“Hallo, mein name ist Cyrus. Ich komme aus den USA, aus Kalifornien. Ich spreche Englisch, Französisch und ein bisschen Persische.”
And so began our first day of German class yesterday at the Institut für Sprachvermittlung und internationalen Kulturaustausch, just next to the Deutsche Post Tower and Deutsche Welle.
Our class is small — just five students, including Rebecca and I. This is a very beginners German class, and is conducted 100 percent in German. The first lesson? Introductions. (“Mein name ist Utta. Ich komme aus Deutschland, aus Bonn.”)
For Rebecca and I, after having taken about 30 hours of coursework with Marion at the Gerlind Institute (Danke, Marion!), this was pretty basic stuff, but we played along.
After circling the small classroom and saying our names, we moved to our textbook. The first few pages, meant to drive home this structure, outlined in comic strip form, an introductory scenario of almost Ionesco-esque dimensions involving three characters. While we looked over this series of eight photographs, and listened along to the CD that Utta played for us, we were introduced to our language learning partners in our textbook.
First up: Timo. He’s our intrepid Finnish student coming to live, move, study, work (it’s unclear what his motivations are) at an undisclosed location in Germany. His German friend, companion, host, (again unexplained), is Anton. However, as soon as Anton brings Timo into the apartment, he gets a phone call, and excuses himself to the other room. Timo is then introduced to Koko, Anton’s German-speaking parrot (WTF?). Koko and Timo then proceed to have a conversation that goes something like:
“Hallo. Sprichst du Deutsch?”
“Hallo! Sprichst du Deutsch?”
“Ja, ich spreche Deutsch. Ich bin Timo.”
“Ich bin Timo! Hallo! Ich bin Timo!”
“Nein, ich bin Timo. Teee-mo.”
As Maude Lebowski might say: “The story is ludicrous. You can imagine where it goes from here.”
I guess one could make some sort of analysis about post-colonial German guilt for that whole Namibia thing, or maybe something about the idea of foreign language learners parroting what they hear. Regardless, it was fairly amusing.
Within a few minutes, I’d learned the names of my classmates: Javier from Madrid, Divianshu from Delhi and Alarbi from Tripoli.
We discovered quickly that while this is a German class, and that our teacher, Utta, is only supposed to speak German to us, we all speak English — as I discovered during our 15 minute break outside. After chatting a few minutes with Divianshu (he’s trying to study immunology here), I called over to Javier:
He was standing just a few feet away, in a patch of sunlight, wearing a black coat, sunglasses and starting up into the sun, smoking a cigarette.
“I don’t know why you are there in the darkness. The sun is better!”
I laughed. Indeed, we were in the shady part of the courtyard outside our classroom. That day was the warmest it’s been so far since we’ve been here and the afternoon sun (I hadn’t bothered to bring my jacket outside) did feel good. Javier explained to us that his German wife works at Deutsche Welle Swahili and that he’s here to find a new job in media production, television publicity and the like.
We told him that we’d spent a week in Madrid last year and were surprised that so far, we’d seen around 10 tapas places in Bonn. The Germans, or at least the Bonners, seem to love their tapas.
“Yeah, but it’s not the same!”
“I hope it’s not the same!”
Bex and I confirmed this later, where we were excited to order patatas bravas as the Alte Zoll café overlooking the Rhine — which turned out to be German potatoes sprinkled with paprika and served with a side of aioli mayo. Not quite the same, indeed.
Once he got off his cell phone, Alarbi came over and told us that he was a doctor of internal medicine back home and that he was here to pass his boards and presumably get licensed as a doctor in Germany. He also expressed frustration that Germans he meets on the street won’t speak English with him, “even if he can.”
We basically all figured out that we needed to learn German so that we could work/study here. Herzlich wilkommen in Deutschland!
* * *
Discovered so far in Bonn, the Hauptdorf, or capital village:
There’s a possibly crazy woman with a pink cowboy hat that hangs out by the Rhine.
Turkish bread is delicious and cheap! 0,60€ gets you a large round bread (“fladenbrot“).
Ice cream season is upon us. There are lots and lots of cafés that not only serve ice cream cones, but also elaborate ice cream dishes — including “Eis spaghetti.”
90 percent of Bonner bicyclists don’t have helmets. 90 percent of rollerbladers wear knee/elbow/wrist guards. Go figure.
Beer is plentiful, cheap and delicious! (Yay, Kölsch!) Even the Internet cafés sell beer.
WiFi, on the other hand, is not. Courtney told us that this is because apparently in Germany, if you have an open WiFi network and someone does something bad on that network, then you’re liable. Also, T-Mobile dominates the paid WiFi market. Boo.
Bonn is more international that I thought it would be. Walking around the city I’ve heard: Persian, Arabic, Turkish, French, English, Spanish and Russian. Within a 10 minute walk from our apartment, there’s a small Vietnamese grocer, and a block away, a little Persian shop.
Practically every café offers Sunday brunch: Sonntagbrunch. Some are “all-you-can-eat,” some not.
On the weekends, especially now in the springtime, everyone is hanging out in the Rheinaue, the big free park down by the river. Cyclists, walkers, joggers, rollerbladers — there’s even FOUR baseball fields. (Opening day of the Bonn Capitals is this Sunday!)