Brazil gazes at America in a German setting

Walking by myself in the historical center of Munich, I began to notice the increased frequency of yellow t-shirts around me. I gazed at them, wanting to say something with my eyes: “I too am Brazilian! And I am actually on my way to watch the soccer game too!” Whatever invisible line connected us at that moment, as those who share the same origin and the same exile, wasn’t readily noticed, but it still made me look at them with more affection, as if they weren’t strangers as the rest of tourists and Münchner walking by on that afternoon through Marienplatz.

Arriving at the tram station, I found two other Brazilian friends from my Sprachschule, who were also going to the same Brazilian Biergarten to watch the game. We weren’t very close to one another, but the time spent on that tram, which changed its typical route and was taking longer than it should, made it seem to me that some intimacy was already presupposed, given to us, and not formed by time. In complaining about the change of route, in wanting so much to arrive in time for the game and, specially, once arriving in that sea of yellow t-shirts, typical food, and loud laughter so characteristic of my Heimatland, I felt… What exactly did I feel? Perhaps I felt that I would always be Brazilian, even if my whole life was spent abroad, or perhaps that there was something beautiful about that easiness and light intimacy shared by all who were raised in Brazil. These ideas came to my mind with some surprise: did I even like soccer after all, as most of my friends at home did? At that moment, raising from my seat at each possibility of gol and laughing at the jokes about “Menino Ney,” I think I really did.

A mixture of German ice cream and beer, Brazilian “mandioca,” hand gestures which say “Beleza Pura!” and loud laughter about “Menino Ney”


And, then, something happened: my Brazilian friends started calling me “a americana” and referring to me whenever any comment about the U.S. was made. They certainly did not deny me any share in that little Brazilian community, but a new dimension was added which contained in itself both their impressions about the U.S. and their impressions about Brazil. How could I express it all in words? The broken history of Brazil, its interrupted democracy, its culture, often drifted by external influences and injured by corruption… All that was present in that afternoon. At that victorious game, though we were celebrating our country, how wouldn’t we notice that we were still out of it! Gazing at the United States, at the stability of its history, at its leading position in the world, and perhaps also at the positions taken by its leader, there was certainly some resentment in their voices as they called me “americana.” It was something subtle and didn’t take away the affection and union that made me leave the Biergarten with warmed heart, but it did make me reflect on the eyes with which the United States is seen, and made me realize (also with joy) that the U.S. was somehow and increasingly becoming my own. In the end, brasileira e americana, (perhaps with the heart a bit in Germany too after these dreamful five weeks), I left the Biergarten thinking about the beauty of these temporary homes given to us in our exile in this world.


Esther and I – Two new fans of Brazilian soccer and “Americanas”


Three Alder waiting for the train back from Altötting

Andrea, my friend from Munich, and I in Altötting

It was a beautiful Sunday morning as we were on our way to a small Dorf one hour from Munich: Altötting. Villages with churches on the top of hills passed through the windows of the train, farms with brooks and horses appeared before our eyes and quickly passed by. On our way to that very traditional little village, the heart of Catholicism in Germany and a beloved destination of Pope Benedict, the topic of our conversation was an unexpected one: slang words. Andrea, our friend from Munich, laughed at our question and, after some reflection, said: “I guess I am too old to know what slang words young people use most often nowadays, but I know this one: Chill mal die Base!” That mixture of English and German, pronounced by our friend with so much swag, made us laugh, but even funnier was the next slang she remembered. This time, we were walking back to the Bahnhof of Altötting, after a beautiful day spent visiting churches, eating huge spaghetti ice creams, and talking for sweet long hours at a local Biergarten. “Oh, I actually remember another slang word, and this one I know young people use all the time: ‘alder’!” “Alder?!” we said, “what does Alder even mean?” It turns out that “alder” is the colloquial way “old man” is pronounced in spoken, ‘slangish’ German. It is a funny expression, because it is only used by teenagers among those who share the same age as them, never with someone actually older. And the funniest thing is that, in Brazil, we actually have the same expression, with the exact same usage! Teenagers often call themselves “velho” (old man), in a very informal way. The question is: how did that slang come about? Did it have just one origin from which it reached both Brazil and Germany? Or was it exported from one country to another? As we asked ourselves those deep philosophical questions and waited for our train back to Munich, a young boy came to us and asked if we could change his 20 Euro bill. The opportunity was too good to let it go, and we asked him what slang words he used most often. Promptly, he exclaimed: “Alder!”

