Where all of Europe meets?

So I made it to Munich. And through Austria to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Then to Zagreb, Croatia and even Trieste, Italy--each for a day. I wanted to post pictures, but USB cords etc. were too much work for these super slow, NOT free (false advertising!!) computers.

Anyway, we'd planned on going to Piran, to see the Adriatic Sea and enjoy an old Venetian city without actually going to Italy, until Emma suggested we actually go to Italy. Trieste is closer to Ljubljana but mixed information tried to prevent us from a fourth country in 10 days--fifth, if you count Austria, which was all in a train. (I guess this proximity is the reason Slovenia claims to be the place "where all of Europe meets." One map said Ljubljana was the capital of the EU, which is so not true.

The point is, first we read the train took ridiculously long time, then that the only bus was at 6:25 am. Eventually we learned it was easier to switch buses in Koper, 30 minutes or so outside Trieste but still in Slovenia. Then we missed our bus due to misinformation.

But we didn't give up! We held onto our illogical belief that if it was nice in Florence (we'd heard it was), it would be nice in all of Italy--because of the centrally mandated weather.

We expected disappointment, but it was significantly warmer in Trieste than in Slovenia. The Adriatic was beautiful (if hazy), the sun was warm and bright, and the gelato was delicious. Mmm three scoops on two visits to one shop. We also pondered the existence of centrally mandated pizza quality, and even I ate one. It was pretty tasty, despite all that tomato on it. (There wasn't that much...but for me it was a lot.)

It's kind of weird to connect central mandates with Italy, though, considering the whole city-state, not-unified-most-of-the-time thing. Also, Trieste was Triest (Deutsch), southern port of Habsburg Austria--not even Italy!

I think it's so funny that Captain von Trapp (Sound of Music!) was no longer in the navy in the thirties BECAUSE AUSTRIA HAD LOST ALL ITS COASTLINE. Maybe that's not actually hilarious. Whatever. It's one of the important things I learned while researching (not-researching) my history Hausarbeit.

I probably don't have enough readers for this to be enlightening...

Hello, World.

I just want to know—what books would you recommend for someone who is traveling to Slovenia, Kraków, Sevilla, Córdoba, Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona, Avignon (and all around Provence), Marseille, and Nice (and all along the Riviera)?

They could just be good books. Or books about one of these places. Or travel books in general. Basically I just want to read! At this point, I'll be looking out for titles in used book stores, because I won't have time in the next 24 hours to hunt down English books. Although Munich has a large bookstore, and I'll be there first.

I like fantasy, I like historical fiction, I like contemporary fiction. I like classics, I like trashy novels/chick lit (what an awful term), I like sci-fi. I like animals. I like young adult books. I even like Gossip Girl (the books).


Kraków, you make my packing plans difficult.

After Slovenia and Kraków, Maraia and I are in Spain and southern France for a month. They won't be hot, but they also won't require wool sweaters, and wool coats would look downright stupid.

But I just read, about Kraków: "Bitter cold mixed with fog and snow dominates every day until March." We arrive in March!

March 1. 6:30 am. It might be a little bit like February.

I only want to bring two sweaters. One has become misshapen and irritating, and the other one... I can't pick which it should be!

I leave on Friday. Decisions must be made.

Color Crisis

This is what I was talking about.
My mom picked out the rain jacket when I was in seventh grade. She loves this color. Once she tried to get me to pick out glasses that were a more toned-down version, because, she told me, I was lucky enough to be able to pull it off. Instead I got tortoiseshell. (And they were Flexon, which meant I could bend the nose piece all the time, which was cool. Except by 'all the time,' I probably mean occasionally, since I can't see without them.) I thought the jacket was okay, if too large. She always made me buy gigantic things.
Then I bought the cardigan because it's a little fuzzy and it's a cardigan and I wore it all the time with my purple turtleneck OH and it matches a sundress from H&M that I left at home for the year. I also have some socks that are a light version of this color. My mom wouldn't let me bring them because I was packing too many socks. Then I made the pink, green, orange, and black necklace two summers ago. The green matches. And I have a bracelet to match.(If you want one, I know where you can get them. Necklaces too, and lots of other resin jewelry of different colors.)
What else? There's a shirt under the cardigan. This summer, new Nalgenes that supposedly don't cause birth defects came out, and red? blue? Too normal. This was the third option. (Although I miss my bright pink one that always smelled like bleach near the end.)
There's the mascara (obviously the mascara is black or black-brown or something, but I picked it because it was a cool case...) and the nail polish! The nail polish! Then my mom made me fingerless mitts to wear when my fingers were cold and mailed them to me in Germany, two years after she'd promised them to me. Oh, and I have beautiful glass earrings that you can barely see in this picture that my mom also made.
Whatever, right? It's a color that I like, but I obviously don't wear it all at the same time. The problem is that the RAIN JACKET and the NALGENE and then the NEW, BEAUTIFUL CAMERA CASE I BOUGHT YESTERDAY all match. And are definitely going traveling.
I had intended on bringing my cardigan. But I don't think I could handle it. And although the nail polish and its slight gold sheen is a perfect match for the camera case...well, it'll be too cold for sandals.

