I’m not normally a sports guy, but last night was a historic night for Germany. They won the world cup after a 24 year dry spell. The last time they won, the Berlin wall had just come down. During the lead up to the world cup I noticed an interesting cultural difference. Germany is almost the polar opposite of the US when it comes to displays of national pride. Back in the US displays of national pride are everywhere. It’s very nationalistic even. If you ask most Americans what they’re proud about, they’ll usually throw out some vague glittery term like “freedom.” Lots of them don’t even really know, it’s just that national pride for the sake of national pride is a virtue. In Germany it’s really the opposite. They’re much more subdued about matters of national pride. There are plenty of accomplishments Germany can be proud of, but most Germans I’ve talked to usually only focus on the negative aspects like self-deprecation is a virtue. Sports is one major exception. It’s like the desire to be proud is there, but they don’t want to let it out; like something akin to catholic guilt. When they win, like they did last night, they let it out in a big way. The city was rocked with the sounds of fireworks and the low flying clouds from the day’s rain would periodically light up with brilliant flashes. My friends and I ran down to Potsdamer platz and then to the Brandenburg gate. Everyone was shouting and honking their car horns:
The other week a friend and I decided to go check out this old abandoned ball room on a river outside of Berlin. It took about 45 minutes to get there by train and when we finally found it we could see it would be difficult getting in. There was a high chain-link fence all around it and it was on a busy street. If someone saw us climb over, they’d no doubt call the police. We tried to casually walk up and down the perimeter looking for an entrance. We eventually made it around to a side where we found a hole in the fence underneath some bushes. We just had to wait for this family near by to stop feeding the ducks and leave.
When they were finally gone, we quickly tried to squeeze through the hole someone had cut. It was while doing this that disaster struck. My phone slipped out of my pocket and cracked on a rock below me. In 4 years of having a smart phone I have never, not once, cracked the screen. I thought it was just a scratch at first, but then it quickly became apparent that the phone had no idea where I was pressing and went crazy. Normally I would just take the phone to a shop to get repaired, but at the time I bought the phone I had Verizon, and so I bought the Verizon model of the phone. (I didn’t know at this point in my life that I would be moving to Germany). It’s a really nice phone and I picked it specifically for it’s technical specifications. Being as it is a proprietary Verizon phone, the parts are not interchangeable with other models. That means no one in Europe can repair it.
I had to find a replacement screen on amazon in the US and have it shipped to my parents, who will then ship it to me. (The seller in the US won’t ship direct to Germany). I’ve replaced one phone screen before and it was the most frustrating 8 hours of my life. (Though it was an iphone screen, so perhaps this will be easier) Nonetheless, I’m without a working phone for the next couple of weeks, which makes life really difficult, especially for trying to coordinate meeting people.
We continued onto the property, hugging the walls of the building and jumping into a shed when a police boat went by. It wasn’t there for us, it was just patrolling. After it passed we looked for entrances into the buildings but couldn’t find any. Everything was welded shut and locked.
After about half an hour of looking, we left dirty, sweaty, and defeated. You can’t win them all I guess.
Not to make this a downer post, but in other news I ended up not passing my Germany language exam. It was really difficult and I ran out of time before I had answered every question. Funnily enough, the section I did the best on was speaking. I was paired with some girl from Sweden and we had to make small talk and discuss a picture in German before one of the teachers. Here’s the strange thing about people from Northern Europe: If they speak a 2nd, 3rd, 4th language, they all seem to speak it perfectly. It’s maddening. Every Scandinavian I’ve met that speaks English does so almost without an accent. This woman’s German was excellent too. It’s as if there is no middle ground with them. They either only speak their native language, or they speak other langues fluently. I know somewhere there must be Scandinavians in the process of learning another language, bumbling over their words, mispronouncing things, using the wrong tense or conjugation, but I haven’t found them in the wild yet.
So what does this mean for me? It means I won’t be able to attend university for the winter semester like I had planed, like I got a visa to do. (Though my visa is good for 2 years) Instead no I must try and find a job, which is actually preferable for me. The only problem is, I don’t know what kind of job I can get with my visa, and if I got a “real” job, if I could get the visa changed over to a different type of visa.To that end I’ve been working on my resume and trying to brush up on my tech skills.
One of the big issues that has been bugging me in the back of my mind ever since I cam to Berlin was how I have yet to get involved in the tech community they way I’ve wanted to. I just kept getting distracted with day to day life, studying German, getting established in the city, and doing non-tech things with my friends. Well that all changed recently.
The other day I went to a “crypto party” here in Berlin. I had heard of them before, but had never actually been. A crypto party is a get-together with people who are interested in learning how to communicate safely and securely on the internet. Everyone meets up at a bar or some other venue, you bring your own laptop, the organizers give a quick introduction to the various technologies and what they’re used for, and then they set up “stations” at various tables. Do you want to learn how to send encrypted emails? Go to the OpenPGP table. Want to learn how to use Tor to browse the internet anonymously? Go to the Tor table. They have similar tables for Linux, secure text messaging, and even some meshnet technologies. (Impromptu/alternative internet technologies)
The parties are A-political and focus on teaching people what technologies are out there and how to use them. It was a blast meeting all these really fun people who were also interested in the same technical issues I am. I left the party feeling really pumped up and reinvigorated. I’m looking forward to meeting them again and possibly networking to find a job.