1. When we begin learning language as a child, words are associated with images, emotions, and our senses – not to other words. As a visual learner learning a foreign language, this is something that has always caused me problems. It has always been tempting for me to create flashcards with just the german words and their english translations. While this usually serves me well for the next quiz or test, I often forget what I learned soon after. while in Dresden, I found it most helpful to be able to learn new words by connecting them to new places and experiences. Rather than giving these words meaning by relating them to English, they had a meaning of their own. Even by adding pictures or a German definition of the word instead of only its English translation, I hope to somewhat replicate this experience as I continue studying German at Notre Dame.

2. Reading is one of the most important methods through which we maintain and further our language proficiency and vocabulary. Because of this, it was an important goal for me to be able to read even an elementary novel, so even while in the U.S. and after graduation, I can continue growing my German vocabulary and fluency. The question that has arisen for me as I begin reading a book that my family gifted to me is how often should I be looking up new words while reading? For me, it is tempting to look up every single word that I don’t know, but then it usually ends up taking around 5 minutes to read just one page. I hope to be able to find a balance between learning new vocabulary by looking up new words and also by using context to build my own understanding of new words.

3. More often than not, I have found that English has proven to be more of a hindrance than a help as I learn German. As a result, I often find myself initially translating what I would like to say or write directly from English to German, ending up with a mix of both English and German grammar. Similar to my last point, I have thus found it most valuable to think about what I am trying to express purely from a German language and grammar standpoint. Rather than German being a product of my knowledge of English, it becomes more of its own independent language.

Unterschieden zwischen Deutschland und den USA

Differences between Germany and the United States

After my last week of classes, my mom and my sister flew to Germany to visit me and our German family and to travel a bit of Europe for vacation. As I previously mentioned, my “German parents” speak almost no English and my sister and mother speak almost no German. Even with this barrier, we are able to relate to each other like almost any other family, and, for me, this is really beautiful. Just as any American family would do during a reunion, we spent the weekend eating delicious food and talking. Throughout these conversations, I was inevitably posed the question, “Wie hast du Deutschland gefunden?” “What did you think of Germany?” While my first response was to share my enthusiasm for how many ways Germany had offered me to experience and learn new things, this question also prompted me to consider how my experiences of Germany and the United States compare. After taking time to really think about this question, I have created a list of five ways the United States and Germany differ.

A picture of me and both parts of my family in front of the Frauenkirche.
  1. Language

I know what you’re thinking – duh, obviously they speak different languages. However, I think the nuances of the ways in which both of these languages are spoken may explain a lot of the differences between the ways in which Germans and Americans behave. Throughout high school, and especially in college, Americans students are taught not to use the passive voice. Rather, professors prefer students to write their papers in the active voice. However, in Germany, it is the opposite. In writing and in conversation, Germans use the passive voice very often. In my opinion, this choice of active versus passive voice is quite telling. Of course, this characterization does not fit every American or every German, but I think it explains a general attitude that many people in each of these nations embody. At least the stereotypical American lifestyle or attitude is that of non-stop work and actively defying expectations to build success. However, in Germany, the obsession with success found in the U.S. is much more tame. Having a happy life and being satisfied with one’s career is important, but having free-time to relax and spend time with family is just as important if not more so. In my opinion, it is a lot less of an aggressive “dog-eat-dog” society. 

  1. Small Talk

At the supermarket, with work colleagues, acquaintances, and in countless other situations, small talk dominates. Whether or not you enjoy this form of conversation, small talk plays a large role in our daily lives as Americans and as English speakers. This fact is obvious even in our form of greeting – “Hi. How are you?” We use this greeting at least once every day, but, in most cases, we really don’t care about the answer. So, why have such a pointless conversation? In Germany, most people just don’t. When I went to the grocery store during my first week in Dresden, I instinctively greeted the cashier with “Hallo. Wie geht’s?” – “Hi. How are you?” Of course, she sort of looked at me strangely and didn’t respond, so I quickly learned that this is not part of the normal interaction between cashier and customer. 

