Learning German - Ein Reisebericht 2

I did manage a few positive experiences speaking German on my holiday. In Austria I managed to check into our hotel succinctly enough that the check in lady asked me, "Verstehen Sie Deutsch?" in a curious tone. (It is actually surprisingly simple to check into a hotel, as well as buy groceries, without ever speaking a single word of the same language, as long as the right money changes hands.) Unfortunately I ruined it by trying to say, "Ja, ein bisschen" (Yes. a little bit) and instead said "Ja, ein bissen" (Yes, a bite).

Another good moment was when I was in the Planten un Blomen gardens in Hamburg. We were looking for the Wasserlichtorgel and I'd just walked away from a map that showed the way. A second later three people approached me and babbled something that sounded like a question and included the word Wasserlichtorgel. I stepped back to the map and said, "Ich denke, das es ist da." They said, "Echt?" (Really) and I shrugged and admitted, "Ich bin Auslander."
That made them laugh, and I laughed, and we all chuckled as I proved that I can be funny in Germany.

A Wasserlichtorgel

A Wasserlichtorgel

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Holidays Suck

I'm sitting here in Adelaide. I've finished blowing the last of the black junk from the Piccadilly Line out of my nose, after flying for so long that I watched all of Fargo Season 2 on a tiny screen attached to a chair reclined to within inches of my face. If it's not clear, I've realised, European Summer Holidays suck. Of course, I'll list why:

  • It's sunny from before 5am until almost 10am. This makes it really difficult to take amazing photos without staying out quite late. The lighting during the middle of the day is too harsh. Super annoying. And I missed every sunrise for a month.
  • Deciding what to do each day is mentally draining. Museum? Park? Castle? Shopping? Hiking? Pub? How you'll end up wishing for the surprise-free routine of office and supermarket.
  • You can't buy Weet Bix anywhere.
  • Every time you visit a website you have to accept cookies. Sometimes also at hotels.
  • Only having one place in the room to charge your phone is a pain.
  • When you post something to social media you have to wait hours for your friends and family to wake up and like it.
  • There are tourists everywhere.
  • No matter how much fun you're having, there's a constant, nagging feeling that you'll have to go back home soon and return to reality.


After travelling to a bunch more different countries in the world, I can definitively say that everybody who comes from places I didn't grow up are doing things wrong.

The Highlands

In all my life I've never hesitated to refer to myself as Scottish. There must be some ancestry there, beyond the clan name. But until this week I'd never actually been to Scotland. As we crossed the border on our way to Glasgow the thought did occur to me, will I feel like I belong here? (As well as, is it seriously this foggy in summer?)

In Glasgow and Edinburgh the answer was, no (and yes). I didn't really like deep fried pizza. I didn't strike up any friendly conversations with the locals. I had no real issues with the British. Understanding what some residents were saying required more active listening and guesswork than my German conversations!

In between the two cities there was a day spent in the Scottish Highlands. This territory did appeal to me more than the urban places, and I wondered if it would be there, among the lochs and glens, that I would find a place that felt like home.

Sadly I didn't get any sense of belonging, or any photos of highland cows! But the sweeping mountain ranges, refreshing drizzle, and reminders of historic courage and barbarity did make me feel kind of at home. Although that could have been due to their similarities with the Adelaide Hills. Hmmm.

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Exotic London

The wintry summer I was expecting and okay with.

But these...

They taste like Vita Brits

They taste like Vita Brits

It's a cool place to visit, but I don't know how anyone can stand to live here.

Learning German - Ein Reisebericht

A year ago I decided to teach myself German. I didn't want to pay any money, so I downloaded some free apps (DuoLingo, Memrise, WordReference, Google Translate) and signed up for some free Udemy courses. I figure that those, plus my fuzzy memories of German classes from the 90's, would have me fluent in Deutsch by the time I touched down in Munich, June 2016.

Mein Name ist Bradley. Ich esse Banane mit Joghurt. Deutsch was basically English with a German accent, right?

By the time I boarded the flight I was feeling reasonably confident in my ability to read the language. All the common words were familiar to me. I grasped the grammar, genders and cases. My listening skills were okay, if it was enunciated clearly (and accompanied by English subtitles if possible).

Twenty-four hours of flying later I was in the line for customs at Flughafen München and I was ready to go. The customs officer took one look at us and said, "Hello, how are you today?"

I read some signs, collected our luggage and we boarded a train to the city. All the announcements were made in English first, then German. The anticipation was building. We dragged our suitcases up Dachauer Straße to the hotel lobby and I made eye-contact with the receptionist. It was going to happen.

