Megan Massa

"We'll live to die some other day."

fulbright scholar '14-'15.
bowdoin polar bear '14. hths '10.
nerd. scientist. atheist. feminist. anti-bias.
...i'm currently rebuilding my faith in humanity


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*Disclaimer: the views expressed on this site are my own, and they do not reflect any official view of Fulbright or the IIE*

02.09.2014 - Marburg Day 28…Mistakes and Confidence

German is finally starting to feel a bit more natural.  I’m more comfortable trying to piece together sentences; unafraid to err.  They’ll get the gist.  

After such a good full day of German, I attempted conversing in Deutschglish to some students in our dorm.  For the most part, it worked quite well.

We made chocolate-chip snickerdoodle cookies tonight, and they were delicious.

But note to self: don’t take a nap from 5-6pm and then eat tons of raw, sugary cookie dough.  Oops!

Review of The Gaslight Anthem’s Get Hurt

Get Hurt holds the combination of every style of music Gaslight has ever tried and not-tried before…and I love it.  It’s such a well put together album, taking us through the Gaslight repertoire in a meaningful way.  Interestingly, it has a distinctive religious vein running through it; while previous Gaslight albums have songs alluding to Christianity and spirituality in general, such a theme flows through the entirety of Get Hurt.

Of course, a review wouldn’t be a review at all without a list of my favorite songs from the album:

  • "Stay Vicious:" At the beginning, Brian Fallon sounds like he’s back in The Horrible Crowes with a strong hard-rock feel.  The song progresses into a lighter and more melodic "bluesy" Gaslight-sounding chorus.  The alternation between these two sounds is something that I think Gaslight can only pull off due to their history and their recent "metamorphosis" from American Slang to Handwritten  And it’s great.
  • "1,000 Years:" A throwback to The ‘59 Sound, this lighter, almost funk-rock song won me over.  I’ll always have a soft-spot for the “first generation” sound of Gaslight.  And there’s just something so innocent and yet real about the lyrics:

I heard about a woman once, who did everything ever asked of her.  She died last week and her last words were, “It wasn’t worth it.”

  • "Helter Skeleton:" I view this song as a rockier version of American Slang's “Bring It On” and Handwritten's “Mae.”  With these two being two of my very favorite Gaslight songs, it's hardly surprising that another song about love and support would make the top of my list.
  • "Mama’s Boys:" This was a style I’d never heard from Gaslight before, with a folk-rock mellow sound that completely took my breath away.  Greatly adding to the variance and well-roundedness of the album, it demonstrates just how talented Gaslight really is.  And plus it’s super fun to listen to.  
  • "Have Mercy:" I’ve been waiting forever for Gaslight to do some harmonizing with a female voice.  Natalie Prass was an amazing choice.  Her entrance at 2:01 absolutely makes the song.  The latter half of the song gave me legitimate chills when I first heard it.  It gets off to a disappointing start, but its strong ending completely makes up for it.

All being said and done, I absolutely love the album.  The range of styles produced within it never leaves the listener bored, but they all have that distinctive Gaslight sound.  A+

01.09.2014 - Marburg Day 27…Time Flies

It’s pretty hard to believe that I’ve already been here for a month.  With only two and a half weeks left in Marburg, I feel as though I should be “living it up,” but that’s not real life.  Real life is monotony, learning, and a splash of flavor.  

We got word in the morning that we would be having the afternoon off.  So after language course and some lunch, errands and Hausaufgaben were at the top of my To-Do List.  

Dinner was an extra-special event.  We had Taco Night, complete with homemade guacamole (yay for ripe avocados!).  But what made the night special was the guests who attended.  In the Mensa we had met a few other non-Fulbrighter American exchange students studying in Marburg for the year.  We invited them to dinner, and they actually showed up (imagine that!).  In addition, one of the guys who lived on my floor who got “kicked out for living there too long” also joined in.  What resulted was a fresh group with novel interactions.  After a month of living with the same people, it was nice to have someone new to chat with.

Of course, the night ended with Cards Against Humanity.  What a way to get to know people intimately and quickly.

31.08.2014 - Marburg Day 26…Medieval Fair at the Landgrafenschloß

After a beautiful 10-hour sleep following a fun-packed day in Frankfurt, a couple of us attended the “Markt Handwerk & Spektakel” at Marburg’s own castle.  Filled with craftsmen selling their wares and bagpipe-centric music, the fair was certainly a spectacle to behold.  It was, of course, only made better by the 30% of local attendants who decided to dress for the occasion.  But now that I’ve gone to a Medieval fair at a German schloß, I don’t think I’ll be able to go to another, even if this experience was somewhat dampened (in more ways than one) by the rain.