  1. Rule-Following

How many times have you jay-walked or crossed the street at a crosswalk even when the sign 

was red? Even though it’s illegal, most people in the United States think nothing of this. However in Germany, it’s the opposite – especially with older generation individuals. Almost no one in Germany crosses at a crosswalk until the walk sign is shown. For me this was somewhat annoying – if there are no cars in sight, why should I wait? I have places to be! But in Germany, rules are not made to be broken, rather they help society to function, and by not following these rules, one brings disorder. 

  1. Recycling

Recycling in the United States is pretty irregular. Most people have the proper bin in order to 

recycle, but not everyone chooses to separate their trash, even though we have only one category for this material. Unlike this common American attitude towards recycling, for Germans, recycling is very important. They take recycling so seriously that there is not only one separate bin for recyclable waste but three – glass, plastic, and biodegradable material. As number 3 suggests, these recycling rules are not negotiable, and everyone just does it. 

  1. Sundays

Despite the fact that the level of religiosity in Germany is decreasing and has been decreasing for a while, Sunday has kept its status as a day of rest for most businesses and individuals. In the United States, only religious-affiliated restaurants and stores, such as Chick-fil-a, are closed on Sunday. However, in Germany, almost all restaurants and shops are closed on Sundays – especially those outside of tourist locations. Though in my family, Sunday after church has always been a time for grocery shopping, during my two months in Germany I made Monday my shopping day because no stores were open near where I was staying.

Despite these differences, I am so grateful for the time I got to spend and for the learning I was able to do throughout my summer in Germany. I hope that I will find my way back to my second home soon!


Last weekend, I traveled with the Goethe Institute to Leipzig, located about an hour and a half east of Dresden by train. Like Dresden, Leipzig is home to several museums, monuments, churches, and even a zoo, which houses the world’s largest primate facility. Though we unfortunately didn’t have enough time to visit the zoo, a highlight for me was visiting das Völkerschlachtdenkmal, or the Monument to the Battle of Nations. Completed in 1913, this monument was constructed to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon at the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, and later served as the location where the defenders of Leipzig made their last stand against U.S. troops in WWII. If you haven’t already noticed from my blog posts, anything history related is bound to capture my attention, so this monument – an architectural anomaly compared to the rest of the city – was high on my list.

Das Völkerschlagdenkmal

However, before visiting this monument, we also toured das Zeitgeschichtliche Forum, or the Forum of Contemporary History. Within this museum, which focuses on the history of Germany since the end of the Second World War, the history of die Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR)was significantly featured. For me this was interesting not only because it is a part of a history about which we don’t learn very much in the American education system, but also because my au pair and her family lived and worked in Dresden during the existence of the DDR. As such, this topic has generated a great deal of discussion between myself and my German family.

To give these conversations some context, I’ll provide a brief history of Germany within the last 70 years. At the end of WWII, the Allies agreed to divide Germany and its capital, Berlin, into four zones of occupation – American, British, French, and Soviet. However, a few years after this agreement, the American, British, and French zones in the west were unified into die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (the Federal Republic of Germany) and granted sovereignty. Thus by 1949, only two zones divided Germany and Berlin, die Bundesrepublik Deutschlandmonitored by the United States and die Deutsche Demokratische Republikcontrolled by the Soviet Union. If you remember anything from your high school history classes, you will recognize that these two zones represented the two clashing powers and economic philosophies of the Cold War, which dominated the politics of the late 20th century. As West Germany reconstructed itself along capitalistic principles, East Germany rebuilt under communistic ideology – an episode whose effects are arguably still present within the cultures and economies of eastern and western Germany.

As part of an educational system still particularly influenced by the politics and fear surrounding communism in the United States throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union was portrayed to myself and my fellow classmates in a rather unfriendly light. Thus, with my likely heavily biased understanding of the Soviet Union and life in East Germany, it was initially somewhat difficult to comprehend the feelings of “Ostalgie” – or nostalgia for East Germany under the DDR – expressed by my German family and others whom I met. However, after talking with my family about this at great length, I feel as if I have a better understanding of these sentiments, and I even empathize with them in many ways – but keep reading before you label me as a millennial product of the left “fake news” propaganda!

