February 4, 2005

The summer after my junior year of college, I spent a couple months in Berlin learning German at an intensive language-immersion program. When I arrived, I got myself into the intermediate class by faking my way through the placement test. Unfortunately, since I had done so by relying on the German I knew from Bach and Schumann songs, whenever I opened my mouth I sounded like a raving lunatic.

“Kind sir,” I’d ask the teacher, “hast thou a pencil? For, woe betide me, I have left mine own in the apartment of my landlord.”

“Faustus,” he would say, looking at me as if I might at any moment sprout a third arm, “it’s ‘in my landlord’s apartment,’ not ‘in the apartment of my landlord.'”

“But why should it not be as I spoke it?” I would insist. “One says rightfully ‘in the kingdom of my Father,’ does one not?”

The teacher would sigh. “Faustus, when are you going to start speaking normal German?”


I honestly wasn’t trying to sound like I’d just stepped out of Werther; this was simply the only vocabulary I knew. In the end, my prediction turned out not to be completely accurate, as eventually I began to understand that patterns of twentieth century speech and of eighteenth century religious poetry were different. I also learned how to say things like like “cock” and “fuck,” and by the time I left my German actually wasn’t half bad.

Then I took a terrific German class fall semester of senior year, with a professor who gave us handouts like this.

Then I took another German class spring semester, with a professor who hated my guts. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this out until I got my first paper back with his scathing comments on it. That night I had dinner with my friend A.N., who told me that this man had been in the Hitler Youth as a child. She also told me that he had been on former President Bush’s committee to determine what to do when the flying saucers came.

Unfortunately, by this time it was too late to drop the class.

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12 Responses to The summer after my junior

  1. Jess says:

    Okay, what’s gone wrong? With my family history, the Hitler Youth involvement was bad enough, but association with the Bush family really got my hackles up.

    Time to get some perspective, I guess. 🙂

  2. Jess says:

    Okay, that was a badly worded comment. Let me clarify. I feel sure that I would hold involvement with the Nazis against someone, even if my family hadn’t been decimated by them. I don’t have to have personal family involvement, in order to be offended by a group of genocidal maniacs.

    There, I feel a little better!

  3. Lauren says:

    Couldn’t you just convince everyone else to start modeling their speech after eighteenth century religious poetry?

    The only consolation in my French class from hell last year was that the hellish professor kept making references to some book whose title he pronounced The Sound and the Furry.

  4. sdf says:

    is the handout genuine? wow.

  5. MzOuiser says:

    damn, Faustus. blogging for 3 years and still pulling missives like this out of your ass? What a great story!

    Sadly, I learned all my German from Mozart and Strauss. Which means I might do well at a german zoo.

  6. David says:

    He could probably reprise both of his roles in the current administration.

  7. Patrick says:

    Entschuldigen Sie bitte mein schlechtes Deutsches. Ich wollte nur sagen, dass ich Ihr blog sehr interessant finde. Ich auch studierte in Deutschland und moechte mehr Ihrer Geschichten lesen.

    Waren Sie im ehemaligen BRD oder DDR?


  8. Patrick (the other one) says:

    This post reminded me of one of my favorite quotes ever:

    Was immer du tun kannst, oder wovon du dir erträumst, es zu können, beginn`es.

    Die Kühnheit besitzt Genie, sie besitzt Macht und Zauberkraft. (Goethe)

    (“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”)

  9. Hugo says:

    Du mach mich ganz heiss.

  10. Jess: Fear not. I understood you. And I agree.

    Lauren: Would that I could. The Sound and the Furry sounds like a great fetish porn movie.

    sdf: It is for real. Can you believe it? He was a really good teacher.

    MzOuiser: We could totally get together and talk about how the holy people we see around us are swathed in robes of light and crap like that.

    David: He probably is.

    Patrick: I was in West Berlin. But I did go a few times to East Berlin, mostly to gay bars, which I hated.

    Patrick (the other one): That’s lovely, truly lovely. What is it from?

    Hugo: Right back at you.

  11. Patrick (the other one) says:

    Since you asked, I looked up the quote, and it turns out it’s not fully by Goethe – it’s supposedly based on a very free translation of Faust from 1835. It’s actually a paraphrase from the Prelude at the Theatre. I will prefer to think of it as a Goethe quote, though…

    You can see more about this at http://www.goethesociety.org/pages/quotescom.html

  12. Daniel Zobel says:

    it´s hindenburg not hindenberg…


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