The German language spoke to me last night. It said, “Brian, Du kannst mich nicht haben.” That is, “Brian, you can’t have me.” So now I’m going to Germany, hoping that all Germans speak English.
I tried to learn the language, but to no avail. Theresa, a German foreign exchange student, armed me with basic traveling words and phrases. Also, I took a few lessons online, and for a time I was learning useful everyday words like “basketball” and “snow cone.” My friend Will recommended I attend German conversation hour at Casa Nueva, which I considered.
Everyday I stuck a post-it note to my lofted bed stand that read, “Polish up my German!” NO DEAL. My goal—30-minutes-of-German-a-day—was not realistic.
“Documentary and Storytelling in Europe” is about making documentaries, not so much about learning German language and culture. So instead of mastering arguably the most important concept of good etiquette and journalism—language and communication—I have spent much of my time researching story ideas for my team’s 10-minute film project in Leipzig.
No limitations, they said. You can chase your story across borders if you want to… the first time I heard this, my eyes sparkled. Yes, sparkled. The mosaic of endless possibilities jump-started my ambition, and I found myself staring at a computer screen for hours on end, learning all I could about German politics, economy and pop culture.
Please understand, I knew virtually nothing about Germany before signing up for this trip—besides my grade school knowledge of the Nazis, the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall. So for me, trying to single out an ideal story for Germany was like plugging the word “it” into a Google search engine. Seven billion possibilities.
My first three “search results” were as follows:
1) The Games Convention Online will be hosted in Leipzig from July 8-11 and is branded as the only international convention in the world for browser, handheld and social gaming. Over 12 countries will be in attendance including the Korean powerhouse. There is also a video gaming club at the University of Leipzig, where we are staying (potential attendees?).
2) The Leipzig Haushalten eV Guardian House project turns old vacant buildings into epicenters for new art and businesses. As East Germany’s population plummeted in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall (and continues to decrease today), this project is an attempt at saving Leipzig’s architecture. I tracked down a cool Indian business that uses this free space for their online shop (www.akash.de).
3) Neues Deutchland, the Berlin propaganda machine for the GDR before 1989, was actually one of the few pre-1989 papers to survive the western media tsunami in the 1990s. The chief editor Jürgen Reents has been trying to transform Neues Duetchland’s image since 1999. The conflict seems rich, but is the story outdated?
All these ideas fell through. Finally, though, I hit gold, or should I say—coal.
Max, Andy, and I are travelling to the city of Markkleeberg, a 15-minute drive south of Leipzig. Before 1996, Markkleeberg was home to Espenhain, a former brown coal mine in East Germany. The mine was decommissioned and flooded, and Markkleeberg Lake replaced the open pit in 2006. Artificial rivers, lakes and white water courses have transformed Markkleeberg into a tourist and recreation hot spot. The Roller Ski World Cup is spinning into town on June 18, and a buffalo ranch was established in 2000—apparently, abandoned coalmines provide ideal land to breed, raise, and butcher buffalo.
35,000 coalminers lost their jobs in 1994. Many still reside at or near Markkleeberg. Thus, a human face to the story.
People have been telling me, “Well, don’t expect everything to go as planned. You’ll need to get adjusted. And who knows, you might find some guy—like David Hasselhoff’s number one fan! Be prepared to throw away all your research and chase that story.” (Sigh)… let’s just hope he speaks English.