The short day was finished off by dinner at an American restaurant.  It was quite intriguing to see what Germans think of as “American fare.”  Menu items included various burgers, hot dogs, “authentic American” buttermilk pancakes, coleslaw, fries, and every type of soda you can imagine.  We opted for a more German drink, though, tea and rum.  It was very interesting, and I’ll likely not have it again (the rum made it a bit too sweet), but, like most things, I’m glad to have had the experience!

30.08.2014 - Marburg Day 25…Frankfurt

On our second Fulbright-sponsored day-trip, we went to Frankfurt for the museumsuferfest.  Not only did we get a 2-hour tour of the city, but we also got passes to all the participating museums, allowing us to walk in and out of most any museum we pleased.

Much of Frankfurt on the north side of the Main was bombed and destroyed in WWII.  Reconstruction methods have been deliberated, specifically regarding whether the rebuilding of former buildings should be identical replicas of the originals or not.  The result is a hodge-podge of architecture, ranging from “super old looking” (identical to the original building) to “compromise” (similar to the original style with a modern flare) to “we just give up” (distinctly 70’s and 80’s style buildings that bear no resemblance to the destroyed architecture).  This juxtaposition of styles was intriguing and appealing to the eye.

The main steeple of Bartholomäuskirche was the only part of the church left standing after the war.  While it wasn’t a chapel, it was given the honorary title since it played host to the emperor’s coronation.

When it was used as the first German parliament building, Paulskirche was still a church.  the convenings resulted in a constitution that, while not originally adopted, would become a firm foundation for Germany’s democratic constitution.  No longer, however, after its reconstruction, does it serve as a place of worship.  It is now used as a auditorium for prestigious awards ceremonies and the like.

During museumsuferfest, I was able to frequent the Jüdisches Museum, the Städel, the Schirn, and glimpse at the Deutsches Architektur Museum.  

  • Jüdisches Museum: this permanent museum is apparently the largest Jewish museum in Germany (hearsay alert!).  It contained the history of Jewish people in Europe and Germany from the 1100s through WWII.  It also served as a cultural museum, displaying religious artifacts and explaining various holidays, customs, and celebrations.
  • Städel: resembling the MET, one could take days soaking in all the art in this huge museum.  The collection is dotted with famous painters, from Rembrandt to Warhol.  I am often partial to the Contemporary Art, so this was my favorite floor.
  • Schirn: with no permanent collection, this “expo” space showcased “Unendlicher Spass” (“Infinite Jest”) this summer.  I got off some pictures before I was told we weren’t allowed to, but it was a super interesting and alternative Contemporary Art exhibition, complete with random sculptures and multi-media installations.
  • Deutsches Architektur Museum: I was unable to really go through this museum due to time constraints.  But of what I did see, the museum was full of Frankfurt building information as well as blueprints and designs.

Down by the river on both banks were vendors.  Resembling an American street fair, the river was lined with competing music, sellers, and food.

Frankfurt, not only being easy on the eyes, is filled with things to do.  With the bias of seeing this magnificent city during one of the most “happening” and touristy times of the year in mind, I would like to declare my approval of Frankfurt as a city and town (despite exorbitant living prices).  Hopefully you’ll be seeing me again soon!

29.08.2014 - Marburg Day 24…Comfort Zones

After an awesome 3D late-night viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy (the English version) last night, today was a day to recoup.

Culture class in the afternoon dealt with the various dialects and accents present throughout Germany.  Our guest lecturer took us through a cool presentation on the evolution of various Germanic languages and the eventual convergence of these different tongues towards (but not fully to) Martin Luther’s “Hoch Deutsch.”  Along the way, we learned some very interesting things, such that English is derived specifically from Northern Germany’s “Low German” dialect.  As it happens, Low German did not go through the large sweeping dipthongization and monophthongization changes that most of the other dialects did to varying degrees, so many Low German and English words are practically identical.  

Throughout the presentation, we were also provided with sound snippets of the various historical and current dialects.  I began to get nervous when the language from many of the regions sampled was practically unintelligible to my non-native ears.  However, it seems that the “average” speech pattern and pronunciation in the Cologne (Köln) region are fairly close to the German I’ve been learning in class.  Hallelujah.

On a completely unrelated note, I’m getting better at cooking.  Or, more accurately, I’m okay with being a little more adventurous.  I put my own spin on a prosciutto-chicken parm by searing chicken a bit before baking it in the oven with Spanish chorizo, spinach leaves, and mozzarella.  A little less pepper next time, but it was pretty good (and totally edible!).  

