Friday, March 16, 2018

Alfred II: the Falknerstunde

Any day you get shat on and don't even care...that's a good day.

M and I had our Falknerstunde the other day at the Garuda Falknerei near Stuttgart. I'd arranged this as a birthday present near the end of last year, and we'd randomly selected an afternoon in March, hoping the temperature would at least be reasonable (it was).

This was the latest step in our near-obsession with Steinkäuze and other gorgeous owls, and we'll surely do it again. At the Falknerstunde it was just the Falknerin, M, and me - no other guests - so we had her undivided attention, and she had ours! We learned plenty, some of which I'd read in my various books about owls and new information as well. 

When our hour began, the Falknerin (Vanessa Müller)* asked if we had any specific wishes. Since I didn't want to admit that I would love to spend the entire hour hanging out with her Steinkäuze, I said we are open to everything but very interested in owls. We began, then, with the lovely Schneeeulen (snowy owls).

*The link to this TV program about her might not work for you if you're not in Germany.
Bijuu, the Schneeeule
Vanessa told us about the calls owls make - their conversational call, their begging for food sound, the beak clacking they do when they're annoyed, the call they make when they're threatened, and their mating call. We heard all but the last two. The owls are very conversational since they are used to humans, and she said they can chat all day long. I found the sound beautiful.

You can't hear the sound she's making, but this is her body language
when she's begging for food.
We learned that owls with black eyes hunt at night, owls with orange eyes hunt in the twilight, and owls with yellow eyes hunt usually in the daylight. Schneeeulen and Steinkäuze have a unique hunting technique: they sit on a low or medium-height branch of a tree and wait. Flying takes great effort, and since they are not particularly fast, they can actually be in danger from eagles and other large and faster Greifvögel (birds of prey). So they wait, watch, and listen, and when a poor little mouse scrambles by, the owl drops down and nabs her warm and tasty snack.

Baldur, being rewarded for putting up with our visit
Hunting was not on the plan for the hour, so Vanessa brought out a box o' chicks (dead day-old male chicks, still fluffy and cute but...ex chicks). I'd post the photo I took, but I had to promise my daughter I wouldn't. It's really nothing more than tough life. Farmers kill newborn male chicks because they need egg-laying hens and not a barnyard full of future roosters, and so the chicks are used to feed and train birds of prey. It's a good deal for the farmer, the Falknerin, and the Greifvögel. Just not for the chicks.
Joschi in the cold at the Weihnachtsmarkt (Dec. 2017).
After we left the Schneeulen in peace, Vanessa fetched the adorable Steinkäuze, Joschi and Marie. We'd met Joschi at the Weihnachtsmarkt in Horb a few months ago, but he looked slimmer now. It was warmer, so probably he was just less hunched up. Or maybe he was trying to impress Marie with his slim, trim, buff figure by standing up a little straighter - but then we learned that she is his sister. Vanessa handed Marie to me, which is when I learned what the annoyed beak-clacking sounds like. She'd been cuddled up in her barn home, and because of our unfortunate arrival, she had to be extracted and paraded around in the cold. She was less than pleased and made sure I knew it. I also didn't have any Eintagsküken to offer her, so bascially I was useless to her. So she shat on me. I can't really blame her.

Right about the same time, her brother, who'd been making pleasant conversation with M and Vanessa when he wasn't trying to flutter up to M's shoulder while tethered to his wrist, shat on his camera. Anyone who gets unnerved by such things probably shouldn't spend time around wild or semi-wild animals. Getting to hold and stroke a grumpy Steinkauz is totally worth a little owl poo.

Notice his orange eyes - when does he hunt?
After Vanessa returned Joschi and Marie to their comfy quarters, she brought out her Uhu, Tweety. Based on comments on her Facebook page, he's quite a star. He allowed himself to be tempted by the leg and thigh of an Eintagsküken, and flew from one post to another several times. We learned that the owls and birds prefer to fly against the wind, because a tail wind pushes down on them and requires more effort to fly where they wish to go. Tweety occasionally made it clear that he wasn't exactly enthused about the exercise, but he cooperated. Despite his diminutive name, Tweety is very impressive.

