Posts Tagged ‘learning German’

Red matches and campari, with a dash of Leonard Cohen, and the second cup of coffee of today. The kind of hangover that comes with a personalized nametag and high heels. Why am I so frustrated by the apostrophe in “Australian’s spend $60 a week on lottery tickets”? I can forgive grocers and newsagents, but not online insurance companies. Email sent.

Coffee today is furry and thick, a bit like my head.  Can someone please turn the sun down it’s a little bright, ah, that’s better.

I’m fascinated by my new jar of fig jam. There are large green foetus-like objects floating in it.

My new favourite word is Schokokuchen. Don’t expect translation, I want some effort on your part. You can eat it.

Bananas and two pears and an unknown melon. Do you like pickles or do you call them gherkins? I also like die Knoblauchknolle, the garlic bulb.

Have you googled today? One day a few months ago, they replaced the google icon with a game of Pacman that you can actually play, causing me untold delight. Ten minutes of my life well spent, rather than saved.

It sounds rude to ask if you’ve googled today. The kind of thing one shouldn’t inquire about in polite company; a sex act or antisocial drug habit. But have you?

One word for drinking before going out is vorglüen – literally, priming an engine. It’s one of those funny verbs that split in two as soon as you use them. The German language is littered with the remains of split infinitives, the empty husks of Latin cases, and the graves of thousands of ancient exceptions to all the rules.


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I have so much time these days. Weekdays start with a leisurely rise and stretch, surveying my kingdom before deciding what to do that day. Should I pop down to the markets? Do some writing? A little German revision, perhaps? Not since my heady student days have I had such time to contemplate the deep and ineffable nature of the universe, and my own navel.

On certain very adventurous days I make Grand Plans. These may include epic campaigns to open a bank account with Deutsche Bank, visiting a real-estate agent, or writing all my newly acquired German nouns in pictorial form on the back of tiny pieces of paper which I shuffle around my desk and organise excitedly into categories. (‘Masculines to the left! Feminines to the right! And Neuters, stay out of my way!’). Yesterday I may or may not have made little models of coloured clay people (coloured clay that is, the people themselves were of mixed race) so I could practise various verb conjugations and greetings.

The saving grace of these little episodes is that they are Improving Me As A Person. I can take comfort in the fact that these are not useless activities – shut up, you in the back! – they are rounding me out, improving my language ability, my General Urban Infrastructure, my soft skills. I’m still not sure what hard skills are but I don’t think I have any. And the crowning achievement of my developments is this: I am cooking.

Potted History of My Cooking Skills

1995: I learn to cook two-minute noodles.

1997: I learn to add things to the two-minute noodles, such as onions, beef strips, and seasoning.

1998: I perfect the art of bacon and eggs. This is to remain my staple dish throughout the next ten years.

2001: The Toast Era. I am living with a guy called Hugh in Penrith. Every day after classes, we share a secret glance. Then we buy a loaf of bread and go home. We spend the next half hour making toast with butter and vegemite, comparing notes on how to spread the vegemite, and challenging each other on the precise layering of butter. We invariably finish the loaf that day. This continues for four months.

2004: I decide that it is time to expand my horizons and ask my mother to teach me how to cook spaghetti bolognese. With the added bonus that I can make large amounts and store them in the freezer, bacon and eggs is temporarily displaced as my cuisine of choice.

2007-2009: The Vietnam Period. Owing to the ubiquitous, wonderful and cheap street food, in the whole time living in Hanoi, I cook three times. Bacon and eggs once and spaghetti bolognese twice.

Now, I am sitting in my living room with the smell of roasting aubergine and capsicum wafting in the air. I have just added halloumi to the mix. Two years ago I couldn’t even spell halloumi (truth be told I still can’t), now I am debating whether to add cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes. Ruccola will be artfully arranged on the side, with a little beetroot salad. Yesterday I bought couscous and home-made gnocci. Last week I had mushrooms and eggplant. I have decided I need more implements, like a lemon zester and rolling pin, maybe a spork as well. I am starting to understand the phrase ‘food porn’ and quietly downloading episodes of Jamie Oliver‘s shows and The Iron Chef.

This is all thanks to the miracle of unemployment, which sadly will end tomorrow. (Or at least slow down; nobody in Berlin has a full time job). In a couple of months it’ll be cheese on toast and TV dinners. But once in a while, I will look back on this golden age of culinary delights, and dream of what could have been.

Bugger, the halloumi’s burning.

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Ich lerne hier Deutsch

First class yesterday, and what a nervous rag-tag bunch we were, waiting for our teacher who showed up ten minutes late. Not very German, muttered a voice in the crowd. Japanese catering lady with a square business card, Israeli ginger, petite Spanish, Basque guy from Spain (I’m from Basque Country – in Spain), wizened young Italian musician, two beaming Vietnamese.

We had to spell our names aloud using the German alphabet. I suspect some would have had trouble in their native tongues let alone a new one. Neol turned out to be Lior. Ehuazel revealed herself as Iguacel. We all chuckled commiseratively over each other’s mistakes and made oversized faces to pronounce new sounds, gargling our Rs and hocking up our CHs. We were introduced to insipidly contructed dialogues between Peter and Laila and Carlos and Marina, which we recreated in a mingle just outside the classroom.

Thomas our teacher has a flowing brown crown surrounding a bald pate, infectious energy, and is self-conscious about his own (excellent) English. Actually English was used quite a bit both in the classroom and outside of it, as it’s the lingua franca of most of the students; I’m not sure if our German will get much better but everybody’s English certainly will. Three and a quarter hours is a hell of a long class, so we gladly collapsed outside with coffees and rolled cigarettes during our break and swapped potted histories. Nobody’s really got a proper job except Tomoko the smiley caterer. Everybody else is a student or intern or housewife or househusband or, like me, has decided that the word ‘unemployment’ is decidedly more palatable if you can claim to be learning the local lingo.

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