Hausarbeit = Term Paper
= Sleep-Deprived

Hello, World—I just wanted to say that I am not dead and have successfully completed my first German Hausarbeit! And by 'successfully,' I mean 'completed.' I probably won't know how successful I was until April when I come back from SIX WEEKS of traveling, and by then I won't care.

Oh wait. I don't care too much now, either. That it's done is what is important.

Next up: the color crisis I expect to experience during the Epic Trip. Gute Nacht!

A Piece of Advice

Let's say you need to take at least three classes, and would really rather only take three. You know one that you definitely want, but then there are three others, and they all sound interesting and worthwhile in different ways, and you've been going to each of them so you can figure out which one to take.

But you can't decide! So you take all of them.

Maybe this is a good decision if you are fascinated by all three and almost everyone is enthusiastic about the subjects and the reading is exciting and you feel like you're getting a lot out of all of them.

However, if you can't decide which one you feel most ambivalent about, THIS IS A BAD SIGN. Drop one, regardless of which. Because in the end, you will have to do the end-of-semester work for all three, as well as for the class you knew wanted to take.

I suggest dropping whichever requires the most writing.

Auf meinem Herzen ≈ On My Mind

1. During the day I enjoy walking in the cold air and taking new streets and looking at the mountains in the distance, and I think about how beautiful Freiburg will be when it's spring and summer and warm. I think about how I will hate to leave.

As soon as the sun starts going down, I figure another day has gone down the drain and I haven't done enough homework, and then I start to get lonely and then think I would rather be at home. This is only at night, though. I hate night.

2. Researching Germans in America for my presentation two weeks ago, I came across this old 'On Language' column by William Safire. Doughnuts came from Germany (irrefutable evidence that the German culture was a huge influence on America), and the Amish were the first to put holes in them! Also, I think William Safire was funnier back then. I thought of this article again because...

3. ...I was on nytimes.com again looking for evidence that a German-American identity still exists (Do societies and Oktoberfest and traditional dress make a culture? Now I get to do it.) and I found an article on the Idaho potato. I seem to have lost the link, which is a shame, because someday I'd like to read all five or six pages on the challenges that face the Idaho potato, and the people who grow it, today. I've found myself in this argument a couple times recently: Does Idaho have anything? Why this is a concern, I don't know, but I will always firmly answer, "Yes," at least as long as Idaho potatoes remain, because I was taught by my grandfather (possibly really through my mother) that they are the best potatoes in the world. And I love potatoes.

I also learned that Idaho's license plates say "Famous Potatoes," which is probably the funniest (or at least best) license plate ever, so I searched them on eBay. I found one for 1988, the year I was born, which was sort of cool. I think if I were ever to become the type of person who would buy used license plates and put them in prominent places, I would buy a Famous Potatoes license plate. Some of them say "World Famous Potatoes," but that isn't as funny, although this one, which has a picture of a baked potato on it, is hilarious. Also, there was a mountain goat Idaho plate. Pretty sweet.

While on the topic of license plates: I wish Michigan hadn't made such stupid new ones. The white text on blue was classic and simple and nice. The blue on white is no easier to read, because there wasn't a problem with the old ones, and it's boring. And ours used to say 'Great Lakes.' They were automatically cool, because the Great Lakes are so great! Now they just say www.michigan.gov. Why anyone would want to go there, I don't know. It's a hopelessly ugly website.

