Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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« Wo Ist der Bahnhof?! (Part 4) | Main | Wo Ist Der Bahnhof (Part 2) »
Saturday
Oct082005

Wo Ist der Bahnhof?! (Part 3)

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Part One of my German trip highlights...

One of the highlights for me during the trip was the German language. I've always loved foreign languages...not just trying to learn them, but being surrounded by them. It's one of things I enjoy so much about living in Toronto, where you can sit on a subway train and can sometimes hear three or four conversations going on that you can't understand.

Some people hate this sort of thing; it makes them feel insecure and out-of-place. Are they being talked about? What are they missing out on? For me, it's a glimpse of the unknown, a reminder not to get too complacent, that not everyone lives in the same small world that I do.

It's one of the reasons I like travelling. Sometimes it's too easy to fall into the trap of letting everything and everyone come to you, to expect others to conform to your own safe space, letting them take all the risks. Trying to learn their language, even a feeble attempt to do so, is enlightening in ways that go far beyond a mere need to communicate.

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During my visit in Germany, several people I met commented that my attempts at speaking German weren't as abysmal as I make them out to be. I'm not sure if they were just being kind (I suspect they were :-)), but I did sense that I had improved since my visit to Austria last year...I didn't have to rely as much on sign language and drawings, for example, but can now often get across a simple concept with an extremely primitive mishmash of English and mangled German words.

When I was at the post office in a Karstadt (large department store chain) in Frankfurt, for example, I managed to communicate with someone who nervously said she didn't know English by laboriously coming up with the following words in German: "I need...stamps, please. For Canada, airmail. Twenty. Thank you." The clerk understood me perfectly, and at the end of our exchange she and I smiled broadly at each other, nodding. So much in that nod said "Hey! We did it!"

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Some people have told me I have an affinity for learning languages. I feel the opposite most days I'm struggling to study a language; I think the more accurate statement would be that I'm not afraid as most people of making a fool of myself. I know that I haven't yet mastered the proper articles for each noun, badly bungle or completely miss most declensions, quite often misuse words. But at least I'm giving it a shot, and I figure I have a non-zero chance of getting across what I mean, of making a connection I would not have otherwise.

But that brings me to a question that I'm sure many North American filkers considering a visit to Filkcontinental might wonder:

How hard is it for a non-German speaker to get around at the convention? How can I enjoy the con if I don't understand the language?

The answer the first question: If you're willing to sometimes ask for help, not hard at all. Most people at the convention spoke English, some better than others. I found the Germans more than willing to help out the Brits and North Americans.

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Answer to the second question: Depends on your attitude. If you're the type that gets angry or upset when people are saying something you don't understand, then you should best stay at home. BUT if you're open to new experiences and can appreciate music apart from the lyrics, then you're in for a treat. I found the general talent level at Filkcontinental quite high, both in concerts and in open filk. Many of the Germans would offer a brief explanation in English before they launched into a German song, but I still found I was usually able to enjoy the music even if I didn't understand the lyrics.

Allison brought cross-stitch and I brought a sketchbook to work on during concerts and open filks where we figured there would be long stretches of music we didn't understand, but both of us ended up leaving these in our room. Several of Summer and Fall's pieces had me teary-eyed, for example, even though I didn't understand the words; the harmonies and instrumentation were so beautiful. We have to get these two over to North America somehow!

Plus many of the German filkers do perform songs in English. That plus the number of English-speakers at the convention (I recall someone told me that 1/3 of the members were British) resulted in a surprisingly high percentage of English content throughout the convention...I'd say at least 1/3; to others who regularly attend Filkcontinental: please do correct me if I'm wrong. Announcements at the convention were made in both German and English.

But for me, all this was captured in a single moment at the convention, during one of the dinners. Two little boys were running around with some toy cars, one British and one German. Neither spoke the other's language, yet each was happily chattering to the other. It didn't really matter...they still understood each other, at least enough to enjoy each other's company. And that's really all that mattered. :-)

Some pics from the trip...

Franklin and Molly help with Gary's translation of the Hockey Monkey song into German:
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From a postcard that Lissa's mom was kind enough to give me. The castle Freusburg:
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View out our window the first morning at the castle:
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Anke offers Allison advice during a spinning workshop:
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The following photo is of an impromptu music session that sprang up on Sunday morning after breakfast at the castle. I loved this. Everywhere you went in this place, someone was playing music or drawing or songwriting or writing. Much of it wasn't planned; it just happened. Many thanks to the Filkcontinental concom for nurturing such a creative environment:
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Mike Richards doing some songwriting in the stairwell:
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Surprise birthday party for Allison and Jodi - thanks to the concom for arranging this, and to Sabine (of the German filk group geBORGt) for baking such a scrumptious cake! Note that Allison is still carrying the wool from Anke's spinning workshop:
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Allison auctions off an inukshuk from a Canadiana package from Judith Hayman (who is the Special Guest next year!) at the Filk Fund auction:
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I've finished uploading my Filkcontinental pictures; you can see them here. I've nixed any that I thought were too repetitive or personal or unflattering. If you'd like any removed, please let me know. I also left out most of my photos of children; if you're a parent and don't mind me including photos of your children if I leave out names, please let me know.

Unfortunately because of a technical glitch, I lost many of my Hamburg photos. Fortunately Allison and Kirstin have lots. :-)

To you Canadians out there: HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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