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*

20.08.2014 - Marburg Day 19…On the Street

Not many people like graffiti.  Some say it is defamation of property.  Technically, this is true if the tags are not on so-called “free walls.”  But graffiti can be viewed as art, and art as a form of resistance.

I was quite upset when 5 Pointz was painted over before I got a chance to see it in person.  And there is definitely something wrong with a community that laudes Banksy and criminalizes city members (mostly youth) for the same act.

But as someone who is not yet at the level of German to speak to natives about political and social ideologies, I am glad to have a picture path leading my way and granting me insight:

  • Anarchy messages run rampant over the entire city.
  • While neo-nazi taggings are present, they are quite sparse.
  • Poetic lines frequently appear among bubble-style graffiti art.
  • The tag “Bruder” is quite literally everywhere you look; I figure this could a) be the street-name of a city-tagger, b) symbolize a message akin to “big brother is watching,” or c) all of the above.
  • And of course, there are humorous and whimsical depictions scattered among the unintelligible, political, and social messages.

Graffiti gives the town depth.  In a European city older than the USA, such a town is in danger of reduction to a caricature of itself - quaint, idyllic, old, and obviously fairy-tale-esque.  The grand history could overshadow the lives of the people present.  But the modern voice shouts out, using these ancient walls threaten to suppress them.  The street art gives Marburg character.  And I appreciate this more and more every single day.

19.08.2014 - Marburg Day 18…Frustration Station in Prepositionland

Let me just put this out there — I am a frustrated cryer.  When I am on the phone with computer support and I’m getting nowhere, I cry.  When I try and try and can’t seem to get something, I choke up.  So let’s just say that when I was mad struggling with German prepositions in class today, it took all my energy to hold back the tears.

Obviously this won’t be the last time I hit a roadblock in learning this new tongue.  I knew going into this that languages (aside from English) weren’t my strong suit.  But I can’t remember the last time I struggled so much with learning something new; no matter how hard I try, I can’t wrap my mind around it.

Maybe that’s because languages are less logical and more intuitive.  Because there are no hard-and-fast rules.  Because there’s no story to tell.  Because there’s no problem to solve.

It makes me think back to my struggles with physics in college.  Sure, it didn’t come easy to me, but after a 2-hour long office hour session with the professor, it clicked.  I’m still waiting for that click when it comes to German.

I also think there’s also a new type of pressure, living in Germany and not being semi-proficient in the language.  I really want to be able to communicate with people who aren’t proficient in English.  I want to be able to explore Germany and learn about the culture with as few barriers as possible.

Challenge accepted.  Until then, I’ll keep the frustrated tears to a minimum.

18.08.2014 - Marburg Day 17…That’s So Germany

Montags. Ugh.

We received word late in the day that we wouldn’t have our afternoon class, so we found ourselves with a bunch of time to kill.  Some of us ended up playing soccer.  Let’s just say only me and one other girl had never played serious organized soccer before… Nonetheless, it was fun!

On the way back, the road we usually take to get home was blocked off by police.  It turns out, while they were digging for the renovations to the Hauptbahnhof, they found an unexploded bomb from WWII.  Apparently relics like these are found quite frequently all over Europe.  They were just closing a certain radius down while they (successfully) diffused it.  Locals were nonchalantly milling about on the outskirts of the perimeter; police were reporting what was happening like it was a run-of-the-mill event.

And did I mention that the bomb was American?

17.08.2014 - Marburg Day 16…Well that was interesting!

It’s Sunday, so instead of doing laundry, two friends and I attended a German American Football game.  At 10 Euros for a ticket, you couldn’t beat it.  The minimal stadium reminded me of high school sports, and the game reminded me of MHSN v. MHSS (the final score was 14 Mercenaries - 49 Unicorns [yes, Unicorns]…if any readers know the Middletown NJ football scene, you’ll understand what I mean).