Thank goodness my parents have an old, proper-looking license plate in the garage, from the time they had to pretend their license plate was stolen so they could get a new one and stop having problems every time they crossed the border. The government was convinced that some criminal had that license plate number. For me this means that I can be kitschy and have a nice Michigan license plate someday if I want.

4. I'm doomed! Doomed doomed doomed homework oh my god oh my god oh my god. Goodbye!

Minderheiten = Minorities

This has been bothering me for a while:

Why are the German students in my ethnology class so loathe to grant the minorities in Europe that we've studied the status of having their own culture? The Sorbs live on the border with Poland and are a Slavic minority—a national minority, which is always an important distinction to make, because that means they have lots of rights—and anyway, we were learning about them one day, and someone raises her hand. "Do traditional clothing and parades for Easter really constitute 'culture'?" she asked. "Do the young people care about any of it?" was also an implied question. I'm paraphrasing; it was months and months and months ago (please, semester, END ALREADY!). And it's true, traditional clothing doesn't make culture. A dying language doesn't necessarily unify a people. But they are so quick to jump to the conclusion that a group doesn't have a legitimate identity. (And therefore doesn't deserve government money; I think that was mentioned at least once.)

It's the same with the German minority in Hungary, that migrated centuries ago and never left. They have German-Hungarian societies, they have activities for the children, and they try to encourage the German language. I'm not sure how effective it is. But the students, they went on about how these people were not Germans, could not be Germans, they had been gone so long. No, they aren't—but German-Hungarians are still different from Hungarians if they see themselves that way, aren't they?

I'm aware that this is what my math and social studies textbooks liked to call 'critical thinking.' (My least favorite type of question.) My 9th grade civics textbook called it 'thinking critically,' which I always found stupid sounding. Just like civics class. But thinking critically is important, I understand. I just don't understand why they are so skeptical about minorities' authenticity.

This week, we talked about the Kurds, focusing on Turkey. The article we read tried to define who makes up the Kurds and how they've tried to achieve nationhood. It turns out that it's impossible to concretely define 'Kurd.' There are two main dialects among many, there are people who speak other languages but have traditionally considered themselves Kurds, there are Sunnis, there are Alevi, there are even Christians. I'm missing lots of different groups. There are tribes and there are urbanized city dwellers. They are spread across four countries.

One guy in my class continued to raise his hand and say how he could not see them as one minority group—which means he could not see them as a nation, because to be a nation, you need a shared language, history, territory, economy, probably other things. He would not believe that the Kurds are really one minority. And many others agreed that it was a difficult question, and yes, it is. There is a huge range of diversity and the lines have changed over the centuries. But as my teacher pointed out, shared identity, the shared feeling that you are a part of the group (and not part of the majority), is also a huge part.

I guess it's important to make sure people aren't just wanting to take control of a bunch of land and make another country just because. Or an autonomous region. But it seems to me that in America, as long as you're not white, you're part of a minority. Maybe the difference is that the only minority who could have tried to claim some of our land—wow, I just typed it that way—who could claim they were a nation and had a right to their own country is the Native Americans. So maybe it's easier to throw the term 'minority' around. Or we're just used to minority groups. Because I always thought a minority was just a group of people smaller than the biggest group. And 'minority' isn't 'nation' and isn't 'culture,' but still still still—I still think that the German students think about this differently.

P.S. I have to write 10 pages about Minderheiten in Europa by next Tuesday. And by next, I mean less than a week, and by Minderheiten in Europa, I mean that I'm actually writing about Germans in America, which is not the same thing.

My October story wasn't over yet.

So eventually we ended up in Bruges, and met up with three other friends, and I remembered that large groups of people get on my nerves. And that it was fall! It was beautiful mid-October and the sky was big and blue and the land was flat and the houses pointy—and made of brick. I was so glad to be away from all the stucco on these pseudo-old buildings that were rebuilt after the war and say 1325 on them but really are younger than the majority of houses in Grosse Pointe. And the newer houses that, I realized, look like Playmobil houses to me. (What a surprise. Playmobil isn't German or anything, is it?)

