by the university and open to the public. I see myself going there rather a lot, partially because it's just pleasant, and partially because they have a North American section that feels like I'm in my woods back home.

I discovered over the weekend that German restaurants are completely infuriating. The middle is fine, but the beginning and end completely baffle me. First, when you go in, you just wander in and sit down wherever the heck you want. I find it slightly nerve-wracking - what if they don't want me to sit there? What if they don't notice I came in? But eventually they do notice that you're there and bring you a menu. You order, very easy, except that some things are impossible to pronounce (Quarkkeulchen!), and they bring your food in a reasonable amount of time. Seems to take a little longer than in the States, but I'm a patient person, so that's okay. After that, though, they leave you completely alone for the rest of the time you're there, and you pretty much have to hunt down and grab someone to ask for the check. Then, of course, they come to the table and tell you how much you owe and stand there staring at you until you find your money and hand it directly to them, and you have to tell them how much you want to pay. Tipping is very small here, and you don't leave it on the table - you tell the waitress how much you want to leave. Say it's 12.55 for your meal, you might say "Fourteen." and hand her a twenty and she'll hand you six back (probably in coins, dammit - they never give me bills as change). So. It's weird. But the food was tasty, granted...

Anyway, that was my weekend. It was fun. We get along quite well, surprisingly. I never expect to get along with people... We're making tentative plans to meet up in Leipzig and head to Prague over the vacation (two weeks vacation starting Friday!), or maybe to Vienna - she has a friend living there that we could stay with.

Yesterday I impressed myself. I've been having trouble with the bank - they were supposed to mail me my account number, which I need in order to get paid (!), but I never got anything in the mail, and it'd been two weeks. So I finally bit the proverbial bullet and went to the bank all by myself to talk about it. This being East Germany, they don't really speak English there (East Germans all learned Russian in school, not English, so only the youngsters really speak much English, I'm finding), so I had to explain my situation and why it was problematic and what I wanted them to do all in German. It was terrifying, but I actually managed to explain myself clearly and coherently and in good enough German that they understood it all immediately. So the situation is now taken care of, for which I'm eminently grateful (imminently? blast you, English language!), and I'm feeling a hell of a lot more competent in my German than I did before doing that. It was tough doing it on my own (well, honestly more scary than actually tough), but I'm really glad I did.

Today I had a slightly different sort of experience - I taught my first two lessons ever. It went a lot better than I expected, actually. I used a picture of the Naked Cowboy in Times Square for a picture description lesson (Clemens and Enrico wanted me to do one to prep them for their exam), and it was an amusing enough picture to keep their attention for the lesson. It's much easier to think of questions about a picture when it's a good picture - why is he playing a guitar? on the street? in his underoos? Clemens and Enrico both said it was a good lesson, especially for my first time, so I was happy.

So, now you are up to date. Tomorrow's der Tag der Deutschen Einheit (German Unity Day - celebrating the reunification of East and West Germany), so we have off school. I'm probably going to sleep quite a bit, then do some grocery shopping (have to do that pretty much every day... no freezer, and must transport groceries by bike, making it impossible to get much at a time), and maybe wander over to Neustadt to explore some more. I'll try to update again tomorrow.

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