Thursday, September 9, 2010

Week One

Dear Friends,
Well, it has been just over one full week that I have been here in Germany, so I guess it's time for some updates. It has been a strange week, to say the least. I realize some of you might be expecting to read some exciting travel news; however, the reality of the past week is much more mundane. If you're curious, read on (and my apologies to those who've already heard some of this from me by email).
The most challenging part of this adventure thus far is the fact that there are not many people here who speak English. My contacts at the Welcome Center at the University of Potsdam speak English well, and they have been very helpful to me. But it's a very different situation on the streets and in the shops, where I am constantly having to draw upon what little German I gleaned this summer and speak, I'm sure, in halting and embarrassingly fractured phrases. Mainly it is the younger people here who speak English--apparently those only a little older were required to learn Russian in school and it is they, in the main, who populate the shops and offices around town. It has thus been a real challenge to get around and do what ought to be very simple things like shopping and eating. I'm making use of my MP3 player and audio files, trying to learn more German as quickly as I can. But, of course, it isn't easy. If you care to share my pain (and perhaps get a good laugh in the process), I suggest you read Mark Twain's acerbic essay "The Awful German Language" (click here for a nicely formatted pdf version). I stumbled upon it as I was doing some web translations and couldn't help but love it; it's oh so apropos.
Last Friday night the Welcome Center organized a small gathering at a local restaurant for all visiting students and scholars. Of the roughly 15 people there, I was the only native English speaker in the group (the others were from all parts of the world, with various native tongues, but with limited English skills; some were fluent in German, however). I was also the only person in a Humanities field--all the rest were science and math types, connected to a different part of the University. I was also the only one who will be teaching here; everyone else (at least among those I spoke to) is working on a doctorate or doing research.
Other than that, I have not had much chance to meet other people or socialize. I've just been too busy taking care of the small things required to set up house. You don't know frustrating till you've tried to go to a market and ask a non-English speaking woman where to find clothes hangers and toilet bowl cleaner! Now that's an adventure :) I'm also doing a lot of this on foot or the bus. Thus, every little mission seems to take hours. On the plus side, I have taken time during these excursions to sit at a cafe here and there and have a coffee and a pastry and people watch, and I've done some pleasure reading at night.
Another of the challenges here is that very few places accept credit cards. They do cash for everything! Even at the central station for public transport (where they have a Visitors center and tourist info), I could not use a credit card to by a monthly bus pass. I have found one supermarket that takes cards (but only MasterCard, not VISA--and it seems they've never even heard of Discover or American Express!). Curiously, this little burg has a Starbucks, which does take credit cards, so it's become a home away from home. I'm drinking too much coffee and - yes - smoking too many cigarettes! (This despite all the ubiquitous ads for Chesterfield cigarettes on which is very prominently written "Rauchen kann tödlich sein"! - i.e., Smoking Can be Deadly!
Today was another day for taking care of mundane business. I had to go first to the Town Hall to register as a temporary resident, then to the Foreigner's Office to get a residency permit and then to the Deutsche Bank to open an account. Fortunately, I had some assistance with all of this.
So there you have it. Nothing too exciting, I know. Better things are on the horizon, however. Now that I've settled in here in Potsdam, I expect to start venturing out a bit more. I'm going to an orientation next week inGottingen, which is west of here, and then to a conference in Bonn at the end of the month. I'm also going to be taking a German class at the Goethe Institute in Berlin (why not? Fulbright is paying for it!) and so plan to take the train there soon (perhaps this weekend) and check out the city.
This blogging thing is new for me, so I don't know if I'll enjoy doing it or stick with it, but I thought it was a good way to stay connected and keep people posted, at least for now.
I hope to have some pictures to post in the near future.
Til then,


  1. Keep writing MH, you may want to write short notes a few times a day (will be easier on me with ADHD, lol).

    Mohammed R

  2. Very informative, Matt! Keep those daily posts coming! Very helpful for anyone else planning a long stay or merely planning a long evening sampling beers! In capturing these "mundane" moments, you are giving insights to the new life you are living/exploring. One person's mundanity is another's dream world... peggy

  3. JOY! Hi Matt. It is great that you are posting/sharing your Fulbright experiences. I am so jealous (not about missing out on the beer sampling)! Okay, maybe a little... :-) LaQueta

  4. Sound daunting and very, very exciting! I hope you can find time to update regularly! Love it!

    If you don't mind, I'm going to forward to my brother the link to your blog and your pictures. He is very interested in Germany AND beer!