Enrichment Project Week #3- German Jeden Tag

Week 3 of our Enrichment project was pretty basic- speak/listen to/practice German jeden Tag (every day). We were able to accomplish our goal relatively easily. First and foremost- I am in German class every morning for 3 hours.  Plus I always comes home with a few homework exercise to complete. My required daily use of the language  helped to foster conversation and discussion in and about German with Dave (who, to be honest, failed pretty miserably at this week’s goal).  To be fair he does have finals coming up in the next two weeks and has been studying his butt off!

In addition to the German classes we worked towards our challenge by supplementing flashcards, podcasts and German language television programs. We’ve been using a great flashcard program called Anki for awhile and simply amped up the number of new cards we covered each day. This is a great program for anyone looking to learn something new.  After downloading you can choose from hundreds of different topics.  The program allows you personalize your learning by dictating how many cards you cover a day and then keeps track of your successes and failures.  You can also chose to have words you are most confident with come up less often in review than words you need more work on.  I worked on more than 200 new words last week and am continuing to review them and add more this week.

In regards to the “listening” portion of our goal- I employed the use of our favorite device- the iPad.  I downloaded and listened to a couple different German language and culture podcasts over the course of the week. These included “Slow German”, “Die Deutsche Welle” and “Rick Steves’ Audio Europe”. I still have a hard time understanding German when spoken at a normal pace and with vocabulary words beyond my A1 level, but I figure my brain might absorb something…maybe I’ll try it while I sleep?

An easier way to put some context to the complex vocabulary was by watching German language television.  Interestingly enough the Germans watch a lot of American T.V.- only they dub EVERYTHING!  It’s a little weird to watch the Simpsons or South Park in German (the voices just aren’t the same!), but it’s interesting to watch a familiar plot line while trying to place the dialogue with what you think the character is saying. I also wonder how much of the story is lost in translation? What’s the general German opinion for example about the South Park episode that has Chancellor Angel Merkel brandishing a gun with her German posse?  My experience thus far with Germans is that they have a much better sense of humor than attributed by popular culture, but I wonder how much of our American humor really translates…I guess I’ll just have to work harder to increase my fluency so I can find out!

P.S. Dave also forced us to watch Steve Seagal’s Under Siege 2: Dark Territory auf Deutsch. In case your wondering it’s not any better in German.

COMING UP THIS WEEK….

 Enrichment Project- Week 4:  Classic Movie Week (3 movies from this list that neither of us have seen)
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Ich spreche Deutsch!

Writing that felt a little like saying “I make fire”.  Yes, I have started intensive German classes (we meet Monday-Friday from 9:30-1:00), but I’m pretty sure my German communication skills still resemble those of a caveman…me want schnitzel?

I kid.  Even after just three weeks in the course I believe my language skills have improved a lot. Though I took German for a year at UPS that was over 8 years ago now.  Coming to Berlin I was a little disappointed that my old German skills didn’t come rushing back, though I must admit that I didn’t put forth the greatest effort.  There’s also the additional problem with the fact that most restaurant and retail staff in Berlin speak enough English that as soon as they detect that you aren’t a native German speaker they switch to English. So even if I’d been up to the challenge it would have proven difficult to practice the little German I knew on those I was interacting with.  Luckily I am now getting the opportunity to listen to and speak German for a good 3 hours each weekday.  Though most of what we’ve covered has been review my vocabulary has increased tenfold and we’re starting to venture into new territory.

My school is called Sprachenateiler Berlin and I’ve really liked it thus far. My class is small- there are only 6 of us and we come from everywhere…literally!  Not one of us is from the same country.  We come from Spain, Cuba, Brazil, the UK, Australia and the U.S.A.  The school has such a diverse mix of people- something I really like.

Every Wednesday the school hosts “Cultural Wednesday” events.  These are free or very cheap opportunities for students to see a bit more of Berlin and practice a bit of German.  I’ve attended two so far- the first was a walking tour of the Kreuzberg area and the second a guided tour of the Computerspielemuseum.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect on that last one, but it turned out being a really cool place.  Our guide spoke to us first in German and then in English- so I could catch most of what he was saying!  The museum houses a wide variety of original computer and game systems from the 70’s and 80’s.  It also details the rise in popularity of computer/video games and the different platforms invented to host them. There was some really interesting stories about some of the games.