It was just so weird to be at a football game where everything was in German.  Everything, that is, except for football terms.  Words like “offensive coordinator,” “timeout,” and “off-sides” were interspersed within the German commentary and referee announcements.  They played by American rules, with the only exception being 12-minute quarters.  The Mercenaries even had cheerleaders; they looked like they were in high school, and their coordination was nicht so gut.

However poorly the home team played and how unsynchronized the cheerers were, the experience itself was still completely worthwhile.  In between plays American music was played.  And the non-radio edited versions at that.  Plus, it seems that The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” was their designated “pump-up” song; every time it came on (typically during a kick-off or on 3rd and X for the Unicorns), the cheerleaders got super active, and everyone in the stands would get up and clap along.

The Germans there wore an interesting mix of clothing.  There were of course Mercenaries and Unicorns T-shirts (no jerseys), but there also was a good showing of NFL and Big 10 paraphernalia.   

The scene was quite an interesting merging of cultures.

16.08.2014 - Marburg Day 15…Eisenach

Today was our first Fulbright-sponsored outing to Eisenach, a former GDR state.  The trip was long via the charter bus, but the landscape as we traveled from West to East was gorgeous.  The town itself was not unlike Marburg, with a cute “Platz,” narrow streets, tudor-style buildings, and a schloss to call its own.  While quite beautiful, the town held a distinctly Russian feel.  I don’t know how to describe it, but my feelings were validated by a number of other students.

Eisenach is special for a number of reasons.  It is where Johann Sebastian Bach was born and where he lived until he was 10.  He and his descendents played the organ at the town church.  Martin Luther also spent some time in Eisenach: as a young boy, he lived with a kind woman who enjoyed his religious singing.  After posting his 95 Theses, he returned to Eisenach to preach illegally at the same church Bach would play at and where St. Elizabeth would be married.  Being an enemy of the Pope and the Emperor, Luther was hidden for 10 months at Wartburg.  There, he set to work on translating the Bible from its original Greek into German.  At the time, there was no single German language; the dialects were all so different from one another communication between them was quite difficult.  Luther took all these dialects and created what is now “High German,” so all the people of Germany could read his translation regardless of their specific region of birth.  It is on Martin Luther’s German language that modern German is based.

Wartburg itself also has an interesting history.  While very old, the castle has been significantly restored, so much that there are very few artifacts present that actually belonged to the estate in the first place!  Thus, the tour had a more museum-feel as opposed to a tour of an ancient castle.  In one interesting legend, the castle of Wartburg was founded by a dude who, after stumbling upon the beautiful mountain, said “Wait, mountain!  You will be where I have my castle.”  Roughly, “Wait mountain!” translates to “Wart burg.”  Legend also tells us that the man didn’t own the mountain, so he took some soil from his own plot and sprinkled it onto the mountain.  This way, if anyone were to ask, he could swear that the castle was built atop his own land.

Overall, the trip was a success, though exhausting.  And I even had my first flammkuchen pizza…and it was delicious!

15.08.2014 - Marburg Day 14…Dank Gott es ist Freitag

Another successful day of language class, but this afternoon we had our first culture class.  Our coordinator invited another man in to talk to us about WWII and Transitional Justice after the war.  About half of the talk was interesting, but I still stand by my notion that learning just doesn’t happen in the afternoon.

Exhausted, we decided to rally and meet in town for dinner and drinks.  We ate at an Eritrean restaurant (so yummy!) before entering this cool cellar bar.  I had a delicious beer; I’ll have to try and remember what it was called!  

All-in-all, it was a great day.  Can’t wait to have my first Fulbright-sponsored trip tomorrow!

14.08.2014 - Marburg Day 13…How do the kids do it?

How did I ever go to school 9-3 (or 8:30-2:30, or even 7:40-2:20)?  One day of full language classes completely wiped me out.  Am Nachmittag, ich hatte sehr müde, und die zweiten Hälfte von dem Tag war sehr schwer.  I have decided that afternoons are never a good time to learn anything.  Aber Mittagspausen sind eine gute Zeit Deutsch sprechen, denn die “lunch ladies” wissen nur Deutsch.

