Squirk's Overseas Experience

The tales of one Kiwi returning to Mother Britain and exploring the Big Wide World... without being eaten by a shark.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Films and understanding

It's been a pretty filmy weekend for me.

Our little family watched a dubbed German version of Clint Eastwood's award-winning Million Dollar Baby, but nobody's German was good enough to understand much of what happened. We didn't have any subtitles to help us.

I started watching Silence of the Lambs in much the same way, and thought I might have a chance because I'd already seen it. But no.

We also saw the original English version of The Departed, which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, with our mixed-language party, I think I was the only one who really followed it all. DVDs with subtitles are the way to go, I say.

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Monday, February 26, 2007


There's a concentration camp, called Sachsenhausen, an hour or two's train ride from Berlin. It was a "forced labour" camp so the stories (and facilities) weren't as horrific those you'd expect from an "extermination" camp like Auschwitz. More inmates died from exhaustion and malnutrition than from systematic killing, but the kinds of abuse that went on are nothing short of evil.

We saw the yard where men were punished with a "pole hanging": hung from a pole by their wrists, so that they not only dislocated their shoulders but had to support their whole body's weight with only ligaments and sinew. This is the same courtyard in which prisoners were ordered to stand at attention for the entire day without pause, often in rain and freezing cold.

The medical unit was used for supremely unethical medical experiments and the pathology staff were only allowed to use one of seven "approved" causes of death for the medical records.

We saw the toilets that men were drowned in, and the unventilated storage room in which groups of men suffocated, but we also saw videos of how the SS (those who ran the camp, and also used it for training) presented themselves to the people in the local town. It seems that the townsfolk were quite happy to have the garrison there, and the SS seemed just like any other military unit; their football team played in the local leagues, their brass band played concerts in the town hall and they even held open days with balloons and sweets for the children.

My Italian friend asked me, as a New Zealand boy, what I learnt in school of WW2 and the Nazis. Despite several of my school friends' extensive knowledge on the topic, I came through with only a passing familiarity.

I'm slowly remedying that.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mixed messages

The famous gap between "he says" and "she says" has opened again. Actually he's not saying much (and I'm not asking) but from what she's said and what I've seen, he thinks it's the beginning of a wonderful courtship. She's just got a fresh start in a new country and doesn't want to get into any relationship right now. As some readers will know, that's a position I can completely understand.

It seems like they need to talk out their differences, but there's going to be a delay. Until then, I guess she'll keep putting her hands in her pockets to avoid holding his. Poor folks. Mediterranean people are famously emotional so I really hope that things work out nicely.—

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Friday night party

The student residence has a lot of rules. Some are just plain retarded, like "absolute silence after 10pm". Some are slightly more reasonable, like "clean your dishes immediately after use". We're equal-opportunity, though, so we ignore them all.

Isabel, one of the "old family" here, was leaving Germany behind and returning to Spain. Her flight was Saturday morning, so we needed to celebrate on Friday. All the old family came back and ate a Cuban rice dinner with the new family (thus breaking the "no guests" rule) and then we all hung around playing a famous drinking game for a couple of hours (thus breaking the "no parties" rule, probably).

By the way, did you know that there is a drink called "martini" that is not a martini cocktail? It's apparently spirit by itself, and it tastes great with a slice of lemon. But don't mix it with vodka, red wine, white wine and multivitamin fruit cordial unless you're sure that you won't draw the "horrible cocktail" card when it's your turn.

Later, in the pub, we had our own little scandal; an "old family" Italian getting smoochy with a "new family" Spaniette.

The Italian slept over (on the couch, I might add), thus breaking the "only paying residents may sleep here" rule.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

How I speak

I'd been living and studying here in Berlin for just a couple of weeks before I noticed that it felt weird to write in pure English. At home, I've started speaking German pretty much exclusively. It's a great, because it's visible progress.

In my first week, I could barely function in spoken German. The second week, I could understand most of what my flatmates said but only speak in the simplest possible terms (no past tense, for example; everything happens now!). As my fourth week begins, I'm feeling far more comfortable. I'm even starting to understand television.

It's suprisingly hard to resist dropping a whole bunch of German words into this post, but I'll try. I find myself thinking in German a lot of the time, or thinking in English with German grammar. I must now to my next class go.

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Movies and TV

Berlin is mad about film right now thanks to the Berlinale film festival. I'd never heard of it, but they say it's the next biggest film event after Cannes. There's a boatload of stars including Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie (who just bought a house around the corner from me), Robert DeNiro and Cate Blanchett. I watched the red carpet outside the Palast Berlinale just one night but only recognised Jeff Goldblum and William Dafoe.

I watched a game show called Quiz Taxi on German TV last night. I could only understand parts of it, but it's a brilliant concept: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on wheels.

Contestants get into what they think is an ordinary taxi cab, but they soon discover the truth. They earn money by answering questions until they reach their destination. Three questions wrong and they lose everything (and also have to get out of the taxi wherever they happen to be!).

The best part is the wildcards: they can phone a friend, or they can pull over and ask some random pedestrians. It's sad but funny to see old men in hats shuffle away slowly from the screaming girls in the back of a taxi.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

More old-school TV

I'm still without convenient internet access, so this is a post I prepared earlier, just like on those cooking shows.

The copyright-infringing intertubes runneth over! Someone's been going through their VHS tapes and uploading choice clips to YouTube:

I'd be interested if anyone finds the early-morning clips from way back, like TV One's national anthem thing or TV3's original one with Russell Rooster and Kerry Kea.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Minor progress

I'm into my second week in Berlin and I think I'm settling in OK. My German is definitely improving: I can usually understand my flatmates when they speak German amongst themselves, although when I talk it's usually pretty simple stuff. I still get completely lost when a real German speaks, though; too many words, way too fast. I think it'll be a while before I understand television.

Berlin is an interesting city with some amazing buildings, old and new. Actually, the contrasts are evident everywhere, especially between the former East and West sides — even though the Berlin Wall fell some 15 years ago. Looking over the city from the roof of the Reichstag was a memorable experience — I'll post pictures if I can.

I still have only limited Internet access, so my e-mail backlog is growing (along with the number of photos I have yet to share).

I wouldn't want to leave you with nothing to read, though, so I might start posting from my secret archives.


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