My favorite story was about how Mario got his look.  Today video game characters closely resemble actual people and the video game industry has enough money to create top of the line graphics. Apparently back when Mario was invented computers weren’t sophisticated enough to create realistic human figures that could also move, jump etc… Additionally, the spectrum of colors available for graphics were extremely limited.  Only six colors were employed for the creation of the original Mario.  He wears overalls because if his sleeves were the same color as his torso you wouldn’t have been able to see his movements in a profile view.  He has a mustache for facial definition and a hat due to the fact that hair cuts were essentially impossible to create via a computer. Since the introduction of Mario and his gang in the original Donkey Kong (whose name apparently came about due to a translation problem the Japanese encountered…Donkey Kong was suppose to translate to King of the Monkeys) his popularity has increased dramatically as has the progress of modern technology.  Today Mario looks just a bit different than he did back in the early 80s…

There were tons of other interesting antidotes, but the best part of the trip came at the end.  The museum houses a large collection of video and computer games that all guests can play for free.  As soon as the guided tour concluded our group spread out and took over!  I spent some time playing the old video arcade games- Frogger, Space Invaders and Centipede before trying out an ultra-new racing game on a 3D flat-screen.  They has a video game room complete with 4 different T.V.s and comfy floor pillows. And the most interesting- a pain inducing video game that punishes you for preforming poorly!  The game is essentially Pong, but with the added bonus of pain. Players face-off across from each other, placing their left hand on a designated area and using their right hand to control the game knob.  If they miss balls they face heat, electric shock and worst-of-all hand whipping consequences.  I didn’t believe it when our guide first brought it up, but some of the people in my group played and I witnessed the abuse first hand!  If you don’t believe me check out this YouTube video I found of people playing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cH5dGyFxIs.  It was crazy, but lot of fun (to watch!).

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All in all I’ve been having a great experience with classes and social activities these past few weeks and am looking forward to continuing with them.  I’ve signed up for German classes through March 2nd and am hoping for some vast improvment in that time…I’ll keep you updated on how it goes!

Enrichment Project- Week #2: Exercise Everyday

Our challenge this week was actually incredibly challenging- exercise everyday!  Making yourself exercise in the most pristine of weather is hard enough, but throw in 7 straight days of rain, snow and wind and it’s even less appealing.  We struggled through though and feel great about doing it.  We have to be honest though, we did miss one day- blame it on the rain (and excessive drinking the previous night…whoops!).

We alternated different exercises on different days, but stuck with our “14 Day Ab-Workout” throughout.  I don’t know if I’ll admit to seeing any real progress, but we both noticed how much easier the workouts became by days 5, 6 and 7.  Day 2- I couldn’t even bend over to put on my boots without intense muscle pain. For the major portion of the exercise we rotated between jogs, brisk and lengthy walks (on the one sunny day all week) and yoga videos.  All in all not the most fun we’ll be having over the course of the Enrichment Project, but hopefully this will be a way to start a more regular exercise routine.

COMING UP THIS WEEK….
Enrichment Project- Week 3: German Jeden Tag 

Trip to Sachsenhausen

We took a sobering trip to the former concentration camp called Sachsenhausen just north of Berlin this past weekend. It was a cold and miserable day out which was almost fitting weather for such a depressing, but also rewarding trip.

The trip got off to an inauspicious start as Adrian forgot that she bought a pass for the A and B zones of the BVG and Sachsenhausen is in the C zone. If you look at this map of the Berlin transportation system, you’ll see that it is divided into A, B and C zones. We live near to the Nollendorfplatz stop on the U1 line which is in the A zone and we very rarely travel outside of the A or B zone so to save money, Adrian bought a pass that is only good for those two ones. Unfortunately, Sachsenhausen is at the Orianienburg all the way at the top of the map, in the C zone. Dave’s pass from school is good for all the zones so he was all set but Adrian was forced to buy a ticket… after just recently paying 70€ for a monthly pass! What a ripoff!

The train trip took a long time… about 45 minutes but we didn’t mind as it gave us a chance to check out a new part of the city. Berlin really is a huge place! Sachsenhausen was about a 15 minute walk from the train station as well so it was pretty clear that this was going to be an all day excursion.