After Tweety came the Harris Hawks, Jake and Merlin. They are allowed to fly free (as is Tweety; the Steinkäuze prefer not to fly anyway, and would be in danger from the wild buzzards, hawks, and magpies flying about), and during demonstrations they swoop close to the heads of onlookers, judging exactly how close they can get to both stay safe and uninjured, and freak out the guests. We took these two chaps on walkabout down the road and back (Gassi gehen mit Vögeln) while they flew from post to tree to cornice, keeping their eyes on Vanessa the whole time. She explained that in the world of falconry, we humans were playing the part of trackers. When we see our prey (a plump rabbit, for instance), the hawks need to be nearby and alert to go get the wee beast. If they're off sight-seeing, miss our cue, and the rabbit gets away, that would be very embarrassing (for the hawk). So they stay close and wait for cues. Now and then she called them back for an Eintagskükenkeule, which they seemed to appreciate.

Jake (or Merlin?)
It is clear how much Vanessa cares for her birds and owls, and vice versa. She talks passionately about them, seems to enjoy sharing what she knows, and expertly guides bumbling newcomers like us in how we must position ourselves, how to offer the tasty treats, and what not to do around them. For instance, they are far-sighted and don't see well what is right in front of them. So if you hold out a finger near their chest area or make an attempt to pet their soft chest feathers, "you'll probably get your finger back, but it will not look the same as it once did." If they think your finger is food, they will treat it as such.

There are many Falknereien in Germany, and during the warmer months they do demonstrations of their beautiful birds and owls at various festivals and castles. We've seen shows at Hohenneuffen, Hohenzollern, and Hohennagold, as well as at the Weihnachtsmärkte in Horb and Esslingen.  I highly recommend going to a show (and leaving a donation if the Eintritt is free), though we really liked the one-on-one learning at the Falknerstunde. The Garuda Falknerei has a Tag der offenen Tür (an open house) on May 1st every year, and we are determined to go this year.

I would guess there are falconries in the US as well, but it was not something I had any exposure to and I didn't find much when I googled falconries in Wisconsin. There's a falconers association, but that's for specialists and falconers, not for demonstrations for the general public. In Germany all you need to do to find the nearest Falknerei is google your town or city name and add "Falknerei." That's how I found Vanessa.

For more on my obsession with interest in Steinkäuze, see my first post about Alfred.
Just as an update, Alfred's Steinkauzhaus has been built. More on that another time.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

March Reads

Stadtbibliothek, Stuttgart
After slinging through eleven books from January to mid-February, I hit a dry spell. Nothing I picked up was appealing, and after trying to force myself for the third time to read a Krimi a friend recommended, I finally put it down for good. I'd started out the year so well...

Schwiegermutter to the rescue!

Who needs a library card when this is only a small part
of your Schwiegermutter's extensive bilingual collection?
I shared my dilemma with her, and since she has a good idea what I like to read, she handed me an historical novel about a demesne (small feudal farm) facing the plague during the Middle Ages. I finished it in four days and came back for more 12th century stories. Since I braved my next drive to Esslingen with our car instead of the train and survived the ordeal, I could load up a bunch of books. Unfortunately I couldn't start reading them on the drive back.

These are also Krimis, but they take place in the Middle Ages,
and somehow that works for me. 
The titles sound a bit morbid, but she tells me the main character is a woman who was ahead of her time and knowledgable in the medical field, the human body, and autopsies (despite the fact that they were not actually permitted back then). I'm all for novels featuring strong female characters, and I am fascinated by life in the Middle Ages. Having just finished a biography about a Polish immigrant in Germany struggling with identity, language, and "home," I started on the first of the Ariana Franklin books this afternoon. And then promptly fell asleep. Not because it was boring, but because that's what happens when I read in the afternoon lying on the sofa. My only hope is to stay upright, and even that doesn't always work. I love naps...

I also picked up another book in a series I really like and recommend for anyone living in Germany:

These books each reveal 50 secrets of and from the city in the title, and the new one I'd ordered is the one about Berlin. I have read most of the books from Esslingen and Tübingen, and I have written (with permission from the author) about several of those secrets here and here. I bought the one about Berlin in preparation for my trip there with the Sheboygan exchange students in June this year, and already I've read about two things very close to our hotel that I've never noticed before. These books are fabulous for pointing out things that are in plain sight but that we don't notice when we're just walking around in a town or city.

They are only available in German, but I really do think there'd be a market for them in English! People love secrets and stories! I'd buy several copies of the Esslingen book in English to give as gifts. I wonder if I can plant that idea in the publisher's ear.

So I am content to say that I have my reading set and planned for the next few weeks. This is a relief, because I hate being "between books." I don't know how quickly I'll get through Franklin's books, but at some point I also need to get to the twenty other projects that are waiting for me involving cleaning, writing, more writing, more cleaning, and organizing.

