Archive for ‘Fulbright’

October 4, 2006

The Sächsische Schweiz

When German romantic artists discovered the sandstone cliff formations outside of Dresden in the 19th century it started a movement back toward nature at the dawn of the industrial revolution.Caspar David Friedrich is one of the many well-known artists who got their inspiration from the fairytale-like forests and viewpoints along the Elbe river.The story goes that some Swiss artists who were among the first to discover this area were so reminded of home that they dubbed the area the Sächsische Schweiz.

I was very happy to discover this area after I found out I would be living near Dresden this year, as hiking is something I really would like to do more often.A Fulbright friend of mine stationed in Hamburg, Andrew, was chatting with me on Friday and I told him about the area.He grew up in Minnesota and went to the University of Puget Sound in Washington, and because he missed hills and forests (Hamburg’s pretty much as flat as you can get), he decided to spontaneously come down for a visit.It was a great weekend, and included a fabulous hike.

We hopped on the regional train into Dresden from Radeberg, switched into an S-Bahn (commuter train) and were out in the Sächsische Schweiz within an hour.Having struggled through admissions at the Technische Universität Dresden I have finally received my Semester Ticket, which allows me to use all Dresden public transportation, including out to Radeberg and, amazingly, all the way to the Sächsische Schweiz.So, for a mere 73 Euros a semester, I have beautiful hiking, and all of Dresden, at my fingertips!

Andrew and I got off the S-Bahn in Wehlen, a sleepy town that is cut in half by the Elbe.The only way you can get across is by passenger ferry boat, and since the information office in the Rathaus was on the opposite side of the train station, we decided to hop on it.The river was actually very narrow, and Andrew pointed out that when the boat pointed its nose to the opposite riverbank to cross, it had already crossed a third of the river.Once we found the information office we bought a hiking map, bought some rolls at a bakery, and were off on our hike.After I navigated incorrectly and we had to ask a local for the right way, we finally found ourselves in the middle of a beautiful forest.

Throughout our walk, as we were engrossed in conversation, we would frequently stop and gasp at the amazing rock formations around us that seemed to grow, like the trees surrounding them, out of the earth.After about a two hour walk we arrived at the Bastei.We weren’t really sure what it was, but it appeared to be a major tourist attraction.There was a parking lot, which added to the amount tourism of course, a “Panorama Restaurant,” lots of kiosks, and some viewpoints that would have offered fantastic views (see picture), if the other tourists hadn’t been there to annoy us.It took us a good half hour of wandering around the tourist kitsch before we actually found the attraction:it turned out to be a bridge that spanned quite a few of the sandstone cliffs.It was built in the 19th century and was architecturally quite impressive, but again, the tourists distracted from the enjoyment factor.

We were both beginning to get hungry, so we decided to continue on our hike and go to the next town, Rathen (pronounced: Rah-ten), for dinner.Andrew claimed he hadn’t had a “traditional German” meal yet, and that’s almost blasphemy for me if you’ve lived in Germany two months already, so we picked the one that looked most traditional and tasty and went for it.It was incredibly good.He had a Bauernfrühstück (farmer’s breakfast), which was different from what I’d expected.It was basically an omelet, though it tasted pretty good.I ordered a wild game goulash with Knödel (dumplings) and a cranberry sauce.It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Neither of us had a watch, which was actually really nice as we could leisurely enjoy the area in a timeless fashion.It turned out we were quite early for dinner, but it worked out perfectly as we had a unhurried dinner and still had plenty of time to walk back to Wehlen along the riverfront before it got dark.

We boarded the passenger ferry once more, missed the S-Bahn by two minutes, and had to wait another half hour in the station for the next one.When we arrived home we were tired but refreshed and in good spirits.The day had been a bit misty and had drizzled every now and then, but we were lucky because Andrew left the next day in the pouring rain.My legs being (embarrassingly) a bit sore, it was nice to just curl up in my apartment with a hot pot of tea and Fabian by Erich Kästner and read the afternoon away.