When we finally arrived at Sachsenhausen we were struck by the sight of huge concrete barriers that are in front of the memorial entrance:

Combined with the cold and windy weather, the place felt appropriately stale and desolate. We were both freezing cold and quickly went inside the memorial to grab a map and warm up for a minute. Unfortunately, neither of us had any cash to pay for the audio guide, but that did not end up mattering as the site was so full of information the audio guide probably wasn’t really necessary.

First we came upon the only standing bunkhouse left over from Sachsenhausen’s days as a prison camp. It was exactly how one would imagine: small, old and completely devoid of any comfort. There were rows and rows of bunk beds crammed into a small room, a pathetically small lavatory area and a washroom which we snapped a picture of:

The rest of the bunkhouse has been turned into a museum of sorts, dedicated to the stories of the former prisoners and the history of the camp. Sachsenhausen is different from many other concentration camps in that it held many political and war prisoners in addition to the gypsies, Jews and other minority groups that the Nazi were trying to eradicate. We were also really interested to see that one of our favorite German films, Die Counterfiters, was set in Sachsenhausen. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s the story of a group of Jewish printers and other craftsmen who were forced to counterfeit British currency during the war. We highly recommend it!

From the bunkhouse we went to check out the camp’s jail… if being in a concentration camp wasn’t bad enough, imagine being in the jail inside the camp. One cannot imagine the horrors that went on in the structure.

Many of the cells of the jail have been turned into make-shift memorials for victims who died in the camp by their families. It made us imagine the families trying helplessly to tract down lost relatives after the war, only to find out their fate. Imagine not being able to have a funeral or even say goodbye to a loved one. Very sad and touching.

From there we walked to the former execution area. There are still some remnants there of the ovens used during the Nazi regime as well two memorials to the victims of the camp: a grave built on top of the ashes of the victims and a more traditional statue type memorial. We took a picture of the grave:

In all, the trip was a very sobering reminder of Germany’s dark past. One of the most remarkable things about Sachsenhausen is that it is right in the middle of a fairly residential area in the town of Orainienburg. It was hard for us to imagine living near such a horrible place but for many of the citizens of Oranienburg, that’s exactly what they did.

Enrichment Project- Week #1: TED Talks

Today wraps up Week #1 of our Enrichment Project. We spent time each day watching one or two TED talks.  Below you’ll find a list of the talks (with corresponding links) and some of our thoughts.  We had a lot of fun “enriching” our minds this past week and highly recommend taking the time to check out TED if you feel so inclined. 

Monday

1. Mark Pagel: How Language Transformed Humanity

Dave’s Thoughts: This was a somewhat interesting talk, but in my opinion not as good as the some of other videos we watched. Essentially, it is a discussion of human evolution and the speaker’s (Pagel’s) view that what set human beings apart from other species is our capacity to communicate with each other and share knowledge.

Adrian’s Thoughts: A little boring, but I enjoyed the talk given the fact I have an interest in language and communication.

2. Ken Robinson: Schools Kill Creativity

Dave’s Thoughts: I highly recommend this very provocative and thoughtful discussion of institutional education. Robinson argues that modern schools are a construct of the industrial revolution and exist simply to destroy original thoughts in students to try and shape them into being “conventionally” intelligent (in a sense, a cookie cutter version of what we view as smart; reading, riting, rithmatic) i.e. the perfect factory worker and a perfectly boring person. Also Robinson is an excellent, casual and engaging speaker. Please watch this.

Adrian’s Thoughts: I too highly recommend this talk. It was one of my favorites from the week.  Not only was it informative and engaging, but Robinson’s great sense of humor kept me laughing the whole way through.

Tuesday

1. Gever Tulley: 5 Dangerous things you should let your children do

Dave’s Thoughts: Funny discussion of how the lengths we go to protecting children have become absurd and counter-productive.

Adrian’s Thoughts: I found that Tulley’s discussion of children today (and their sheltered upbringing) really resonated with my experiences from working at Northeastern.  The idea that parents are so protective of their offspring throughout their childhood, leaves them ill-prepared to face the challenges of adulthood was something I witnessed time and again.

2. Ian Dunbar: Dog-Friendly Dog Training

Dave’s Thoughts: Not our favorite video… summary: man who loves dogs and hates humans scolds humans on how they treat dogs. Skip it.

