Janice's Doings in Tübingen

Snapshots 9-12

Stories I've written for an English conversation group in Germany

These are little snapshots of my life and thoughts while living here in Tübingen, Germany.  Each story is followed by a few little exercises and a few topics for further discussion in an English conversation group.
Each story will also have audio so that readers can listen to my authentic SE Pennsylvania accent while reading along.
Hopefully each story will also have a small glossary explaining more difficult or obscure words.
Please sign the Guest Book if you enjoy these, want to read any particular topic or have any constructive feedback for me!  Thanks!  - Janice

SNAPSHOTS 9-12
   9.   National pride
  10.  Trees
  11.  'Kid Noise' (aka Kinderkärm)
  12.  The German 'Stammtisch'


*****
Snapshot 9: National pride
I would guess that anyone with an opinion of the USA bases it to some degree on what is the fairly famed idea 'Proud to be American.' This is a statement that rather makes me smile, because it is so true; in most cases any American would be more proud to be a citizen of the USA than of anything else. In the USA, this goes beyond any ethnicity - if you can claim to be an American citizen and you live in the USA, you are proud of it. I imagine that we Americans living outside of the US or US-enclaves are considered fairly suspect, an odd lot who are viewed as being probably unpatriotic and most likely against such things as liberty and freedom, two ideas which many Americans believe the Declaration of Independence and the USA created before anyone else. The USA definitely and regularly demonstrates an attitude of superiority when it comes to the topics of liberty or democracy.

But as an American who has lived in Germany for over a dozen years now, I find the difference between the USA's extreme pride and the German's lack of it to be quite stunning. Where the Germans do exhibit a tremendous pride is of their teams, especially of their soccer teams. These are German league teams, yes, but their players are international and so they do not strike so much as being nationalistic. A victory by Bayern München over Manchester United has very little to do with a victory of Germany over England... or so at least from the German perspective. (The English may choose to see it differently.)

This year, however, there will be another World Cup championship and it will be interesting to see how the Germans show their national pride. It will indeed be German players competing as a team in a purely nation-centric 'battle' for the Cup.

I believe 2006 was the first year that I witnessed any German national pride whatsoever. That year the games were staged in Berlin, Dortmund and other German cities and the German squad came in third place, both reasons for greater national feeling. It was the first time I saw German flags being flown and large groups of people gathered to witness the games of their national team. But it went much further than that. The growth in Germany for the 2006 games was impressive: tourism grew over 19%, the retail business gained over 2 billion €, job creation (with a minimum of 8 months in duration) was close to 30,000 new jobs and the GDP climbed 0.3% just because of the FIFA World Cup. Not just at home, but abroad, Germany was a winner in 2006: the German Embassy in Stockholm said, "The World Cup has improved the 'Brand Germany' more than a million political media campaigns could have done."

It was interesting to see in 2010 that, despite the games being held in distant South Africa, a greater number of flags - waving from cars, from balconies and windows - and World Cup paraphernalia were visible for months prior. Germans, perhaps largely just younger ones, and many immigrants living in Germany had come out in support of 'their' national team. Again, as an American, this seems only natural, but for some of my German friends this nationalism was difficult. Most Germans would agree that the quality of life here is excellent, the education, engineering and science among the best in the world, the cleanliness and environmental-friendliness hard to top and yet most Germans still have a lot of World War II to put behind them.

Time to work!
1. Say these numbers:
          42,304      13,847,660          5,978
    76,098,432       5,236,500       843,017

           14.7              25%              3 7/8
         98.6°F          50.5%               77"            6'5"

2. Spell out these words:
    duration         paraphernalia       visible
    difficult          engineering          science
    excellent        quality                 patriotic
    whatsoever     democracy           minimum


Let's hear from you!
    In what ways or areas do you feel most proud?
    Are you uncomfortable about national pride at international sporting events?
    Is there a difference between cultural pride and national pride?


*****
Snapshot 10: Trees
In Pennsylvania there are generally four very distinct seasons to enjoy: snowy, cold winters, bright yellow-green springs, lush, hot summers and brisk colorful autumns. Throughout my childhood I could witness these seasons particularly in the trees in our neighborhood and I think I've always loved trees because of the variety they give.

On our property we had a great pine tree. It shed scented pine needles onto the hollowed-out area at its base. That space was wonderful as a hideout to escape from four siblings, as a soft cushion for lounging and inhaling the heady pine smell all around and as a place to experiment with the marvelously sticky sap the tree produced. This was a tree for all seasons!

