I spent five weeks this past summer getting up at 7:30am to spend three hours a day learning German for four days a week. I had never taken a class in German before, nor had I been to Germany. Who does this to herself? A masochist?
The real answer to the above question is two of my closest friends I met during my first year in Edinburgh happened to be German. However, they were only able to stay in Scotland for their Erasmus year, but you don't just relinquish your friends because they happen to live in a different country and speak another language. Instead you take a typically semester-long intro to Deutsch course at the University of Minnesota condensed into little over a month.
[The Bradenburg Gate]
To make up for the fact I had real homework and weekly exams this summer (feel bad for me), I decided to give myself the ultimate reward, a trip to Berlin! I knew the nomativ, akkusativ, and dativ kasus and two friends, one of them able to host, how hard could it be? Hopping a plane when Edinburgh is a deadzone (post-Fringe, pre-Freshers Week- two weeks I'm sure Edinburgh residents love) was easy enough. As was reconnecting with my friends, Anneke and Caroline. We quickly fell into old conversations about postmodern literature and cake, which we also ate a lot of. However my ability to speak Deutsch was not as hot as a freshly assembled Doner kebab.
[The best hostess ever, Anneke, and I]
[The East Side Gallery]
Turns out, no one really cares how old I am or how many family members I have, despite my German class leading me to believe saying, "Ich bin 21 Jahre alt" was as important as knowing the word "Danke." However, I could order food, and if you know me and my obsession with eating and taking photos of what I'm eating, this was the most important. My first victory came when I ordered a waffle (smothered in strawberries and whipped cream, so no pretending it's a healthy breakfast) in German by myself without having to repeat anything or getting awkward stares from the cashier.
[Yes, that is "beer"]
One major advantage of learning a new language and going to its origin country in less than six months is you can practice your new skills in a real world setting and learn just how terrible at speaking it you really are. If anything, going to Berlin made me more motivated than ever to really learn German so I can understand "Inglorious Basterds" better and go back.
However, I've never heard more English being spoken in a country where it isn't the mother tongue than Germany. And I'm not talking about the Canadian tourists on my flight back to Edinburgh who were still drunk while in the customs line. Just hearing me ask Anneke what the word for please in German was again (it's bitte) made the cashier quickly switch to English without any hint of resentment. Even with this get-out-of-jail-free card, I still attempted to speak German anyway and generally got nods of encouragement. Like riding a bike with one of the training wheels lifted up (which I did for longer than I should probably admit), you can pretend to be riding solo, but if need be, you have comforting way to stop before you fall and embarrass yourself. Like when I mixed up the word for health (gesund) with vegetables (gemuse), I got a laugh from Anneke, but not enough derision to stop me from ordering a hot chocolate later in the day in German. We all ordered the same thing so when it came to my turn to be unoriginal, I proudly held up three fingers (not in the German way despite my recent viewing of the aforementioned "Basterds") and said, "Drei!"
The consequence of speaking very bad German and overhearing broken English means by English idioms are all out of whack. One night, I even dreamed in German! Granted, I have no idea what was said in this dream, but dreaming in a foreign language is a good sign when you're trying to learn it, right?
If Deutsch was infiltrating my subconscious, you can be sure I was loving Berlin when awake too. It's one of my favorite cities now and so photogenic that I took around 400 photos, so expect a lot more posts.