I experienced little to no “culture shock” upon arrival. Instead, I experienced dehydration and constipation. In Germany, for the most part, there are no public water fountains. And the water that they do sell is mineral water, the carbonated stuff that makes you parched, not refreshed. The first time we—Max, Alex, Andy, and I— ate out, we took turns sneaking to the bathroom and filling our glasses with sink water. Also, in Germany there are no public bathrooms. Mr.Clean, the closest thing to a public bathroom at the Leipzig Main Station mall, charges 1 euro to use the bathroom. So, instead of paying, most of us simply held it until we got back to the residence hall.
Germany is all about making the extra nickel-and-dime. The take-home boxes at restaurants are 50 cents. The water is even more. But the beer is pretty cheap. Many Germans are proud of the ability to order alcoholic beverages at age 16, and happy to carry their beer on the streets and trams without the risk of getting arrested…
But for the most part, I’m loving Germany. Here’s a quick video that Max, my team’s videographer, put together from the trip so far:
When I first landed in Leipzig, I was almost convinced there were no Germans in Germany. The first person I met in Frankfurt was a very friendly British guy, who helped me with my luggage on the plane. Then I met four Austrians, who helped me (for a good 30 minutes) buy my train ticket to Leipzig. The third person I met was a Ukrainian girl, who was taking the local tram to my home stop, Johannisallee.
But that night, German culture became so vivid, so passionate, so consuming—the World Cup had begun. Throughout Leipzig, viewing areas were set up so that people could watch the game, Germany versus Austria. Tina Sanko, a friend of Theresa Warzecha (our OLEC Orientation student instructor), invited me to come along to the Glasshaus viewing area. There, I learned German soccer terms and was treated to the first beer I can honestly say I’ve ever had… and it was bitter.
The next day, our Leipzig bus tour was canceled after a hostage situation closed down the city. Once the police started pouring in, our tour guide, Carolin, immediately directed us out of the city. We relaxed at a café and watched the World Cup. But upon being dismissed to our residence hall, my friend Andy and I ventured back to the hostage arena, hoping to grab some footage and maybe a couple of interviews. The police, however, had set the ropes so far back, that we couldn’t see any of the action—only an endless sea of emergency vehicles. But still, I approached some officers, hoping for a quick interview. “Sprechen sie Englisch?”
That’s when Officer Mario barged onto the scene. “You can’t do this. It’s illegal to take video of law enforcement officers. If it’s published, we will prosecute you.” He began to take our information, like our temporary address—which we didn’t know—and our phone numbers—which we hadn’t memorized. Then he asked us for our passports—which we didn’t have at the time… So, instead, he began to speak to us as friends, joyfully “practicing” his English.
Mario said there had been 11 hostages and no casualties. He said the suspect had been captured, but we had witnessed the first ever hostage situation in modern Leipzig. He stated that every emergency response team in the city was called in, thus explaining the motorcycles, the ambulances, the police vans, the fire trucks, and the helicopters.
Then Mario went off on a tangent. He told us about the best places to party on the weekends, pointing us to a dance club around the corner. It is, he said, the largest underground club in Germany. Mario also recommended that we attend the festivities at Dresden, the capital of Saxony, where bands like ACDC are performing this weekend.
Oh, where conversation can lead you. This week, instead of planning for a trip to Dresden, many students in “Documentary and Storytelling in Europe” began working on their documentary projects. Motivated by their documentary topic about the Guardian Houses (mentioned in my previous blog), Kara, Victoria, and Kristen visited a Guardian House hosting a community dinner on Thursday. Curious, and looking for as many experiences as possible, I tagged along.
At the dinner, I met a bike mechanic, Jentz, who promptly invited me to go rock climbing with him in the morning. The next morning, I got up at 6am., met Jentz at the tram stop, and took a 30-minute bike ride to the city’s climbing wall. Then he took me to his workplace, a bike repair shop.
On leaving the shop, my team—Max, Andy, Brandon and I – caught a tram to Markkleeberg Lake, our documentary location. Coincidentally, the Roller Ski World Cup opening ceremony was going on at the same time, and the mayor of Markkleeberg was giving a speech, in German. So I spoke with him, through a translator, following the ceremony. And voila! we set up an interview, a potentially amazing scene for our documentary.
To tell you the truth, it’s kind of painful to break the “stranger” barrier-to talk to new and random people- especially in a foreign country where I don’t know the language. I feel like I’m imposing. But the learning experience, the cultural insight, is so valuable that I force myself to take that extra step. Create conversation. Make friends. Experience the culture.