Our neighbors had three massive weeping willow trees on their property that almost hid their entire house from our view. These trees had a magnificent root system, large gnarly roots that ran along the surface of the ground. When rain gathered around them, it was a great adventure to balance along the roots without falling into the amassed water.

My parents still have the sycamore that I grew up with. Not only did this tree have broad maple leaf-shaped leaves that were big enough to use as plates, but the bark of the tree peeled off in lovely long cylinders. These were perfect for make-believe horns or for breaking up into 'soup', concoctions of water, leaves, clover, bark and other findings. Another thing I love about this tree are its seeds, a golfball-sized puff of seeds with a hard marble-sized center. Both the seeds and the centers were soup ingredients and I was always quite content to pluck out one seed after the next, slowly making my way down to the core. This tree had a special advantage that it shared only with the oak tree in the front yard: in late summer the craggy surface of the bark invited the many summer cicada to latch on while removing their outgrown outer skin. One of my favorite things to do was to search the trunks for the shed skins and collect them all. My mother only tolerated this hobby if it remained out of her line of vision!

Perhaps the most magnificent time is autumn when the fairly humble but fast-growing maple shows off her colors. Individually these trees are not very impressive in spring or summer, although their helicopter-wing seeds are always a joy. But as the weather turns cooler, entire hillsides are covered in vivid yellows, vibrant oranges, stunning reds and deep coppers all coming from the various maples that grow here. Almost the entire East Coast of the US has their fall foliage season: you can start in early September in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, drive down through Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York later that month, gaze on hillsides in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland in mid-October and round out your trip in early November in Virginia, North and South Carolina and beyond. The land where these trees live, the Appalachian Mountains, runs nearly the whole length of the eastern US (from Newfoundland in Canada to Georgia and Alabama), approximately 2400 km worth of old mountains, formed roughly 48o million years ago. These mountains, formerly as great as the Alps and Rocky Mountains, have largely eroded down to rolling and occasionally rugged hillside, a perfect stage for the annual grandeur of autumn foliage.

Time to work!
Match the definitions/synonyms
   1. vibrant                   __ sharp & stimulating
   2. vivid                       __ grand, impressive
   3. tolerate                  __ uneven, irregular
   4. lush                       __ enormous, huge
   5. great                      __ wonderful, awesome
   6. massive                 __ put up with, endure
   7. erode                     __ splendor, impressiveness
   8. magnificent            __ rich, abundant
   9. grandeur                __ striking, highly colored
 10. entire                    __ dynamic, dazzling
 11. craggy                  __ clear, well-defined
 12. brisk                     __ complete, unbroken
 13. distinct                 __ mixture, brew
 14. concoction           __ gradually wear down

Let's hear from you!
    Did you have a favorite tree when you were growing up?
    What is your favorite tree now?  Why?

*****
Snapshot 11: 'Kid Noise' (aka Kinderlärm)
My house is right next to a day care center for small children and I get to hear all sorts of activity. Sometimes the teachers sing, blessedly on key, and play clapping or chanting games with the kids. Sometimes the kids will cry, scream, fight over toys, fall and hurt themselves, yabber away at each other... My daughter Sophie told us a funny story: One day she thought there was a mosquito in her bedroom and, half-asleep, she kept waving her hand in the air trying to swat it away while alternately burying herself under her quilt to avoid getting stung. But it wasn't a mosquito; it was the on-going high-pitched squealing yells of the kids next door!

I do have a particularly favorite sound from the gang next door that never fails to make me smile. Even with all of the windows closed in the house, I will suddenly hear a very loud metal crashing, rattling sound. This can only mean one thing: some kid on his Bobby Car has driven down their seven-meter long path and crashed full speed straight into the gate! This is an image I can picture every time and it never fails to amuse me: the look of intent on the kid's face (yes, I AM going to drive INTO the gate!!), the repeated pushing off with both legs simultaneously (that movement oh-so-peculiar to a Bobby Car), coasting along the last meter or two and then WHAM! bashing into the gate with a resounding clanging of abused but withstanding metal. So thoroughly entertaining, these kids! I love having them next door making their daily childlike sounds.

Many people would not agree with me and I find that such a pity. Kids make great sounds. They make such honest sounds. Sounds that let you know exactly how they are feeling: happy, SUPER happy, miserable, in pain, jealous, angry, lonely,... Honest sounds of the life of toddlers with all of its trivial ups and downs. I don't know why more people wouldn't want to live near such drama, the simple but beautiful reflection of what it is to be a human.

For many years here in Germany, the often loud, but completely natural sounds of a baby or child were considered, well, illegal. They, like many other noises, were considered illegal 'emissions' if they were too loud or issued at inappropriate times, like during the 12 noon to 3 p.m. 'Afternoon Quiet Time.' (Amusingly, neither 'Kinderlärm' nor 'Nachmittagsruhe' has any real translation into English, because neither concept exists in English-speaking countries!)