My brain froze. I stared at her for about five seconds and mumbled, "Speak English?"
(Surprise. She did, fluently).

Oh well, blame that one on the jetlag and anxiety. At least I couldn't go much worse than that. We spent the evening walking the streets of Munich. I managed to order a currywurst and, later, an ice-cream in German. There was also some pointing involved. It was a moderate success. Back in the hotel I turned on the German news and it rushed over me like a river. They never spoke that fast in DuoLingo.

The longer I stayed in Germany the worse I got. When locals spoke, the time it took my brain to deconstruct the sentence into words for recognising was too slow for a conversation to flow. My mumbled, uncertain speaking was too fragmented to follow. Sometimes the person I spoke to would smile and encourage me along, a form of patronisation that helped little with my confidence.

By the end of the fortnight I had to admit I couldn't speak German. I could babble a couple of words, but I could interpret almost nothing of what came back to me. That was the worst part, the small sense of satisfaction when asking a question using the right words, followed by dismay when the response came so fast and gapless that I could understand none of it (although sometimes a minute later it would make sense). I really learnt to empathise with toddlers. This must be how they feel when they are spoken to. I also found myself easily grumpy.

What this experience has taught me is the importance of listening and conversation skills. It's all good to change your Facebook language to German and listen to Neue Deutsche Härte Metal with a lyrics sheet, but if you truly want to speak another language you have to actually speak it. Out loud. To other people. And that was my principle failing. Because I don't usually try to have conversations with service industry people in English. I don't actually like talking to people. I hate small talk. Which, in hindsight, makes me confused about why I learnt so many German words in the first place. Oh well. Wir können immer über das Wetter reden.

Meine Erste Friseur

The week before we left Adelaide was a little hectic as I tried to squeeze the majority of my departure planning into the Friday afternoon that we left. One thing I was supposed to do, but didn't, was have my haircut. It was already quite long and shapeless when we first arrived in Munich, and after almost two weeks of trying to deal with it I'd had enough. I already looked dweebish enough with my camera bag, cargo shorts and hoodie with rolled-up sleeves. A mess of unruly, puffy hair on top was too much. It also didn't help that all the hotels had foregone complimentary shampoo and conditioner and instead provided big dispensers of multi-purpose shampoo/conditioner/hand soap/dishwashing liquid.

The Brandenburg Gate, obscured by my excess hair.

The Brandenburg Gate, obscured by my excess hair.

I decided Hamburg was where my long hair would end. We searched a mall near our hotel for a Friseur (hairdresser) and I assessed a few from outside to determine if they were too teur (stylish) for me. I found one that seemed like a good fit, in the basement of the Europa Passage shopping centre. The price of a haircut was 22 Euro, 18 Keine Waschen. No appointment was necessary. It reminded me of the hairdressers I use in Adelaide, except instead of being staffed by Koreans with passable english it was staffed by Turks with passable German. It was going to happen.

To be safe, the first thing I asked the hairdresser when I walked in the door was, "Sprechen Sie Englisch?"
I expected they would, it seemed like they all did by that point. Millions of multi-lingual, judging Europeans everywhere we went.
To my surprise she said, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"
"Mein Deutsch ist sehr schlecht." Schlecht means bad.
"We try," she said.

Vanessa was amused, and took a seat to watch. I took a more active seat.

I was prepared for this. Earlier in the year, when I'd been studying my German lessons daily, I'd contemplated that a haircut might be the opportunity that arose for me to show off my Deutsch-sperechen chops, while a Barber regaled me with an oral history of his or her city, and insider tips for the best places to see and eat. That was before I'd immersed myself in the culture and realised that I couldn't really speak German.

To cut the story short, I successfully negotiated an appropriate haircut. It could have gone more fluidly. For instance, I knew what Augen were, and what a Bogen was, but I wasn't able to put it together until after the comb started lifting up my eyebrows for the razor. I used kurz (short) and dünner (thinner) well enough.

Ultimately my haircut was a success in 1) Making my hair shorter; 2) Finally putting to rest any thoughts I had about being able to speak German; and 3) keeping my streak of not paying more than $25 for a haircut alive for another ten weeks.

Hacken abgeschlossen

Hacken abgeschlossen


A long walk in the sun, followed by a cold beer in the shade in a Biergarten. Watching people try to use a rowboat. It's exactly how I imagined it.

image 1575 from bradism.com