28.08.2014 - Marburg Day 23…My Vagina’s Angry

My sophomore year at Bowdoin was the first time I’d ever seen Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues.  And what an experience it was.  I found it powerful, sad, hilarious, infuriating, and moving.  But there was one particular story that I never fully grasped until now, and it’s a tiny excerpt from the monologue most commonly known as “My Vagina’s Angry:”

Let’s just begin with tampons.

What the HELL is that?!

A dry wad of fucking cotton stuffed up there.

Why can’t they find a way to subtly lubricate the tampon?!

As soon as my vagina sees it, it goes into shock!

It closes up.

It says, “Forget it.”

You have to work with the vagina, introduce it to things, prepare the way.

That’s what foreplay’s all about!

You’ve got to convince my vagina, seduce my vagina, engage my vagina’s trust.

You can’t do that…

with a dry wad of fucking cotton!

I realize now that I had been one of “the lucky ones.”  I had gone through puberty in the mid-2000s in the beautiful US of A, where Playtex and Tampax and all those other glorious tampon brands devised ways to work with my anatomy; where the stubborn cotton was and is tucked inside a smooth, plastic, bullet-shaped applicator; where positioning a tampon was painless and always accurate.  

But here in Germany, where they’re super green and don’t make enough garbage to fuel their trash-burning electricity plants, apparently the applicator is the thing that just had to go.  Because its plastic function wasn’t necessary. Now, when I go to the store, I pick up a box filled with “dry wad[s] of fucking cotton.”  

Well excuuussseee me! Hello. I, as a person with a vagina, would like you to riddle me this.  Why are applicators deemed unnecessary when you wrap both the sanitary pads and tampon bullets in plastic when they could be in recyclable cloth or paper?  Why are applicators deemed unnecessary when the #1 selling German condom is still rubber and not sheepskin?  Why must my body, when it already has to deal with headaches, backaches, nausea, fatigue, and painful uterine cramps, have to deal with yet another trauma?  Because let me tell you, sticking a “dry wad of fucking cotton” up there with no smooth applicator is about as easy as batting 0.999 and as painless as a cat clawing repeatedly at your face.  

Germany, there are so many ways that you can reduce plastic waste.  I’m starting a list if you want tips (tip no. 1: introduce your denizens to Nalgenes or Camelbaks).  Just please, please let me buy a pack of tampons with applicators at the store.  

Sincerely, My Angry Vagina

Some people say that it’s a Muslim problem. But it’s not. They’re German slogans and symbols that entered the Arab world and are now coming back. It’s a German problem.

- Prof. Dr. Albrecht Fuess, Center for Near Middle Eastern Studies at the Philipps-Universität Marburg

27.08.2014 - Marburg Day 22…On Islam and Germany

Today’s culture class focused on Muslims in Germany.  This broad topic included where to, from where, why, and how many Muslims immigrated to Germany, what that means for the German religious structures, and how this immigration has impacted the country socially.  To go over everything said would be too cumbersome, so I’ll skip to the closing statement of the two-hour presentation.  

After the conclusion of his prepared slideshow, we had some time for Q&A.  Earlier in the presentation, Prof. Dr. Fuess explained how two of the largest governmentally-recognized Turkish Muslim groups were somewhat merging due to similar political Islamist ideas.  I asked about how these groups influenced and/or spoke about Germany’s political affiliation and support of Israel.  After explaining how these groups walk a fine line and tend to remain quiet on the matter, he began to touch upon recent protests around Germany against the Israeli air-strikes.  One such protest in Berlin resulted in anti-Semitic symbols (such as swastikas) and language being drawn and written.  

Germans not involved in the protest attempt to distance themselves from the events by calling it a “Muslim (or Arab) problem” despite the fact that more than half of the country’s Muslim population carries a German passport and the harmful symbols used are of German origin.  

25-26.08.2014 - Marburg Days 20 & 21…Grimm-Dich-Pfad

Marburg is a town along Germany’s Fairy Tale Trail, and the city itself has its own “Grimm-Dich-Pfad,” or Grimm Trail.  The trail consists of 14 sites, including important buildings during the Grimms’ tenure at the University, general information signs, quotes, and statues symbolizing various Grimm tales.  Despite the fact that I took a Fairy Tales course at Bowdoin and read the Brothers’ Grimm anthology when I was younger, I still am not wholly well-versed in these stories.  However, during my day-of-recovery from Brussels and traveling yesterday, I decided to follow the Grimm trail around the city.  I was successful in finding all the designated monuments aside from one; das Blaue Licht im Marburgs Schlossbrunnen escaped despite about 45 minutes of searching.