We were going to play foßball heute, aber das Wetter war schlechtes.  Instead, we made dinner (originally a stir-fry but it ended up looking like a healthier version of chicken-fried rice) and played Egyptian Rat Screw, poker, and Catch Phrase.

On a side note, who leaves merchandise out on the sidewalk with no sign indicating price or ownership or anything?! #culturaldifferences 

13.08.2014 - Marburg day 12…die schlecht Hausaufgabe

Die Berliner Bär is das Symbol von Berlin.

Die älteste Siegel stellt die Bär in 1280 dar.  Als die Brandenburg Markgraften über Berlin hat geregelt, war die Berliner Bär mit dem Brandenburger Alder im Siegel.  Aber, die Bär hat ein Halsband getragen.  Seit 1935, war die Berliner Bär allein im Siegel.  Die neue Bär hat nicht ein Halsband getragen, und er ist zottig mit erönt Armern.  Das symbolisiert die Unabhängigkeit von Berlin.  (Und nur zum spaß: 22 März ist der Unabhängigkeitstag von Berlin!)

Fragst du, «Warum eine Bär?”»  Niemand weiß nicht gerade.  Viele Leute denken dass es für Albrecht I war.  (Albrech I hat «die Bär» geheißen.)  Sie denken auch das «Berlin» kleine Bär bedeutet, denn die «l-e-i-n» Endung diminutiv ist.

Jetzt, die Berliner Bär barucht mit dem Stadstaat und mit der Stadt.  Die Bär ist überall im Berlin.  Von 1939 bis 2007, Berlin hatte einen Bärenzwinger mit vier Bärem.  Die Golden Bär ist einer Preis für dem besten Film, und Kilometersteine stehen mit dem Bär in dem Stadt.


To all German readers/speakers out there, I apologize for the poor word-choice and grammar.  I’m trying!

12.08.2014 - Marburg Day 11…Mein Deutschklasse ist sehr lange

Not much to report today.  Following a super long day of German language classes (approximately 4.5 Stunden!), I was able to relax before the newly-dubbed Taco Tuesday dinner (das war sehr lecker!).  Each day I add to and study my flashcards, but I feel like I’m getting new words faster than I can study them.  I must concede to the fact that I will probably need ein ganz Jahr before I will know enough vocabulary to say what’s on my mind.

Till then I have my ever-growing collection of virtual flashcards.  

11.08.2014 - Marburg Day 10…Margarita Montag

I hope this is how it’s going to be.  What a day.  Following a lecker breakfast pastry from the Backerei and a productive Deutschklasse, a bunch of us had lunch at the Mensa.  I’m totally going to live it up while I can and eat most lunches at the dining hall…and the food isn’t half bad!  We began our lunch only speaking German.  I’d say we made it about sieben Minuten.

Instead of our first Kultureklasse heute, we set up our bank accounts, and I took some extra time to purchase a second-class BahnCard25.  This card will give me 25% off all train tickets purchased and can be combined with other offers.  That plus a discount for Studentinnen und Studenten, it’s a deal you can’t pass up!  And it was my first transaction where the other person was worse at English than I was at German.  And I’m proud to say that I made it out unscathed.

Another group dinner followed; we modified a recipe inspired by one found in my “Can’t Cook” cookbook and it turned out pretty well!  Unfortunately, we had to rush, but for good reason.  Rafael, the coordinator for our Marburg language course, wanted to have drinks with us so he could get to know us aside from all the bureaucracy.  It was so fun, drinking Duckstein in der Marktplatz, playing foosball in a cool bar heißt Studhaus (which only ever plays heavy metal music, too), und having half-priced margaritas at Enchilada am Rudolphsplatz.

On the way to our last stop, we saw this interactive art piece on the outer wall of a building.  Put in a Euroquarter, and the stars twinkle.

The only down-side is the future lack of sleep.  Ich gehe um zwanzig nach eins am Morgen schlafen!