A rule was finally passed in May 2011 changing this, saying that children's noise is indeed permissible noise at any time. But getting people to accept this is still a battle. In our local grade school we collected several thousand Euros to build - finally - a playground for the schoolkids to use. That was in 2009. Neighbors stood up against this, although the kids were every bit as loud without an official playground and there's a kindergarten playground adjacent to where we wanted to build ours. Then 2011 came and the ruling that 'Children Noise' is okay, but the neighbors still protested. In late 2012 the many school parents signed and sent a petition to the mayor requesting that he intervene, but to no great avail; the various processes had to be worked through completely. I was seriously tempted to start up a regular 'Adult Noise' action... Only in June 2013, nearly two years after the ruling in favor of children's natural behavior and nearly four years after we had collected money for this project, did we finally get a playground for the kids. Thoroughly pitiful and truly sad. A young voice is such a precious thing to hear. I'd much rather listen to that than people talking on cell phones or complaining about even more trivial things when walking past my house.

Let's hear from you!
   Did your home country have a law against children's noise?
   Does your country have any laws against ANY type of noise, whether from vehicles, machinery, construction or musical instruments?
   What is a noise that you generally like but not at certain hours of the day?
   What is your favorite noise?

*****
Snapshot 12: The German 'Stammtisch'
One of the things that I find most special living in Germany is the 'Stammtisch.' This is another of those German words without a good translation. leo.org calls it 'group of regulars' and linguee.com calls it 'the regulars' table' whereas translate.google.com doesn't even bother to translate it! None of these versions gives you a good feeling for this very special, very regular, very lively and multifaceted German activity.

So, what is a Stammtisch? This is a regular meeting of a group of people, friends, club members, etc. Some groups meet just once a month, some every other week, but many meet once a week, usually after some common activity, like a choir practice or evening exercise group.

Now, of course, other countries have regular get-togethers as well. The American 'Happy Hour' comes to my mind. One possible origin of Happy Hour, is that it was started by the U.S. Navy perhaps as early as 1913, as a semi-weekly get-together for entertaining troops aboard the battleship USS Arkansas. By the late 1950's, however, Happy Hour was a time for afternoon drinks in a bar, usually with groups of co-workers going out for a few beers or drinks after work hours. Many amateur sport clubs in the USA will also have a happy hour after practice or a match. In these cases, I find the topics for conversation are extremely limited - co-workers will talk about work, volleyball players will talk about previous games and upcoming opponents - and the goal is more to achieve a slight level of intoxication than to socialize.

The German Stammtisch, to me, is all about talking, although there is always a good beer or wine accompanying it: discussing things, sharing experiences and knowledge, offering up opinions, speculating on all sorts of topics. And 'all sorts of topics' is the key phrase here: the Germans discuss EVERYTHING! From politics, history and religion, to gardening, traveling and food, from local events, personal health and international sports to where to find the best coffee in ANY given town in Germany! (One of the few topics rarely covered is the analysis of one's own children, except when there's been more novel happening. That's refreshing!) Well-traveled, well-read and well-informed, Germans are a joy to behold at a Stammtisch and participating in a Stammtisch is a super experience for a foreigner like me to get exposed to nearly any topic in the language I'm still learning. (I like to think that our English conversation group here is a sort of a Stammtisch!)

When we first moved to Germany in 1991, I joined a local church choir and a weekly exercise class in Unterhaching which is just outside Munich. At that time, I had almost 20 years of choir experience behind me, the exercise class was obvious, and it was followed by an hour of volleyball, a sport I had played a lot of in the 80's in the USA; these were activities I could do without knowing any German. These were also activities that I could skip for a few weeks or more due to pregnancies - while living there I had 3 more children - and since these were purely adult groups, these were also my main opportunity to hear about topics other than child-raising in German.

Both groups were a great benefit to my ongoing learning of the German language, but the exercise group also had a weekly Stammtisch, conveniently next door to where we lived. After exercising, I could swing by the house and nurse whichever baby needed feeding and then I went to the Stammtisch for an hour or two to listen and try out my growing knowledge of German. Mind you, I never understood a single one of the Bavarian jokes they tried on me (and I'm not much better with the Swabian ones yet either), but I truly enjoyed and still enjoy the social aspect and relaxed and congenial atmosphere of a Stammtisch.

Let's hear from you!
   What other countries have something like a Stammtisch?
   Do you go to a Stammtisch and, if yes, what do you like most about it?
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