Sunday, February 10, 2008

Also Sprach Herr Luther

My sources in New York have told me that there've been a smattering of 60+°(F) days recently. Or maybe one or two. Today may have reached 60º here in Hamburg, but I can guarantee that it beat the pants off any 60° February day in New York. Indeed, Central Park on the oddball warm winter day is a sight to behold, but it can't contend with the Alster, which I decided to circumnavigate this afternoon — along with nearly half of the population of greater Hamburg. I wouldn't associate the notion of challenge with this effort were it not the case that I had joined the 2% of the population who were running and not walking, strolling, strollering, or biking. Think McCarren Park track on a Sunday afternoon but far busier and much better scenery. Can't say it wasn't fun, even if it stunted my pace a bit.

I've happily discovered that one full podcast of WFMU's Downtown Soulsville show is of perfect length for a few minutes of pre-run pump-up and then the 45-50 minutes it takes to make my way around all 9K or so of Alster shore. Nothing like a bunch of dusty, funky soul singles to keep the pace up and soundtrack the hurdling of strollers. A few days back I used Zeppelin II, which may in fact be better; a shame there's not a new Zep podcast available every week.

Podcasts, Skype, email, blogs
, a different SIM-card in every country... it's struck me while traveling around during the last year how easy it is to disengage from the surroundings and maintain virtual contact with other side of the world. One could easily spend three weeks in Germany without truly spending any of it "in Germany." It's strange to imagine that only ten years ago, one's options for contact with the homeland would be limited to very expensive phone calls, a book of CDs, the occasional English language TV channel, and maybe a non-dubbed movie. Then, one would have to make an effort to withdraw from the local scene and contact the homeland; now it seems reversed. I've been guilty to an extent, between podcasts of favorite state-side radio shows, my own music, The Wire, and a regular flow of emails, but I make an effort to maintain that balance between "comfort food" and immersion in the local language and culture — especially so here in Germany, as I would love to become fluent in the language someday, and that clearly won't happen by sitting around the apartment typing up blog postings in English.

It shocks me every time how quickly the language not only comes back but improves! Even one week in, the difference is remarkable. When in the country, I soak up the language like a brining pork butt soaks up flava. Granted, I'm still climbing from one rung of crappy Deutsch to another, but every day a little higher. It takes about a day or two to dispense with the reticence and just speak, dammit. Of course I'm going to make mistakes and say silly things. But there's nothing like making a solid mistake to learn the right way of putting something together. The funny ones, though, I keep around for comedic effect. I can't say I'd be fluent if I stuck around for a year, but I'd be hangin' solid.

I'm constantly practicing as I walk around, which probably looks and/or sounds incredibly silly to any passing 'burgers. I'll pronounce words I see on signs, try to get the sounds right, or repeat a sentence over and over that I may have had trouble with at the last cafe. Maybe it's just one word, much less a sentence, or a set that are orthographically similar to the point of causing troubles. I recently had to consciously tone it down when repeating “wichtigste” (most important) over and over. As with “Röhre” (pipes) in Leipzig. And I got a couple strange looks while cycling through “zeichnen, zeigen, ziehen, Zehen, Zähne” (draw, show, pull, toes, teeth). Hey, a man gotta do...

A problem often arises when I speak to someone auf Deutsch with proper grammar and a decent accent: they speak it back. Quickly. I'm growing accustomed to cutting in and saying “noch mal, bitte” (again, please), “langsam” (slower), or “verstehe nicht” (I don't understand), which either effects a slower, easier-vocabularied response, or one in English, the latter of which can be frustrating. Waiting for that point where I'll be able to understand people speaking at a pace more brisk than narcotic is like waiting for that day where my fingers finally understand how to switch from chord to chord on guitar. But I'll keep on with it until things start to click. Or I decide to learn Portuguese instead.


Blogger Julia said...

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12:32 AM  

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