September 27, 2006

Bureaucracy


Last fall for a German composition class I wrote a stylistic essay on Germany’s bureaucracy. It became quite Kafkaesque and was about someone who went to an office and stood in a long line waiting only to find out that s/he was in the wrong place and had to go somewhere else to find the right document. While I had had my share of experiences of Germany’s infamous (dis)organized system, I think I at least doubled them since coming here on the Fulbright. Fulbright warned us: they gave us a “bureaucracy checklist” and on each step of the way wrote things like “Don’t forget to smile!” What dark humore the Fulbright commission has…

One nice thing about living in a small town is that it reduces some of the pains of bureaucracy. Or perhaps at least the standing in line part. My first trip was to the Einwohnemeldeamt to register my residence in my apartment in Radeberg. I wandered over to the city hall (Rathaus) and walked right into the correct office. I would find out later that I got lucky. A very nice lady helped fill everything out and then explained how to get to Kamenz, the main city of the county, to register for my Aufenthaltsgenehmigung. This long word describes the visa I have to get retroactively to continue studying and working here as an American. Unfortunately she explained quite vaguely, and looking back she really didn’t explain very well at all. Luckily I had called ahead at the office before going, so they expected me. I took my massive folder (see picture) that has every official document in it that I hopefully will ever need this year, and headed off for Kamenz.

Upon arrival I asked the first person I saw at the train station how to get to the Landradsamt which housed the Ausländerbehörde, the Foreigner’s Office. The lady looked at me blankly. “Which one? There’s this one and that one…” and she began listing off names of offices I never knew existed. She was, however, able to give me clear directions upon clarification and I finally found the right building. I walked up the steps to the building the big front door automatically swung open as I approached, as if God or some invisible person were standing waiting for me to come. A bit creepy if you ask me. I asked at the front desk for the right office, as there wasn’t much written on signs, and she told me to walk to the end of the hall. I did.

At the end of the hall there was still no sign that I was in the right place, only a group of chairs set up in the hall in front of four identical-looking doors. A woman and her young son were sitting there waiting. Another woman came out of a room that was labeled simply Akten (Files) and I asked her if I was in the right place. She said yes. I asked if I should take a number, and she said “No, just knock” and rushed off to a different door, unlocked it, and slipped in.

Which door do I knock on?

I hestitantly tapped on a door that an Asian man had just went into. Two women were in there as well, and both called out “Wait outside!” So I did. The Asian man finally came out, and I knocked again and went in. “So you need a picture?” one woman asked. “Um, I’m not sure. I need an Aufenthaltsgenehmigung.” “Oh that doesn’t exist anymore.” “It doesn’t?” “No.” Pause, while I expected her to give me more help. Did she expect me to go away happy with that answer? No, she needed prompting: “Well, what do I need if I’m an American here for the year?” “In that case you need an Aufenthaltsbewilligung.” “Oh.” “And besides, you’re not in the right place at all! You have to knock on room E85. This is E89!” “Oh, I’m sorry.”

By this time two other men of Middle Eastern decent were waiting outside. I asked them if they were waiting for the same room as me and they nodded. However, they went into E86. So when they came out, and there had been no activity around E85, I knocked on E86. Now, in the meantime, many people had followed the file lady’s suit, and had slipped in and out of these locked doors with their handy dandy keys. So as I went into E86, the same lady in the photo room was in there and cried out “No, no! You can’t come in here. You need E85! E85! Right there. They don’t want you here!” Ah. I see. But the doors look exactly the same! I wanted to say, but instead I simply knocked on E85 and opened the door a crack, beginning to really become afraid of this knocking business. By that time an Indian man had entered E85 and the two ladies in there called out the usual “Wait outside!” I sighed, sat down, and pulled out Siddhartha from Hermann Hesse. Perhaps a little Buddhism would remind me that this would all pass and is inconsequential in the long run.

