As of three hours ago, I successfully completed the first semester of my exchange year. I rode my bike to school, given the dry weather, and hung out with everyone for half an hour while they received their report cards. Fortunately, I was not given official grades for the first semester, but I will be given them next semester. I’ve already got a few friends lined up for tutoring, I’m planning on paying them in English help.

I have one week of break before I return back to school, where a math test is waiting for me with open arms. I have a feeling I’m going to have absolutely no time from here on out. Studying is going to eat up a lot of time. I have to put in three times the amount of work into the same assignment as my German counterparts, because there is a very strong possibility that there is new vocabulary involved which I have to learn, and because they are much farther ahead in subject material than at HMHS, I have to rush and catch up. Even if that leaves me a smidgen of free time (highly unlikely), there is enough on my plate to keep me busy. The Europe trip hosted by my district has already been paid for (thanks Mother Dearest!), which will eat up a good three weeks of April. On April 7th , the end of a two week Easter break, I will be running a half marathon with my neighborhood, so I’ll be training like crazy (and battle the ‘McDonald’s America’ stereotype while I’m at it). And directly beforehand, my aunt, cousin, and sister will be visiting!

Two nights ago at the dinner table, my host parents and I made a list of what I haven’t seen, and what I may want to show my family.

Chances are, you aren’t as lucky and can’t take a week or two off to visit me in Berlin. That’s okay, I’ll try to give you a little summary of what you are/are not missing. Plus, I just got back from a run and the Internet is currently down, so I have nothing better to do.

1)No wonder the Germans eat bread so much. It’s delicious! Cafes are ubiquitous in America, and so I can probably compare that to the amount of bakeries here. The bakeries serve coffee, cakes, sandwiches, rolls, desserts, and bread. There are normally tables and chairs where people can enjoy a cup of coffee and a sandwich during their lunch break. There are also a number of terms for the word ‘roll’ in German, differing in every region. Everyone understands Brotchen (broat-chyen), but the Berliner term for it is Schrippe (shrip-peh). My host parents who moved here from Marburg (University city north of Frankfurt) insist that the bread there is better. Crispier. It’s worth believing, because the farther south one goes in Germany, the better the food gets. (Southeast Germany is Bavaria, where they wear the funny clothes and eat lots of white Wurst)

2)Germany, although half the size of Texas, has a whole lot of dialects. There is an East-Germany dialect, stemming from the DDR regime. There is a Berliner dialect, which in truth I have never heard. Or at least, noticed. There is Platt-Deutsch, which comes from the area under Denmark, Bayrisch, which is the dialect spoken in Bavaria, and even a dialect for Heidelberg. Chances are, there is a dialect for every old town, and the neighboring village won’t be able to understand them. I sure can’t. That being said, everyone can (or should be able to) speak Hoch-Deutsch (high German), which stems from the city of Hannover, or so I’m told. Austrian German sounds really funny and I have an extremely difficult time understanding them on TV, and I won’t even try if its Swiss German. In my defense, no one can understand Swiss German.

3)No, not all Germans drive Mercedes and Beamers. My host parents drive Opel (a GM company which is prohibited from selling in the US), and there’s a Ford dealership right down the road. I saw a Maserati on my way home from school, but that was a huge shock. The cars here are super tiny (a lot of people drive Smart Cars) in comparison to my mom’s boat of an SUV. I used to hate the smallness of everything, but now I am starting to get used to it. It’s a lot easier to find a parking spot that way. And it’s much better for the environment, but that goes without saying. However, when I go on a run, sometimes I won’t notice a car behind me because they’re quieter, and so it always freaks me out when they pass me.

4)Public transportation is fantastic. Seriously, I say I miss driving all the time, but if I lived in this region I would never have needed a license. It’s much healthier walking ten minutes to the bus station every morning (wakes me up better than any amount of coffee), and it’s a lot more fun. I feel so European! Also, I avoid sitting in traffic when I take the train to Berlin. It’s a whole lot quicker. The only time it stinks is the morning after a lot of snow, when everything is around 30 minutes late. However, teachers are always lenient on those days.

5)Berlin does not have enough space to fit all the Embassies, so some smaller ones are squeezed into the neighboring towns. The Madagascar Embassy is a ten minute walk down the road from my school. That may not seem weird to you, but you’ve also probably never been to Falkensee. It’s two minutes outside Berlin-Spandau, but I regularly see tractors on the main street, and most of the roads are cobble stone, or not paved at all. When I rode my bike to school this morning, I had to suffer past multiple horse farms. Get the picture?

6) From sitting at my (or my host brother’s) desk with the window open, I can hear the Autobahn behind me. That’s right, the famous German highway. There is also a speed limit. I’ve driven (okay, been driven) on parts without the speed limit (it is beyond terrifying - Nana, I now know why you hate to get in the car with PopPop), but the majority has a speed limit. The police will not wait with a radar gun to catch people, but there are automatic radar box things that are set up on different highway parts called ‘Blitzers’. If you get caught for speeding, you get ‘blitzt’. If you listen to the radio with the traffic report, they usually ask people to call in and report new Blitzers.

