German: lessons learned

Surprisingly, at least to me, I’ve already been travelling for 6 months. My plan was to stay in Berlin for 6 weeks to learn some German and then move on, but, as it happened, I stayed in Berlin for 11 weeks, spent all of November cycling in the Balkans, spent a week in Barcelona, and two weeks in Istanbul during Christmas. Now it’s the New Year and I’m in Tokyo: time to reflect, to see what I’ve accomplished so far, to see what I can learn from my experience thus far, and to determine if this is what I want to do with my time.

The 2 months I spent in Berlin were great — I totally fell in love with the city. I’ve never been anywhere that felt so free, and, I know I know, all I keep saying is that you can drink on the metro. It’s just an example though. The city is so laissez faire, so un-German, that you can do what you want, dress however you want, be who you want, and, yes, drink wherever you want, including the metro. I mean they have kiosks that sell beer on the platform: fantastisch.

Berlin, however, does have its downsides: it’s a terrible place to learn German. The city is incredibly international. Besides all the Turkish living there that immigrated in the 60s & 70s, there’s tons of Spanish, I assume because the poor economy in Spain, and even of all the Germans I met, none were actually from Berlin.

The German classes I took in Berlin were pretty good, and incredibly cheap, but, while it was especially helpful for making friends, dear lord, did it drag on sometimes. German is a complicated language, but after 6 weeks of classes we still couldn’t really have a conversation or talk about the past. This was frustrating — the whole point of language learning is to communicate with others. Learning a language is a lot like strengthening a muscle, you have to exercise it, but if you can’t have a conversation, you can’t exercise, and while the knowledge may be in your brain somewhere, you won’t have quick access to it unless you practice conversing.

Also, while I think I have a great capacity for doing boring things, eg studying a language course book, even I get bored. That’s part of the reason I was so gung-ho to go on the bike tour. New places every day, new country every week, and lots of exercise.

So what did I learn and how will I apply that to learning Japanese? The ubiquity of English in Tokyo is much less than Berlin so that shouldn’t be a problem. At this point, I’ve decided not to take classes but to do self-study and find a private tutor. And to keep from getting bored, I’m going to ski. My sister was kind enough to bring me my skis from Canada, so I will head to Nagano during the work week to ski and study. Hopefully, I can find some people to converse with there for practice, and, during the weekend, I’ll come back to Tokyo to visit with friends and make the party. Sounds like a great use of time to me.

Things that would never exist in Canada: Klunkerkranich


There are somethings that would just never exist in puritan Canuckistan… Klunkerkranich is definitely one of them.

Basically it’s an outdoor bar on top of a shopping mall. The top 6 floors of the Neukölln Arcaden are parking garage; however, the 6th floor has been repurposed (as so many things have been in Berlin). Access to the top parking level has been blocked off with wooden pallets and other makeshift barricades, but where cars would normally take the ramp to the top level, a couple of Berliners ask to see what’s in your bag. Winding up the ramp to the top level, you have the cash where you pay cover (a few euro) and a garden constructed of planters with a bio juice bar.

Past the cash is the main space which is basically a large cedar deck built on top of the concrete parkade. You can sit and drink, smoke, chat, etc… on the deck. The center is raised couple meters and acts as a small stage for music (a gypsy jazz trio were playing). On the left is a bar with the usual stuff and on the far left they have a bbq setup with sausages in a bun or pasta dishes for a couple euro. Along the wall of the parkade, there are picnic benches where you can enjoy a beautiful unobstructed view of Berlin.

At one side of the deck, there is a large sandy area, kind of like a sandbox, for kids to play in. The whole space is definitely family-friendly and you see many young families hanging out here.

To me, this place is just such a contradiction. Nothing could be further from an amazing place to chill out than a shopping mall parkade, but, here in Berlin, they’ve turned an ugly parkade into a beautiful, relaxing space. Berliners have a knack for that.

Freizeit f

  • 1. nur sg; free (oder spare) time, leisure (time)

Mauer Park

There are several different flea markets (Flohmarkt) around Berlin, but Mauerpark is next level. It happens every Sunday and is huge, like football pitch huge. It goes on and on. Also, there’s tons of food, a club (of course!), and a beer garden with imported sand.

Besides all this, there’s an old stone amphitheatre with hundreds of people enjoying karaoke. Some people are pros and some suck, but either way you need to register hours in advance.

Mauer f; -, -n wall (auch fig und sport);

die (Berliner) Mauer hist the (Berlin) Wall

German election

wählen v/t & v/i

2. pol (jemanden etc) elect; (stimmen für) vote for; (wählen gehen) go to the polls;

gehst du wählen? are you going to vote?;