The Indian man finally came out of E85 and I went in. The ladies remembered that I had been the “Ami” who had called earlier. They asked me for all of my papers and documents, my passport, and then said “Go over to E89 to get your picture taken. Then wait outside and we’ll try to get this done today.”

Done today? It was already four fifteen in the afternoon! Impossible! It’s supposed to take weeks!

I shyly knocked on E89 and opened the door. The lady seemed exasperated to see me at first, but I said with a smile (remembering Fulbright’s advice) “Now I need your assistance and would like a picture.” Unbelievably, I accomplished a miracle that afternoon, and within two hours of being in the Ausländerbehörde I walked out with my visa. And by the way, it says Aufenthaltstitel.

September 21, 2006

The Living Room

As promised, some more pictures of the apartment. Here the living room.

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September 21, 2006

My Amelie Kitchen


My Amelie Kitchen

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September 17, 2006

First Day of School

I don’t consider myself vain, and I certainly don’t think I’m one to obsess over wardrobes and products, but teaching has made me a bit more conscious about what I wear. Standing in front of my closet on the first day of my teaching assistantship I was reminded of my first day of middle school (an era I don’t enjoy being reminded of). I remember picking out my clothes and going to my older sister for the a fashion check. Her “yes” or “no” would send me back to my room either satisfied or not. Of course, this didn’t last long – only two days tops – until I remembered I could dress myself. But here I was, twelve years later, just as utterly lost. Finally I pieced together an outfit and went off to school. In heels. Now, anyone who knows me well, knows I don’t wear heels. Only in orchestra concerts would I wear heels, and they gave me shin splints and foot cramps. Alas, I have had to give in and buy a pair of shoes with heels. Not stilletto – goodness knows I am not made for little popsicle sticks holding me up – but nevertheless added height to my walk. I clicked over the cobblestones, accross the street and around the corner to the school. I felt like everyone was staring at me.

I safely made it into the secretary’s office and waited patiently. I felt more like a student waiting for the principal than a TA waiting for her supervising teacher. She finally came and whisked me off and down the corridor to what continues to be the lion’s den for me: the teacher’s lounge. I have only been in it that one time. A huge desk in the middle of the room with teachers sitting around it, a wall of cupboards with a teacher’s names on each one, another wall of bulletin boards, and teachers. Tons of teachers. All milling around, some hustling to get materials together, others eating a roll or some fruit, yet others standing in line for computers or the copy machine. I don’t really remember what my teacher told me while we were in there. I probably only remember 50% of the information I was given that day in total, but I don’t have any recollection of what was told to me in that room. Vaguely something about the cupboards and the bulletin boards, but it is all a blur. All I remember thinking was “How on earth am I going to introduce myself to and then remember the names of all these people???”

Luckily I was whisked back out of that situation, and brought upstairs to the foreign language teacher’s lounge. A much smaller version of the teacher’s lounge, it was still overwhelming at first, but a thankful refuge. After being introduced to some of the English teachers, I got a tour of the school, went over important issues with my supervisor, and put together a temporary schedule for the next two weeks. I shook my supervisor’s hand, thanked her for her help, and went home.

Since then I’ve had three days of lessons. The students seemed interested in where I came from, and especially why my name sounded so German. One girl even asked me if I had pets. Pets are important in German families. Most families have guinea pigs or a dog. I had guinea pigs as a kid, but don’t have animals anymore. I think I devastated the girl with that response. It has been interesting to watch the different teacher’s styles of conducting class – one teacher has her twelth-grade class stand at the beginning of each lesson and say “Good morning.” One teacher insists on immersion and even school announcements are made in English, while other teachers spoke just as much German as they did English. I have helped analyze Shakespeare, discussed Mr. Keating’s teaching philosophy in the movie “Dead Poets Society,” learned about the British political system, and read an Australian short story. I’m excited about what awaits me next week.

First day: I went, I saw. Conquering the fear of the teacher’s lounge and the inability to manage my wardrobe will simply be a matter of time.