As a political science major, I’ll keep this discussion as diplomatic as possible. To claim that the governmental and economic policies of the Soviet Union were successful would be uninformed, especially considering its ultimate dissolution in 1991. Nevertheless, for some people, life under the DDR was often preferable to life under today’s unified Germany. How is this possible? Wouldn’t one prefer to live in a society with greater choice and opportunity – even down to the variety of items in a grocery store or number of channels on a television?

As products of the American capitalist society, freedom of choice is ingrained into our culture, and it is hard to imagine a life without it. A cereal aisle with only four or five different cereal choices rather than 70 or more? Unthinkable!

This is how my family explained their experiences to me. Despite its flaws, the DDR was capable of providing to many people at least the facade of equality. Throughout their neighborhood, everyone had basically the exact same furniture, clothes, technology, and income as each other. As a result, it seemed as if people were less envious of one another – it’s hard to be envious of something that no one has. So, no one was envious of the new flat screen TV that their neighbors just bought or the newest iPhone that their friend has because it wasn’t really possible. Even though people may have had less, life was more satisfying. As much as we may not like to admit it, every time a new iPhone is released, our current iPhone becomes just slightly less satisfying – especially if all of your friends already have the newest model. Thus, it’s easy to become envious of others, breaking apart the bonds of community even further. Rather, the DDR provided a life of somewhat greater simplicity. Fewer options may mean less choice, but it also is often less stressful – you know what you’re going to get. Though jobs may not have been as lucrative, they were secure, and unemployment was unlikely. Even in the U.S. a desire for a more simple life is quite understandable.

A car from the DDR in Leipzig’s Forum of Contemporary History

Although their opinions certainly do not represent all or maybe even a majority of those who lived in the DDR, I can’t help but be fascinated by these conversations that I have with my family. And, if you remember from my first blog post, only their daughter speaks English, so to say that these conversations are a great way to practice my listening and hearing skills may be an understatement – especially considering the fact that they both speak with a relatively thick Sächsisch dialect. Though at times it may be frustrating that I can’t express myself in the ways that I want to, I enjoy every moment and look forward to having a new conversation soon!

Bis zum nächsten Mal!

Lasting Consequences of Conflict – Luftangriffe auf Dresden

Die Kontrovers – Controversy

In August of 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing approximately 66,000 people and injuring approximately 66,000 more individuals. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing and injuring another estimated 64,000 people. Nearly 75 years later, the decision of the United States to use atomic weapons against Japan remains controversial. Since 1945, advocates of the use of atomic weapons maintained that the dropping of these bombs on Japan brought the Asian Theatre of WWII more quickly to an end. Alternatively, those against the use of atomic weapons argued that this decision was inhumane and unnecessary.

You may wonder why I am discussing Japan and the Asian Theatre of World War II in a blog about my travels and experiences in Germany. However, there is a connection. In Dresden, a different undertaking of the Allies during WWII remains controversial: die Luftangriffe auf Dresden, the Bombing of Dresden.

In 1945, five years after the conflict in Europe began, the war had completely absorbed the economies and populations of more than 50 independent nations. By February of the same year – as the last months of European conflict dragged on – Soviet forces had finally halted the German Army in Eastern Prussia as the combined Allied forces blocked the German Army’s invasion into the Ardennes forest in Belgium. Less than three months later, the European Theatre of WWII ended with the unconditional surrender of the German Army.

Despite the state of German forces in February 1945, the United States and Great Britain dropped more than 4,000 tons of explosives on the city of Dresden over a period of three days. As a result, over 75,000 dwelling places were destroyed. Though a few historic buildings – such as the Zwinger and Frauenkirche – were carefully rebuilt, most of the city was rebuilt with modern architectural style, leaving the city which had once been known as “the Florence of the Elbe” a very different place.

Dresden before and after the bombing campaign of 1945.

As with the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many now question whether such destruction was truly necessary at a time when Germany had already begun to fall into the hands of defeat. Allied forces argued that the attack was needed to disrupt important lines of communication which may have hindered the Soviet offensive in the east. As the seventh largest city in Germany at the time, it has also been argued that bombing Dresden may have been important to destroying German munitions. However, the evidence supporting this claim is somewhat lacking, leading many to question how strategically and militarily important Dresden truly was.

