Today is the fifth day of our German adventure, and our fourth day of classes. “Adventure” certainly is the fitting word for my experience: never before have I (Andrew) been so far away from home for so long, nor had such a sheer volume of new cultural experiences and outlooks thrown my way.
The feeling of being surrounded by many thousands of people to whom my entire previous existence amounts to little more than a dot on an atlas is a deep and potent thrill. Compounding this overwhelming foreignness is the broad mix of nationalities represented by my fellow students here at the Goethe Institut.
My class has seven students from six countries. I, of course, come from America, and the others hail from Russia, Brazil, Italy, England (two students come from London), and France. We have already eagerly discussed the cultural similarities and differences among our nations many times in our four mere days together; we’ve spoken of everything from idioms formed from colors (such as the American phrase “to see red”) to military enlistment and officer training practices.
In class, both the intricacies of the German language and the panoply of foreign customs constantly remind me that the USA is only a small corner of the globe. The experience of living and walking around Dresden constantly reminds me of how different some of the other corners can be. Luckily, though, our collective skill in German, as well as the relatively high level of English known by Germans (especially the younger generation, who learn English in school), has enabled us to bridge these gaps without too much trouble.
Perhaps the most striking facet of life is Dresden is the architecture. Centuries-old baroque buildings of fanstastic scope and detail litter the Altstadt (the historic district), and even many of the more recent buildings are beautifully built. The entire city has a very German bent in its appearance. Artifacts of the former communist rule in East Germany, which is locally called the Deustche Demokratik Republik or DDR, also litter the city: the stark, functional, minimalist architecture preferred by the communists contrasts sharply with the baroque glory of the older buildings.
This week has been full of wonderful sights, and the next week promises even more. Tomorrow we are taking an Institut-sponsored excursion to the nearby city of Meissen, which is world-famous for its china, and several other trips are lined up for the days to come.