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm studied at the Marburg Universität from 1802-1806.  While their studies cultivated a passion for German folklore in the brothers, they did not like the town very much.  They found it cramped and unwelcoming, only beautiful when viewed from the castle (actual quote found in the picture of the stairs).  Nonetheless, Marburg’s location served as inspiration for fairy-tale settings when the brothers collected and adapted their anthology.

Marburg’s Grimm Tour is changing every year.  The original installation was erected in 2012 to mark the 200 year anniversary of the Grimms’ Children’s and Household Tales.  While the pieces included many of the same ones that are currently displayed, other stories, such as the “Hare and the Hedgehog” and “The Wishing Table, the Golden Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack” also made appearances.

Overall, it was fun to hunt around for some of Marburg’s hidden treasures.  I apologize for a reposting of some images, but I didn’t realize at the time of their original publishing that they were part of this tour!

The day ended with my first attempt at cooking something from my “Can’t Cook” cookbook.  And it was a success!  Fresh cracked peppercorn steak with a side of sautéed spinach with garlic.  Yumm :)

As for today, there was nothing much to tell about class.  ”Same old same old” as it were.  But I’ve grown accustom to having long talks into the night with some people on my floor, and it’s quite lovely.  The conversations are always interesting, often taking many tangential paths as we flow from topic to topic.  And though the language barrier proves difficult at times, we struggle through it together and always figure it out in the end. 

21-24.08.2014 - Weekend Trip 1…Belgium

We had a long vacation from classes in case we needed to finalize arrangements with our host city.  Since a friend and I have everything already figured out, we took the opportunity to take a trip to Bruxelles.  

It was a surreal experience for me.  Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted the opportunity to travel; to pack a suitcase and see somewhere new.  This weekend was exactly what I could have hoped for; we packed a suitcase each, stayed at an adorable AirBnB apartment, and did all the touristy things. We went to numerous museums - the Musical Instruments Museum, the Museum of the City of Bruxelles, Autoworld, the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, the Atomium, the Titanic exhibit at the Bruxelles Expo - and saw the staple sights such as the Royal Palace, the Grand Place, the Galeries Royales St. Hubert, and the Parc Cinquantenaire.  We went to Delerium to drink Belgian beers and to numerous restaurants to sample local chocolates, crepes, Flemish dishes, and, of course, waffles.  

But I can’t shake the feeling that the trip was superficial.  When I visited Rome, I felt an immediate connection to the city and country; whether it was due to my background in Latin, my family roots, or the place itself I do not know.  And having lived in Marburg has provided me with a sense of belonging in this small town.  My visit to Bruxelles felt more akin to my visit to London: it’s just another city that, while being a very cool place to visit, will unfortunately never hold a dear place in my heart.

Nonetheless, fun was had by all and I am so thankful that I am able to have this opportunity (and hopefully many more!) to travel and explore Europe.  Here are a few observations from my trip to conclude this post:

    Place:

  • Bruxelles is much dirtier than Germany (read: Marburg or Eisenach).  Many of the streets are narrow but a bit dingy; the picture above was an exception, not a rule.
  • Possibly because of the above bullet point, I “turned my rings in” and clutched my purse when we walked around.  The city didn’t feel welcoming or overly safe, probably because it was a touristy area.  That’s not to say that it felt dangerous at all…it just felt like New York.
  • The gothic architecture scattered around the city and in the Great Place is positively stunning.  

    Food:

  • Bruxelles-style Belgian waffles are crispier than most waffles I’ve had.
  • Belgian frites are also crispier than what Americans think of when they think of fries.  This is because they are actually fried twice.
  • Almost all the chocolate in Bruxelles (either on waffles, crepes, or in pieces) is dark.  And it’s all rich and amazing.
  • I’d highly recommend getting Flemmish beef in beer stew.  It reminded me a bit of osso bucco but obviously tasted quite different.

    Drink:

  • Achel Blond: a Trappist beer made in Belgium, the drink was light but still full-bodied.  It wasn’t as spicy as reviews promised, so next time I may get a darker one.
  • Delirium Nocturnum: a super Belgian dark ale that may be one of my favorites.  It was rich and full, but it wasn’t too hopsy or bitter.  This together resulted in a smooth, not-so-filling sensation.
  • Stella Artois: possibly one of the most famous Belgian beers, I had to have one when in its brewery town of Leuven.  It has always been and will probably remain one of my favorite pilsners.

Edit/Update:

I’m recently reminded about what our AirBnB host said to us.  It was something along the lines of: “Brussels is a great city, but it could be anywhere in Europe.”  How true that rings.  Too much Europe, not enough Belgium.