Three-quarters of a century later, the effects of this bombing campaign can still be seen today. After taking a tour of the Frauenkirche, and climbing to the top to get a beautiful view of Dresden, the impact of war upon the city was easily recognizable. Even in the Altstadt portion of the city, most buildings have clearly been built within the last century. Those historic buildings, which have been rebuilt to represent the baroque style with which they had first been imagined, clearly show the marks of destruction. Original stone, charred from the fire which blazed after the attacks, sits in the walls of these buildings, often surrounded by new, untarnished stone.

The Dresden Cathedral, which illustrates the “patchwork” of stone colors due to reconstruction.
Zwinger Museum in 2019 after years of reconstruction.

Despite this destruction and forced reconstruction, Dresden maintains a great amount of culture and historical value. In fact, from 2004 until the construction of the Waldschloesschen Bridge in 2009, Dresden held UNESCO World Heritage status for its riverscape along the Elbe. As a result, Dresden has provided an extremely interesting and meaningful place for me to study German language and culture.

Panoramic view of Dresden from the top of the Frauenkirche.

Mit Herzlichen Grüßen!

Nee and Nu?

Hallo aus Dresden! Herzlich Willkommen auf meinem Blog!

Hello from Dresden! Welcome to my blog!

It is hard to believe that I have now been in Germany for a little over two weeks! Since I left Ohio I have already visited three different countries, several amazing museums, and, of course, many delicious restaurants. After our first week of class, we already had our first – and last– long weekend. On June 10, we had no class as Germany observed Pfingstmontag, or Whit Monday, a holiday celebrating the day after Pentecost. Hoping to make the most of this time off, I hopped on a bus with a group of other Goethe Institut students and traveled about six hours south to Vienna, Austria. Between classes, travelling, and exploring Dresden, I have kept myself very busy!

This weekend, I decided to stay in Dresden, to have more time to get to know the city – and of course to give myself a little bit of a break! As a result, I have finally been able to reflect on the experiences I have had throughout my first couple of weeks in Germany.

When my sister and I were babies, my mom had the help of an Au pair from Germany – Dresden, to be more specific – for a few years to help take care of and raise us. Twenty years later, we are still in contact with her and her family, and consider them to be our own “German family.” After sharing with them that I would be studying in Dresden this summer, her parents so kindly offered to pick me up from the airport and to bring me to the room where I would be staying at the Goethe Institut. Though Michi, as we fondly call her, speaks fluent English, her parents do not. So, though the stress of having to figure out how to get from Berlin Tegel Airport to Dresden had thankfully been taken off of my shoulders, my somewhat lacking German-language skills made me a little bit nervous.

(from left to right) A picture of Michi, my sister, and me from when we were young.

For me, my first week in Dresden was a lot like my first week of college – a little bit nerve-wracking and very overwhelming. No matter how much preparation and research you do, you can never be fully prepared for such a new experience.

As I had only studied German for a few years before this summer, I expected to face a little bit of a language barrier. However, there were at least to words I expected to understand: “ja” (yes), and “nein” (no). I was wrong. Throughout Saxony – a Bundesland of which Dresden is the capital – many people speak using an Upper Saxon, or Sächsisch, dialect. Though there may be many different regional accents in the United States, for the most part, the whole country speaks only one dialect. However, within the German language, there are about seven different dialects, one of which is Sächsisch. In this dialect there are different words for “yes” and “no” – “nu” and “nee” respectively.

Having lived in Saxony their whole lives, Michi’s parents use the Sächsisch dialect in regular conversation, and often say “nee” and “nu.” To a non-native speaker, not only do these words sound very similar to each other, but they also both sound a lot like “nein.” I’m sure you can imagine my initial confusion. These words, which I had initially expected to heavily rely upon, had betrayed me. But, of course, after a few clumsy interactions, her parents clarified to me what these words actually meant. After only one hour in Germany I had already learned my first Sächsich German word!

Since landing in Berlin, I have learned so much about Dresden and East German culture – though my Sächsisch vocabulary hasn’t really expanded beyond nee and nu. I look forward to learning even more in my time remaining!

A picture of me at a vineyard with a beautiful view of Dresden behind me.

Tschüssi! Bis dann!