Two “Alder” in Altötting!


My first Apfelstrudel and the quest for a typische bayerische Speise

Grüß Gott!” her voice resounded from behind. I turned to find the waitress smiling a soft smile to me and wearing the traditional bayerische Dirndl with two menus in hand. “Grüß Gott!” I replied and, after a while looking at the menu and understanding only half the words contained in it, I asked her if there was any traditional dish she could suggest to me. In that Biergarten, there seemed to be nothing but traditional dishes, and yet she still pointed towards a Jägerschnitzel with Spätzle, Preiselbeeren, and Rahmchampignons. As she explained, that dish is found in Biergärten throughout the whole region of Bavaria and consists basically of pork with a mushroom cream sauce together with Spätzle and lingonberry. Since I had never tried any of the components of the dish before (although there is lingonberry in the U.S and even Spätzle in Notre Dame!), I just looked at my boyfriend with the question stamped upon my eyes: “So…?” and he answered the waitress with his beautiful and deutliches Deutsch: “We would like to try that!”

As a Vorspeise [starter], we went with Semmelknödel (bread dumpling), which we have already eaten 3 times: two times in Munich and one in Innsbruck. Knödel and Knödelsuppe are traditional Vorspeisen for a region extending beyond Germany (we ate it in Austria, for example!), but this name “Semmel” [little bread] makes it clear that we are in Bavaria, for everywhere else a little bread would be called a Brötchen in German.

For a Nachtisch [dessert], we had perhaps the most mainstream possibility: an Apfelstrudel with vanilla ice cream, and yet, I was happy that I got to eat my first Apfelstrudel in the most authentic place to eat it. I think it was one of the most delicious Nachtische I ate in my time here!

One more little story in another restaurant: at my first attempt to eat a traditional dish here in Munich, I asked a waiter for a traditional dessert and, finding only common types of ice cream in the menu, I pointed to an ice cream with Eierlikör (egg liquor) and asked: “Is that something unique or traditional from here?” and he, with a smile barely containing his laughter, just went away saying: “Eierlikör? Kann man sagen, kann man sagen…” [egg liquor? I guess one could say that…]

Und meine Seele spannte weit ihre Flügel aus

It has now been little more than two weeks since I first stepped here in Munich and it seems as if a small world has already been formed out of the streets, gestures, and words that surround me. “Guten Morgen, München!” is heard from the radio every morning, while Anabel, my host mother, comes to the kitchen with a smile, carrying the apricots she has bought for me. Parks and castles are revisited and new poems read each time in them. The repeated walks to Sankt Theresia follow, and then Mass is beautifully and silently celebrated. Finally, there comes the late summer sunset that carries the day to its end. By an Ewig Wiederkunft of gestures and meals, expressions and skies that belong to this place and will be forever intertwined with it, a new world is formed and given to me as a gift.

A frequent and loved destination: Schloss Nymphenburg

Thinking about this little world, so real and unreal at the same time, I notice what a strange role the German language plays in it. It is, of course, the first reason why I am travelling to Germany and also the bridge that connects me to others here. And, yet, at moments of weariness or shyness, how easily does it set me apart from this world! When I attended a seminar at the Ludwig Maximilians Universität München about Pseudo-Dionysius and Albertus Magnus, the words all failed me at the sheer prospect of speaking with the professor after class. But when walking in the beautiful streets of Innsbruck, when everything was lightness and joy, the words seemed to flow out of my mouth with an unprecedented naturalness. My goal, therefore, has been to revisit and maintain those moments of joy that were given to me, this lightness and beauty that sometimes reveals itself and that is stronger than shyness or broken pride, and able to turn all into learning, smiles, and sweetness. I have already received so much in these first two weeks and my heart is filled with hope, is truly frohbereit (happily ready) for the next three to come.

Innsbruck, Austria

Joyfully walking in the streets of Innsbruck.