Travelogue LXXII: Terroranschläge

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November 14, 2015

March 22, 2015 I’ve always reveled in the German language. Above all, it’s the words that draw me in–the sound of them, the feel of them, their sensuality, their potential for music and profundity. In my teenage years, learning German through a thousand hours of opera and later through a painstaking obsession with literature, I collected vocabulary like so many tiny works of art–toys, really, that I could take out and polish up and delight in.

My favorites: Dämmerung, Lenz, Gesamtkunstwerk, Leidenschaft, pfaublau, Rausch, Ausschweifung, Kastanienbaum, Lust. I can still hear those words in their places in the opera scores, see them on the pages of my battered copies of Musil and Hesse and Mann.

Living in Germany has added a whole new dimension to this loving-of-words. Here, I sit in my Weinstube and wonder at the way that Wein softens into Woi and schön into schee, in the melodious dialogue of the Pfalz. Words-on-a-page turn into real dialogue here, with faces and laughter on the other side of a glass of wine.

I can’t get enough.

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January 8, 2015

But there are some words I never, ever wanted to learn.

Terroranschlag, for instance. Terrorist attack. Or worse yet, Terroranschläge, plural. There is no part of me that ever wanted to learn that word. But suddenly, one day last January it was all everyone could talk about. And a whole world of others soon followed.

Attentat. Assassination attempt. Razzia. Raid. Massaker. Massacre. Religiöse Extremisten. Religious extremists. Geiseln. Hostages. Sprengstoffgürtel. Explosive belt. Ausnahmezustand. State of emergency. Drahtzieher. Mastermind. Selbstmordattentäter. Suicide bomber. Radikalisierung. Radicalization.

And on, and on, and on. I kept a dictionary open in one computer window, the news in the other. My linguistic horizons expanded horribly overnight.

Those words show up nowhere in Wagner’s universe, or Musil’s, or Goethe’s. They are ugly–no beautiful playthings there, no sensuality. My cravings for vocabulary were replaced suddenly and shockingly by disgust.

And part of me says, I didn’t sign up for this. And another part of me, the part that marched with the protestors and photographed the memorials in Mainz and learned every damn word by heart in spite of the nausea, says yes you did.

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January 17, 2015

But still, recently I was starting to forget, and the forgetting was sweet.

How ironic, that just when all that vocabulary was becoming a bit rusty through disuse, I sit at a computer in a sun-filled library on a Tuesday morning and remember everything all over again.

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Tschüss, 2014!

Dear Readers,

Believe it or not, I’ve been living abroad for exactly six months now. In one sense, it seems like just minutes ago that I was boarding a plane in Boston and asking myself what in the world I was doing; in another, however, it all seems lifetimes away.

The past year has brought more change than any other year of my life. At the beginning of 2014, I was still an undergraduate, spending my Christmas break at home and writing a thesis on Plato and Thomas Mann. I had just made the decision not to apply to American universities in favor of moving to Germany, and I was terrified that it was all going to come crashing down by the time I graduated.

Now, I’m living in Mainz in Rheinland-Pfalz, nearly halfway through the first semester of my masters’ degree. I haven’t seen my family for six months, and probably won’t for another nine. It’s been a season of growing into things–a new language, new people, a new educational system, a new way of seeing the world. It’s a humbling and exciting business, this.

And after four months here in Mainz, I don’t just feel like a visitor any more–I know where the most convenient food stores are, where not to walk at night, and which buses to take, and I give directions to tourists. I have a job, and some sort of social life, and go to classes and debate tragedy and existentialism in Hamlet along with everyone else. It’s good to be here.

It’s been a hard year in many ways, due to some things that I am too sick at heart about to put into writing. And at the same time it’s been one of the most beautiful of my life.

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Schillerplatz, downtown Mainz. With snow and sunshine.

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IMG_1049It’s strange–when I arrived in Germany all I wanted to do was blend in, to lose my American accent and reach the point where I could “pass” as German as fast as possible. Now, though, I’m not sure I want to do that anymore. When people say, “I thought you were from Austria!” or “I thought you just had a strong dialect!” it’s incredibly flattering (and also short-lived; it becomes apparent within a few minutes that I am *not* any sort of native speaker). At the same time, however, it’s strangely disturbing–do I really want to lose that part of my identity that publicly marks me as not German? If I can pass as 100% German, do I stop being American somehow?

This “living abroad” concept is as now as much a part of my existence as my feminism or my belief in the power of beauty–but when do I stop being someone who is living abroad? When is abroad not abroad any more?

I’ve thought about the title of my blog, and what will happen after I (most likely) return to America at the end of my masters’ degree, two years from now. I have a feeling that when I move back to the States the name “Emily Abroad” will still fit, because America will have become, just slightly, a sort of abroad for me. After you’ve invested so much in another place, after you’ve fallen in love with a language and a people and a country, can you ever really go back?

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Mainz, Oberstadt.

In the end, one of the greatest joys of my time here as been keeping this blog, and I’m grateful to all of you for reading and commenting and generally caring. I would love any feedback you might have–what would you like to hear about in the coming year? Any pressing queries about Germany, about living and studying in a foreign country? I would be happy to hear from you.

I’m excited for the new year. Gaudeamus and Excelsior!