Adrian concurs. Blah…

Wednesday

1. Matt Cutts: Try Something New for 30 Days

Dave’s Thoughts: Nerdy guy goes outside for a month at a time and actually enjoys it. Worth watching.

Adrian’s Thoughts: Apparently Dave’s not as easily inspired as I. I thought Cutts was interesting and motivating. His talk made me think about trying to put all my plans into action.

2. Julia Sweeney: “The Talk”

Dave’s Thoughts: Very funny story about the speaker’s experience of having the “birds and the bees” discussion with her daughter. Recommend highly.

Thursday

1. William Ury: The Walk from “No” to “Yes”

Dave’s Thoughts: Very insightful presentation about difficult (impossible) negotiations, specifically the Arab-Israeli conflict, though he touches on others (Chechnya). The talk starts better than it ends though, as in my opinion, Ury attributes way too much meaning and promise into his successful “Path of Abraham” initiative. Still, a great presentation.

Friday

1. Ben Dunlap: A Passionate Life

Dave’s Thoughts: Getting past the man’s enigmatic accent, this was an inspiring talk, but Adrian liked it more than I did.

Adrian’s thoughts: This was one of my favorite talks. We watched it the day before we went to visit Sachsenhausen concentration camp and it was such an emotional experience to imagine what Holocaust survivors went through during and then after their imprisonment. The fact that so many of them are such proponents of forgiveness, determination and a search for meaning speaks volumes about the resilience and compassion of human beings. Dunlap recalls that his friend (Holocaust survivor and civil right proponent), Sandor Teszler, always reminded him that, “Human beings are essentially good”. It’s good to be reminded to take advantage of God’s gifts, that learning is life-long and that life should be lived to it’s fullest. 

Saturday

1. Joshua Klein: The Intelligence of Crows

Dave’s Thoughts: My favorite of the talks we watched, a discussion of animal (crow) intelligence with a provocative idea about intra-species cooperation between humans and animals. It reminded me of Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. Also short enough for everyone to watch!

Adrian’s Thoughts: Entertaining, informative and eye-opening. 

Sunday

1. David Gallo: Underwater Astonishments  

Dave’s Thoughts: Very cool in a science comes to life kind of way.

Adrian’s Thoughts: Underwater life never ceases to amaze.These creatures are absolutely incredible and the video’s only 5 minutes…you should check it out!

2. Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

Dave’s Thoughts: Nigerian author talks about stereotypes.

Adrian’s Thoughts: Thought provoking. None of the information was new, but it made me think about the way in which I classify and categorize people and places. It was especially interesting to think about the “single story” of the people I’m currently surrounded by and how those people might interpret me and my home from their singular views.

Well, Enrichment Project- Week 1 down!  Hopefully our reviews didn’t put you to sleep!  Maybe they even will inspire some of you to investigate TED a little more:)  Whatever the case may be hope your year is also starting off on a good foot!

COMING UP THIS WEEK….
Enrichment Project- Week 2: Exercise Everyday!  

New Apartment

As you may know from an earlier post- on January 1st we moved out of our apartment in Steglitz to a cozy little place in Schöneberg. Though both apartment are technically located in Berlin proper- our new place feels much more “in the city”.  We have 5 different metro lines within walking distance and are only about a 20 minute walk from the Tiergarten and Kurfürstendamm Straße.

Though this apartment has almost 10 square meters less space than our previous place, it’s set up so that it doesn’t feel cramped. In our old apartment their were only 2 rooms- the kitchen and then the “living” space (which included the bedroom and the living room).  This spot has everything separated and it creates a much cozier atmosphere. The only real downside is the fact that the kitchen only comes equipped with two stove top burners- no oven:(

Unfortunately this wont be our “permanent” location, but we’re hoping the next place we find will have that option.  We will be here until the end of February though and are going to enjoy the international flavor and great restaurant selection while we can!!

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Enrichment Project- Week #1

Week #1: Watch a TED talk everyday 

We are kicking off Week #1 of Project Enrichment by focusing on the mind.  Everyday we’ll be watching at least one different TED talk- each average only about 20 minutes. At the end of the week we’ll post a comprehensive list of the talks we viewed with notes and rankings.  We’re going to try and pick topics we might not normally go for, but I’m sure a few favorite topics will sneak in as well.  

Hope your second week of 2012 is off to a great start…Happy Monday!