7)American pop music is very mainstream popular here, along with other international music. There’s not a lot of German pop in comparison. I say mainstream because my best friend here listens to a combination of Slipknot and Snoop Dogg, and the kid who sits behind me in English tends to play electronic dubstep something, and my host brother listens to a cool genre called Minimal. No one listens to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, or the Grateful Dead, and although Nirvana T-shirts are very fashionable here, next to no one knows who they are. It kills me inside, it really does. Especially because Kurt Cobain would have a fit... I’m going to stop myself here before I get too worked up. Just please, don’t wear a band T-shirt if you don’t like them or know who they are and save yourself the embarrassment.

8)Berlin has the highest urban population of Turks outside of Istanbul, and from what I understand, they aren’t at all proud of it. A lot of crimes are blamed on the ‘Ausländer’ (foreigners). I guess I could liken it to the American ‘impatience’ with the South American immigrants. I’ve heard a lot of griping about the Turkish tendency to not learn German, which is a legitimate complaint **.

9)Obama is more popular here than JFK, which is saying a lot. He’s a rock star.

10)Most German families eat a warm late lunch (what we would eat for dinner) and ‘Abendbrot’ instead of dinner. Abendbrot literally translated means ‘evening bread’, and it has to be my favorite time of the day. The bread is fantastic (see point number one), and my host mom lays all the cheeses and meats out and we get to make our own slice. I usually stick with chicken lunch meat, not a big fan of Wurst. On weekends, most have a large family breakfast with Brotchen and eggs and homemade jams. I’m really weird because I love to smear a soft boiled egg on a Wikinger Brotchen (dark roll with lots of seeds). Most eat one with butter and jam on top (yes, butter and jam). Butter goes with everything here. It’s a bit gross, and always full-fat, like every other dairy product sold here.

11)When you go to the movie theaters and order popcorn, it’s going to taste really weird. Why? Because it’s sugar popcorn. They do not normally have salt popcorn. It’s sad.

12)If you stay at a true German hotel, you will notice the beds are different. If you book a room for one, there will be a twin sized bed waiting for you, with one enormous square pillow and a comforter. No sheets. If you book a room for two, there will be two twin mattresses next to each other on a double bed frame, with two square pillows and a comforter.

13) My neighbor owns a pig as a house pet. It has nothing to do with anything, I just saw him run under my window and thought I should mention that.

14) Germans are punctual and direct (to a fault, I think), but also long winded. For a Biology worksheet in America, I’d answer as quick as I can without being incomplete which tends to be around 3-5 sentences. Here, I feel like I’m expected to write a novel starting with Adam and Eve to answer the question.

15) Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find German that ugly. They can’t say a hard ‘r’, it’s adorable. When they try to say Dwyer, it sounds like Djwayah. There’s a kid at my school named Marvin, but here they say ‘Mahveen’. Also, they tend to mix up their ‘v’’s and ‘w’’s when speaking English, which I also find adorable. A typical example would be ‘vine’ instead of wine, and ‘elewator’ instead of ‘elevator’. I don’t understand it at all, because the ‘w’ sound doesn’t exist in German so I have no idea why they would use it more than necessary.

16) Grocery shoppers are expected to take their own bags. If they forget, they have to buy them at the register. Environmental friendliness trumps all. To get a shopping cart, you have to put a Euro coin in to unlock it. When you return the shopping cart to the right place and lock it back up, you get the coin back. It prevents shopping carts from being sprawled all over a parking lot (*cough* *cough* Walmart).

17) All but churches are closed on Sundays. Not saying that everyone goes to church, because that’s not true. Especially in East Germany, people tend to be atheists, maybe Protestant. The farther south one goes, the more Catholic. That’s why the southern states have less school, because there are so many religious holidays. Don’t move there right away though, as the farther south one goes, the harder the schools get.

18) The windows are always open, year round! At home, my mother would freak because I’d be letting the air conditioning (or heat) out, but here it doesn’t seem to be much of a worry. Then again, my host house is less than ten years old and so it draws heat from the ground. How cool is that?

19) I haven’t seen one official Apple store. They don’t exist. They are run by separate companies who specialize in Apple products. It’s not like I can drive five minutes and be greeted by a panel of Geniuses (shout out to Cherry Hill Mall).

20) Whatever your stereotype is of the modern German people, throw it out the window. Chances are, for every stereotype met, there’ll be five broken. I’m sure that’s the same for every nationality, though.

** in comparison to the American complaint about the South American immigrants refusing to learn English, which is not legitimate. If anyone took basic American History in high school, they should realize that we have no official language (look it up) and they should not need to learn English if we too know only one language.

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