What are YOU reading these days?

Do you have some good recommendations for me??
Modern-day Krimis need not apply.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tipps zum Deutschlernen

One of the American exchange students I taught recently asked if I could share some tips for learning German so he could improve his language skills as quickly as possible. I started writing a handout on the topic and then decided to do it as a blog post I could share.

Although I'm focusing on German, most or all of these tips would work for any language.

Building Vocabulary

  • Learn 15 new words every day. Choose a topic and learn words in logical groups. Learning leads to remembering the words - just writing them down once isn't enough.

  • Always learn the article/gender (der/die/das) together with all nouns.
    It is also a good idea to learn the plural form right away.

  • Never say any word or phrase in your native language that you can say in German.

  • Keep a small notebook with you for writing down new words and phrases you come across.

  • Make flashcards to practice. Keep them with you and practice on the bus or train.
    It is better to draw a picture on the other side rather than translate it into your native language. For "der Hund," for instance, draw a quick picture of a dog rather than writing "the dog."
    Color-coordinate the nouns on your flashcards according to gender. 

  • Stick Post-it notes on things around the house or apartment (with the article!). Remove them only when you're sure you have learned the words.

  • Search online for flashcard drills like these shared on Quia.

  • Go to Osiander's bookstore in Esslingen and buy a vocabulary dictionary. Most are organized in topics. Picture dictionaries are most effective (less or no English).
  • Wherever you find yourself, look around you. Can you say in German everything you see that you can say in English? If not, ask someone "Wie heißt das auf Deutsch?" or jot down the English word and check in a dictionary later.
Can you name in German everything you see here?

on your own

  • Learn some common prayers in German (das Vaterunser, Ave Maria, table prayers)
  • If prayer is not your thing, memorize some poems or Zungenbrecher (tongue-twisters)!
  • Set your social media platforms to German! You already know where everything is...
  • Learn and sing along with Kinderlieder - children's songs!
  • Learn German pop songs popular now.
  • Listen to the radio and watch German TV.
  • Write your shopping lists auf Deutsch!  

Deutsch in Deutschland

These are opportunities not to be missed while you're in Germany because they're probably not possible back in your home country.
  • Just talk! When you are unterwegs (out and about), don't fuss about grammar and don't worry if you make mistakes. We all do! Don't panic if someone doesn't understand you right away; take a deep breath and try again.

  • Find a Sprachpartner/in! This could be your exchange partner, but chances are you've already established your friendship in English, and it's hard to switch. I recommend you find someone at school or in your neighborhood. A Sprachpartner is a native speaker of German who wants to practice his/her English with a native speaker. It's not about grammar, but rather about getting together for a chat. Speak for the first half of your time together in German and the second half in English. Meet at a café! Meet during a break at school. Go to each other's houses. Go on an outing! But make sure you speak half the time in German.

  • Find and read children's books - at the bookstore, library, or on your family's bookshelves.
The Kasimir books are my favorites! They teach how to do simple projects
along with helpful vocabulary words with pictures!
  • Buy a young reader's magazine - comic books are great! Read them until you understand them.

  • Do you have a favorite young adult book? Find the German translation!

  • Watch movies in German! Start with ones you are familiar with (Disney movies are great!) When you know the story, you can focus on the language. Avoid English subtitles (it's ok if you don't understand every word!), but German subtitles are fine.
  • Even strangers can be friendly and helpful. If you're in the bus/train and have a question, say, "Entschuldigen Sie bitte. Ich lerne Deutsch und habe eine Frage. Könnten Sie mir helfen?" Avoid this in a line (die Schlange) at a store, though. That's not generally a time when Germans are feeling patient. :-)

  • When someone responds to you in English, answer in German. They will eventually take the hint if you are consistent.

This is just a start of my recommendations for learning a language, and I have used every one of them myself. There's no doubt and no getting around it - learning a language (really learning it) is hard work. No one ever became fluent in a second, third, or fourth language by sitting around and waiting for it to happen.

The rewards of your hard work, though, are endless.

Viel Spaß und lern(t) schön!!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Youthful Naïveté

Each year for the past three years I have taught a two-week "crash course" for American students from my hometown in Wisconsin who come to Esslingen, Germany for a 5.5-month exchange. At best they have learned a little bit of German (two of the five high schools in their area offer part-time German), but each year there are between one and three who have had no German at all. After their two weeks with me, they attend one of the four Gymnasien in Esslingen. A Gymnasium is a college-prep high school.

