Technically, the summer vacation has begun. I say “technically” because as soon as I finished grading one stack of essays and exams and said goodbye to my awesome spring semester students, I began teaching summer session. My summer students seem, after just one meeting, really promising. My summer vacation really begins on July 1 when I head to Berlin for two months on a DAAD fellowship (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, or German Academic Exchange Service). For two months, ich bin ein Berliner – minus the JFK-era Cold War rhetoric.
Explaining to my friends and family that I was super excited to go to Berlin was easy, although a few have questioned the appeal of what I’ll be undertaking there – an 8 week language intensive that requires me to be at school at 8am each day and complete homework straight after my lessons. So, less of a vacation and more of a cultural immersion with the goal being fluency by the end of August (Ich spreche ein wenig Deutsch, aber nicht sehr gut mehr…..). I took German classes for five years during high school and passed my translation exams for grad school, yet I still feel like a complete beginner. I was really excited until about a week ago when I realized that it was a bit like going to camp, and that I strenuously (and successfully) resisted every attempt my parents ever made to send me to camp during my childhood. It’s the first time I’ll have spent the summer away from New York in seven years, and I’m starting to get nostalgic already about the humidity and the smell of this city in the summer, and the trash I swim by at the Rockaways.
Thus, I’m writing this month asking for advice from anyone who’s done something similar. How did you maximize the opportunity of living and studying in a second language while managing to feel like you weren’t just a grad student robot in endless study mode? For those who know Berlin, how do you learn German in a city that is endlessly accommodating to English speakers? For anyone who has studied a language in this kind of intensive program, what methods work for true immersion and language retention?
And, perhaps the most important, what should I see and do in Berlin in July and August? I’m from Europe, so I have a few trips out of the city planned (including one to documenta, and one home to bonny Scotland), but what shouldn’t I miss in Berlin? Where do I go lake swimming? Where should I eat? Where should my bike take me at the weekend? Which galleries are a must, and where for night life? I’m going to be staying with a lovely German person in Ostkreuz, I have a bike at my disposal and friends willing to show me around, but I’d love some suggestions.
Vielen danke. My next report will be from the fair city itself.