When I think back on Bruges, I first remember the waffles and the fries and the pancakes. Waffles with white chocolate gelato, with powdered sugar, with chocolate, with whipped cream. Warm french fries with nothing but salt, that looked too pale to be delicious and yet somehow were the best potatoes I've had in Europe. (Probably.) And french fries with meat sauce stuff on them, yum. Pancakes by the kilo. Oh my god. Pancakes and brown sugar—real brown sugar! I have not had real brown sugar in Germany.

In Bruges, I spent a lot of time walking and not a ton of time sightseeing. While we walked around, the others got into conversations about religion and relationships, while I, distracted, squealed inside every time I saw a particularly nice fall tree. But I got caught up in the serious mood too, and thought about walking beneath fall trees last year. A lot of us were remembering last fall—the people we were with then, and the people who are no longer with us. It had only been a month and a half since we'd arrived in Europe.

Now it's been five months. The semester that hadn't begun then is over in less than two weeks. I couldn't tell you what I was doing this time last year, besides counting down to flying to Munich. And actually, that's what I'm looking forward to right now. Arriving in Munich, exactly a year after I first arrived there—but with no midterms to come back to, no reading assignments hanging over my head. (Did I even read that book about subtitling films? I must have. I don't remember doing so, though.)

Really, though, my point was that Bruges equals waffles and pancakes to me. They were the best part. The other point was that I posted too many pictures.

Once upon a time...

...I went to Köln (Cologne), the fourth-largest city in Germany. (Sidenote: I have now been to three of the top four! Berlin, München, Köln. Next up, Hamburg? No, wait, I'm going to Munich next. If not to a tiny town in the Schwarzwald, but that's another story.) It was just for the weekend, and I kept having the feeling that I had no idea what Köln was really about. For some reason, we didn't use any public transportation, and walking everywhere got us pretty tired, pretty fast.

Not to mention all the museums. In Köln, I learned that I actually do like museums. I had a super long list of museums to visit, all of which sounded interesting, and in two days we saw four museums, which I think is kind of a lot. Especially if two days is all you have. That explains why we didn't see a lot of the city, or figure out how it all fits together. But I did get to know that cathedral. Our hostel was about six minutes from the train station, which is right next to the Dom, and we saw it by night, by dawn, by beautiful afternoon sunlight, by dusk, from the inside, from the outside, from across the Rhine, and during our layover in Köln on the way back home from Belgium, wearing my backpacking backpack.

Anyway, museums. And churches! Köln is full of old Romanesque churches. Everywhere you look, there's a steeple poking up in the distance. The Museum Schnütgen was a museum IN a church, full of medieval religious art. The tapestries and glass collection that I wanted to see were mysteriously not on display, but Maraia, Tabs, and I had a fun time looking at all the sculptures and things...although, godless heathens that we are, we didn't know what was going on a lot of the time. After three more churches, I realized I was getting sick of churchy things.

The first day, we went to a museum about the Gestapo in Köln and Nazis in general, and I learned that I was already getting sick of museums about Nazis and World War II and the Holocaust—and that was back in October. Mainly because it was an archive as well as a museum, and I couldn't read that much text auf Deutsch, especially not in that stupid blackletter font they used in the newspapers back then. (Edit: It's called Fraktur.)

Köln reinforced that waking up early to see the sunrise, although initially painful, is usually worth it. We walked into the cathedral before dawn and got to experience it almost empty and myserious in the dark. Waking up that early for trains, however, is not as worth it. Besides the whole not-missing-the-train thing.

I also learned, when I looked at Maraia's photos, that red tights with hiking boots look stupid.

After Köln was Aachen. There, I learned that gingerbread is delicious when you want to buy it, even if it has weird crunchy things in it. And things that look like they are covered in melted cheese are sometimes Reisfladen. And ordering four desserts for four people and sharing them is worth the disapproving looks from the waitstaff. Oh, and fancy mosaics are really, really cool. Also, there are a lot of pieces—no, little bits of thread—from people's loincloths in the most important ecclesiastical treasury north of the Alps. And by people, I mean saints. And gold! Lots and lots of gold!

On the way to Belgium, we hopped on a train heading in the same initial direction as ours, but leaving 40 minutes earlier. Why? I'm not sure. I got to use my terrible French and embarrass myself in front of everyone. But we still got to Bruges.