In the interest of protecting the privacy of minors,
I will not show their faces.
What I try to do in those two weeks is teach them some basics of the language, lots of basic conversation, questions they’ll be asked and the answers they can give. We have four hours a day together, and we start out in the classroom (at the VHS – community college). After roughly two hours we head into town for some hands-on learning. Typical activities they carry out in German are:

  • a tour of the historical Altstadt (this I do mainly in English)
  • purchasing train and bus tickets (at a counter and at a machine)
  • navigating the S-Bahn system to get to another city, such as Stuttgart
  • interviewing a native speaker
  • ordering coffee and a snack at a local café
  • a Foto-Schnitzeljagd (scavenger hunt), having to ask locals for help finding things
This year I faced a few situations I had not in the previous years. I am not writing about this to gripe about the students or shame them (they are very pleasant and likeable!) but rather to show how very important it is to be prepared for travel in a foreign country.
admiring Esslingen's altes Rathaus
The students had already been in Germany (or skiing with their host family in Austria) for about a week before our class started. From their families they had already learned the importance of not crossing an intersection when the Ampelmännchen is red! This was especially brilliant at the moment where I was not thinking and stepped out into the road. There were no cars in sight and few people about, but that is no excuse. I do as the Germans do in my day-to-day life: wait for green whether cars are coming or not. But for whatever reason I had a moment of absent-mindedness. Thank heavens one of the students (they were behind me and had dutifully stopped) half-shouted, “That’s illegal!” I leapt back to the sidewalk, hopefully appropriately shame-faced. I was pleased that they did what they were supposed to do rather than just blindly following me into the street!  Teachers make mistakes, too, and the students acted appropriately.

On a different day, we were gathered together in a public area discussing the day’s activity. I noticed peripherally two men walking together slowly in the area near us, who kept looking in our direction. They were probably simply waiting for a store to open, and I did not need to act because they never got very close to any of my students. At one point, though, two of my students had stepped a bit away from us and I saw one of them from the back sort of “puff up his shoulders” while facing the two men. I called them back, said it was time to go, and we went off on our excursion. Later I told the student what I’d noticed and asked if I interpreted it correctly, that he’d tried a “stand-off” with those strangers. Short answer: yes. He said they’d made eye contact, and he “wasn’t going to just look away.” I said if it happens again that is exactly what he will do – look and/or walk away.

And then I said something to them that my host father said to me 32 years ago: “You are not in Sheboygan anymore.” Frankly, I don’t think that’s a wise thing to do no matter where you are, but in a country where you cannot rely on your language to get yourself out of a sticky situation, you must do everything you can to avoid sticky situations. I did not like what the men were doing – lingering around us and watching us – but they were not really doing anything wrong. Had they spoken to or threatened my students I would have put myself between them and tried to diffuse the situation and sent one of them for help if necessary.  I hope I was very clear about the fact that my student endangered all of us by one simple action (eye contact) and body language. He meant no harm, but he could have caused a serious situation.

at the Stadtbibliothek in Stuttgart
Architect: Eun Young Yi
The next day at the start of our excursion we were all standing – and shivering – on the train platform waiting for our S-Bahn. One of the students jokingly jumped at another one of them to startle him/her, and the other student’s back was toward the train track. He was standing a safe distance from the edge and no train was coming. But that is absolutely not ok, and during my scolding, I told them German children learn not to do things like that when they are six (these students are 15 and 16). Again, I can only hope they believe me.

Trust me, this is not the place to screw around.
The problem here is that American kids (at least those who do not live in big cities) have no experience with situations like these. They are driven everywhere by their or their friends' parents, they have little to no independence, if they take a field trip with their class a bus is hired... In Germany school classes take field trips using trains, and even if their parents haven’t taught them how to behave while standing on the platform, their grade school teachers have.

Germany/Europe is not dangerous! But you have to know how to behave in order to stay safe. Do not cross against the light in Germany. Do not provoke or engage strangers in any way except to offer your help if you see someone who seems to need it – and then still be careful and cautious. Do not fool around on a train platform or near a street. Do not be afraid, but be aware! Be very aware and take note of everything around you. Constantly.

in the Esslinger Rathaus, before being officially greeted by
a representative from the Stadt Esslingen

To end with something that is not connected to these students but definitely to the topic, when I returned home at the end of the two weeks, I was waiting dutifully at a crossing at the Busbahnhof (bus station). Two teenage boys, who were apparently too cool to wait for green like the rest of us, ambled across the street seemingly without a care in the world. The first boy reached the other side, but the second boy lagged behind (again, too cool to hurry) as a bus barreled toward him. They had both clearly seen the bus. The bus driver did not brake. The 2nd boy hesitated a split second and then leapt backwards. Had he decided to dash forward or stay put, he would be in a hospital or morgue right now. In that flash of an instance, I thought I was going to see a boy get killed. In Germany, do not cross against the light!