Alles Gute und Liebe,

Emily

Travelogue III: Berlin

IMG_0144Berlin Wall

18. Juli, 2014 If Munich is all stability, conservatism and settledness, then Berlin is its polar opposite–restless, scandalous, disparate, a miss-mash of old and new, renewal and decay. It’s thrilling, though I think I will always prefer Munich’s particular beauty and stateliness.

IMG_0192A typical Berlin skyline–old and new together, everything in transition, always with a dozen cranes from construction sites in the background.

We arrived late last night, and got on a boat this morning to take a tour of the city. We docked at the Turkish Market, and climbed a flight of stairs to the street. Suddenly, we weren’t in Germany any more, but in some open bazaar in some city to the South and East–rugs and bolts of silk and glass beads and vegetables and Doener, all being hawked with utmost enthusiasm in Turkish, brilliant colors everywhere.

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Bolts-of-fabric-on-display

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On the way back, we looked up events for the evening in a local newspaper. The professor and I found a baroque concert in Schloss Charlottenburg, and went to hear a Vivaldi concerto and early Mozart arias, surrounded by Berlin’s most wealthy and privileged.

schloss-charlottenburgSchloss Charlottenburg

19. Juli, 2014 Unbearably hot the entire day–I came early back to the hotel, blessedly one of the few with air conditioning in the entire city, and slept till early evening. Then off again, with the entire group this time, to the Deutsch-Französisches Fest–sponsored by the French Embassy, held in front of the Brandenburger Tor. “This is a good time for my country,” said the professor, “when the French feel that they can come to the most German spot in the most German city and throw a party. I find that very hopeful.” And the French know how to party–packed open-air tables, food and wine and German beer, drinking songs and dancing and then a performance by a Berlin rapper who is apparently insanely popular in France.

One has the feeling that Berlin is 10 cities instead of one. Crazy, that 24 hours ago I was sitting in evening-wear in a pristine concert hall, listening to Italian arias and drinking Champagne–and that 36 hours ago I was trying to figure out how to pronounce Gözleme, surrounded by Turkish housewives haggling over the price of fresh fruit or fish or bolts of fabric. And now I’m being deafened by an open-air rap concert at a table with 15 of my new best friends, eating French pizza and wishing I could dance.

brandenburger-torBrandenburger Tor, minus a bunch of very happy, very drunk French partygoers, and a very bad German rapper. 

In Munich, too, but especially in Berlin, the internationality of it all is staggering–in the Turkish Market, we might as well not be in Europe at all, in the tiny Italian cafe in Gendarmenmarkt, the couples at the other tables are from Australia, Holland, Italy. At the French-German Fest, we solve all the world’s problems at a table with Maria from Ireland, Jean from France, and the friends they had just met from Spain. With a shared bottle of rosé and a tarte flambée from the stand across the square, all screaming to be heard over the music, speaking in a mixture of German and English and very bad French. It’s all playing with language, with cultural differences, with stereotypes and idioms and bad jokes. Maria teaches us phrases in Gaelic, we all learn a French drinking song because the people at the next table haven’t stopped singing it for hours, and the American students give the German professors an education in modern American slang–“trolling,” “mosh pit,” “duckface.” Very important vocabulary, that.

To me, this is all so new–my childhood in small-town New England and undergrad in the conservative Midwest, wonderful as they were, didn’t really lend themselves to this sort of dialog. And here, I am loving it–a thousand perspectives and ways of thinking, a dozen new languages. If you listen hard enough, with a little Latin you can start picking up French and Italian within a few minutes.

And the pace, too, is so different from anything I am used to, here in one of most vibrant cities in Europe. Even with the conservative professors, you go out to eat AFTER the concert, not before, and then to a cafe for another glass of wine, and then back to the hotel to sit in the garden and talk and laugh harder than you have laughed in months. If you make it back to the room before 2am, it’s an early night.

20. Juli, 2014 In the morning, we take a tour of the Reichstag, the seat of German government. Only the outside is original–everything inside was re-built post-reunification, to match Germany’s new emphasis on transparency and clarity. The building is part art museum, part memorial, part politics, all glass and efficient clean lines. It’s possible to look right through the entire structure, through the parliament room and offices to the heaven on the other side, as our tour guide tells us. It is obvious that this is the political seat of a country that is peaceful and successful and at least half-way intelligent.

IMG_0136Reichstag from the river-side.

IMG_0186From the front. The inscription: “To the German people.”

IMG_0139The past is still very much felt–bullet holes left over from WWII.

10_57d8c64005816c718c79d310e001675aParliament, unfortunately minus Angela Merkel

IMG_0190Dome above the building, with views of the city on all sides and of the parliament room below.

IMG_0194Inside the dome

In the afternoon, it’s too hot to look at art. “I think I would have a panic attack if I had to see a Kandinsky right now,” says the professor. So I, who am always so uptight and driven and have to be doing doing doing, sit for four hours in a cafe at the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt, sometimes talking about literature or the funny things the students said last night, but mostly in silence. It’s a privilege, this.

cafe-gendarmenmarktGendarmenmarkt

Afterwards, the train ride back to Wuerzburg is pretty hellish. Delays on both ends, unbearably hot and sticky on the slow train to Hannover, missed connections and resulting loss of seat reservations between Hannover and Wuerzburg. But when we finally arrive in the tiny train station at 11pm, the clouds open and the heat finally breaks, with thunder and wonderfully cold wind on the way back to the dorms.

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Note: for a less-rambly post on Berlin from two years ago, with lots more pictures and infos, click here.