Sunday, 25 January 2009

Happy New Year! Again!

Tomorrow sees the start of the Chinese Year of the Ox, but Berlin's Chinese population have already started the celebrations with fireworks!

Yesterday evening we went to the Hauptbahnhof where a Chinese dragon and lions danced around the train platforms, followed by a spectacular fireworks display lighting up the skies above the Spree. This was a 'proper' firework show, set back at a sensible distance from the spectators and primarily for oo-ing and aw-ing at the bangs and lightshow, rather than dodging in terror from rockets and firecrackers like at Berlin's Silvester.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Certified German!

I have finally finished and got my results for the distance learning Open University course for the Certificate in German, which I have been taking for the past two years. And I have passed! This means I am supposedly proficient up to CEFR level B1, or the eqiuvalent of the Goethe-Institut Zertifikat Deutsch.

It also means I can use the letters Cert German(Open) after my name, apparently certifying that I am an open German. This is an improvement on when I passed their Introduction to the Humanities course, when I was allowed to put Cert Human after my name. Yup, I'm certainly human!

It has been an interesting and vigorous course, but I think they missed out a few essentials of German language and culture; namely:

  • Dialogue to use when phoning up a plumber and asking them to repair your central heating.
  • How to fill in an Anmeldungformular for registering residency.
  • How to get your gas, electricity, and water connected.
  • The correct use of 'genau' in every other spoken sentence.
  • The importance of giving the exact change at the check-out, and the meaning of 'Hmm?'
  • The dustbin collection system, Pfand, and gelbe Säcke.
  • How to operate a Deutsche Bahn Fahrscheinautomat (ticket machine) without ending up with a return ticket to Zagreb.
  • How to politely tell acordion players, Strassenfeger (Big Issue) sellers, or East European women with babes in arms asking 'do you speek eenglish?' that whilst I would like to help with their welfare I don't have any Kleingeld (change) just at the moment so would you mind just going away please?
  • What exactly is Schlager music and how can it be avoided?
  • The importance of the TV programme Tatort in popular culture (ditto Unser Sandmännchen, Bauer sucht Frau, and the cook with the unfeasibly enormous curly moustache).
  • Vocabulary for asking for a haircut so that you don't come out with it bright red, or with a mohican or mullet (the default options for women and men respectively).
  • How to survive Silvester with your nerves intact.
  • CDU, FDP, Die Linke, SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen usw. . . what's the difference between these parties? After all, I'll be having to vote for one of them later this year.
  • Cindy aus Marzahn. I mean, what?!

Maybe the course co-ordinators are reading this, and these points will be covered in the next presentation of the course. Or maybe not.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Winter Wunderland!

The Winter has really set in now, with night-time temperatures hereabouts dropping to -20 degrees centigrade. The lakes and forests around Basdorf have turned into really quite breathtakingly magical places of silent pristine white snow and metallic blue skies. 
Yesterday we took the Heidekrautbahn train up to Wandlitz and wandered around Wandlitzee. There aren't superlatives enough to describe how beautiful it all was. Here's a photo I took looking across the frozen Liepnitzsee lake to Großer Werder island:

(NB click on photos for a larger image)

And here is one of a path through the trees by the shoreline:

This is one just looking up through the trees at the azure sky:

This is a proper, Christmas-card Winter, just as they used to be like!

Today also happens to be my Birthday, and we travelled to Lake Tegel for a scrumptious celebratory Mozart chocolate cake. The lake was frozen from shore to shore, and there were people walking and skating on the ice like it was a scene painted by Brueghel. Here is a woman walking on the lake beside a pleasure boat which usually gives trips around the lake. Today it was frozen in solid:

And if you are worried about how the birds were coping, well, there were plenty of people on hand to help!
And finally, here's a photo I took of one of the cannons pointing out across the frozen lake:

By the way, the cannons (there are two) are not there to defend Tegel from any kind of attack, but are actually 18th Century English cannon, which were presented as gifts by Greenwich Council when they twinned with the borough of Reinickendorf. These photos were in fact taken along what is called Greenwich Promenade, which also boasts an English red telephone box and pillar box, also gifts!

Back home then, to warm up and enjoy some red wine and gorgeous company. I wonder if my birthday will be so cold next year?

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Best Buy of 2008

Best buy of this year - after the new house of course - has got to be a trailer for my bike. No more lugging the shopping back from the shops in my rucksack; with this little beauty I can cycle along happily pulling die Lebensmittel behind me. Who needs a car? Totally co-incidently it is just the right capacity to hold a crate of beer. Spooky!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Frohes Neues Jahr! Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve in Germany is called Silvester (also sometimes spelled Sylvester), after some Pope dude who lived in the 300's AD and got sainted. Why it is named after him in Germany only, the country which engendered the Protestant Reformation against the hegemony of the Popes, is a mystery to me. Hopefully it won't come up in the German Citizenry entrance exam.

What I also didn't know is that a Silvesterabend tradition in Germany is to reconstruct, at a street-by-street level, downtown Baghdad whilst US was giving the Iraqis Shock & Awe. Or so it appeared to us, as more explosive firepower flew around than at the liberation of Berlin.

The Germans collectively go firework crazy, throwing firecrackers around in crowds and shooting rockets horizontally down the streets. Having grown up on an annual frightening reminder on British TV of what happens if you don't obey the Firework Code, this all seems like highly dangerous madness. People were walking around with fireworks in their pockets and enough rockets to liberate Gaza, whilst casually smoking cigarettes. And I don't think Catherine wheels were meant to be lit whilst you are still holding them.

Our street was like a battle-zone, with all the neighbours coming out into the road to set off multiple barrage attacks until gone 2am. The poor cats didn't know what on Earth was happening, and we were considering retreating to the safety of der Keller.

Anyway, we had a lovely, peaceful, Indian buffet at Restaurant Satyam New Years Eve before making our way through the flak attack to see what the Silvester party by the Brandenburg Gate was like. As it was, because of the sheer numbers (over a million it was estimated) the Polizei were turning people back before they could get further than the Tiergarten. We watched it live later on television, and the bands playing were God-aweful MOR/pop, so we didn't miss much other than third-degree burns.

I think Germany must have used up its carbon-footprint quota for 2009 in one night but still, it was a lively, if noisy and scary, start to the year.

Happy New Year folks! Frohes Neues Jahr!