Before you travel to a foreign country, get some advice about potential dangers from travel books, locals, or people who have traveled there before. I cannot stress this enough.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Sunshine Blogger Award

Bev from Confuzzledom tagged me in her Sunshine Award post, and since I haven't written much lately and find these posts really fun to read from other bloggers, I thought I'd go ahead and participate. Thanks for the tag, Bev!

The Sunshine Blogger award is given by bloggers to bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community. [Oh dear. I'm not always positive...] There are rules.

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you in your post and link back to her/his blog.
  2. Answer 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  3. Nominate 11 new bloggers to receive the award and write 11 new questions.
  4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger award logo in your post.
Here we go with Bev's questions:

1. What is the best book you've read so far in 2018?

Bev is an avid reader, so I would expect book questions! The one I enjoyed the most was Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell. He runs a bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, and his book covered a year of his life, the strange things customers say, the quirky employees he's had, his runs around Scotland to pick up loads of books when someone asks if he'd like their (or their deceased grandfather's) collection of books, the stinky cat that lives in the book shop, and life in a small Scottish town. Apparently sending Shaun anonymous postcards is a thing, so I sent him one!
Bev, there's a book festival in Wigtown every year, and I think you and I should take a road trip there! 

2. If you could have any animal as a pet, what would it be?

OMG, no contest. A Steinkauz!! 

3. What food could you happily eat every day?

Again, no contest. Ziegenkäse im Speckmantel.

The salad's not really necessary, but
the dressing is delicious.

4. What is your favourite thing about the place you live?

I can get everywhere I need or want to go on public transportation, it's a small, quiet town, and it's in Swabia.

5. Where were you born?

On an Air Force base that no longer exists in Michigan, USA.

6. Are you eating or drinking anything right now?

Yes. (a glass of white wine)

7. What is one talent you wish you had?

That's easy for me - the ability to understand and speak the basics of every language. Beyond that, the ability to play the piano well. I wasted the chance my parents gave me - 11 years of piano lessons, and I couldn't be bothered to practice.

8. Do you have a favourite board game?

Anything trivia-related, so probably Trivial Pursuit - in German and in English. I love challenging myself and learning along the way.

9. What is your favourite thing about blogging?

Being able to write and share my thoughts. My American friends and family won't talk about politics or anything controversial or unpleasant, but I can write about anything I want to here and put it out into the universe. I equally enjoy connecting with other bloggers, especially those living in Germany (or Switzerland!) or Scotland.

10. What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?

I think I tried octopus once, at Stefano's in Sheboygan. It was on an appetizer plate, so it was just a bite. I remember saying it wasn't awful.

11. If you won a large sum of money, what's the first thing you would do?

I would pay off my children's education loans (the silly twits studied in the US, where post-secondary education is affordable only for the very wealthy, rather than in Germany), and then I would give them each a chunk. I don't need much and have a husband who is working himself to death, providing us with a comfortable life. 

Oh dear, now to nominate other bloggers. Do I know 11 other bloggers?

Camila from Adventitious Violet

Meredith at Kaffee und Kuchen, but I don't know if she's still blogging!

Danielle from So Long, USA!

I think it would be a little silly to nominate more because these are the only bloggers I know who have read my blog, besides Heather and Dormouse, who were already nominated. I read others, but I doubt they've been here. If I'm wrong, let me know and I'll happily tag you!

Here are my 11 questions:

  1. What do you enjoy most about blogging?
  2. What drives you crazy about blogging (or what is sometimes not so nice)?
  3. What is or was your dream career?
  4. Which book have you been meaning to read, but just haven't got around to yet?
  5. Who or what is immediately to your left at the moment?
  6. Do you enjoy trivia contests/shows/games? Why or why not?
  7. Besides electronics, what are three things you always bring with you when you travel?
  8. Is there a place or country you can say you would never want to visit?
  9. What is something you have from one of your parents or parent figures (trait or object)?
  10. What are your favourite types of blog posts to read (what is the topic)?
  11. Would you rather travel to a new place with an organized group or alone?
  12. Bonus question: How old do you feel (not how old are you)?

Looking forward to reading your responses!