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Südtirol: Italy’s little Austria

Scattered amongst soaring mountainous terrain; pulsating snow covered cliffs, surrounded by climbing forests in multiple shades of green, lies a small bilingual community, whom have found common ground in their complicated history, and pride themselves in both their language and heritage.

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A few months ago I had the pleasure of visiting Bozen/Bolzano, the capital of South Tyrol, a state in the very north of Italy, where history, geography and language have created division for nearly a century. You won’t sense the tension that scathed the land following the annex of the region from Austria post World War One. On the most part; it seems a thing of the past. What you may see though is an identity-crisis struck from living between two nations and two languages as the population attempt to identify their true mother country.

I was lucky enough to get the local experience as I was staying with some Südtiroler’s. What I found interesting was that although they were all bilingual, and we were in Italy, Deutsch seemed to be the language of choice between them – though, from what I heard, it certainly wasn’t German *tongue in cheek*. To me it’s the equivalent of an English speaker hearing someone from very Northern Scotland, perhaps even speaking Glaswegian. Although my German is still in the works, I was told that indeed many native German speakers struggle when understanding Südtiroler’s, which made me glad I wasn’t alone.

From the conversations we had, most locals seemed to be quite proudly Italian, yet preferred to speak German, which I found fascinating. I have to say though; this conversation came about when discussing football. They didn’t seem too keen on the Austrians. Funny that. But either way, they do of course speak Italian, most of them natively, and this caused a cultural experience I had seldom come across, whereby my limited Italian and decent German were at war with one another. Depending on the bar, cafe or restaurant we went to, the greeting and conversation would be mixed, so one really had to be alert. In fact the venue was wüscht (doesn’t make a difference) as they would say, rather each individual had their own preferences of language.

Quick side bar: anyone from Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, or many other countries I am sure of, this experience is probably quite normal. But coming from a country (Australia) isolated from the rest of the world, surrounded by English, this is really an experience.

            So there I was sitting in an Irish bar. Of course an Irish bar. The ambience was yellow; the lights were dim, the temperature was warm, the music was soft and mellow, I felt quite gemütlich [cozy]. Having driven for over 7 hours, my stomach was running on empty, so being in Italy – pizza was the fuel of choice. Your man came over – this is an Irish place after all – and gave me a good ole, “Bitteschön” i.e what are ya after. He’s speaking German I thought, beautiful! I ordered in my best German accent, he walked away with a face full of comprehension and I thought ‘hey this isn’t so hard’. Next thing I know, your man, well another man this time, comes over holding a pizza and starts ranting away in Italian. It was „Bolognase“ this and „Berlusconi“ that…at least that’s how it sounded to me. I stared at him for a few seconds, mouthed a „waaaaas“ to my friends, before he switched to German and I was back on it. I even gave him a cheeky „Grazie“ to finish the job.

Language aside, the mountains were gorgeous and I was lucky enough to be taken on a hikking tour with one of the locals the following morning. The winding drive up the mountain was not one to miss, with a new view of the mountainous countryside after every bend. The friendliness of the locals was definitely not lost on me, with motorists passing by all smiling and waving their hands. The best was when a tractor steaming along at full throttle, attempted to overtake us up the steep climb. That’s when you know you’re really in the country.

Photo: Guten Morgen Südtirol! Time for a hike :)

After reaching the near top, we disembarked from our car and began the apparent ‘leisurely’ two hour hike to the summit. The incline was steep, and after the first fifteen minutes,  ‘leisurely’ started seeming strenuous, causing me to rethink my fitness. An hour and a half in we wandered passed a group of elderly Nordic walkers. You know those dorky walkers with the ski-pole-style sticks. To be honest though, at that point I kind of wish I had a set too. Seeing my slightly struggling they mouthed off a cheeky, “don’t give up you’re almost there” in Südtirolien German, which I was amazed I actually understood. This definitely gave me some motivation. If these old geezers can do it, why can‘t I!?

I was surprised as well at the amount of snow towards the top, it being the end of April and all. I was informed that had we attempted the hike a few weeks early it would have been a lot tougher, so I took grace in the fact that I got the advantage of seeing the snow, but not needing to trudge a few miles in it.

Photo: This is a nice picture of you three.After a couple of hours we finally made it to the summit, with a brilliant view of the mountainside. At the top lay a perfectly placed lodge, calling our name as we were dying for some nourishment to heal ourselves from the journey. We sat outside and admired the view whilst ordering some Kaiserschmarrn, a delicious Austrian delicacy, some bacon and eggs, and of course Weißbier. Content barely gives the experience justice

Südtirol really is Italy’s little Austria. Whilst both Austria and Italy share the Alps, Bolzano definitely screams more Austrian, with German the language of choice and Austria culture highly noticeable.

Where else can you get real Austrian Kaiserschmarrn and real Italian pasta in the same place?   I will be coming back!

German Intensive Course: Week 2

It’s been two weeks so far of intense early morning classes of German and I have to say I’m feeling pretty good. As daunting as it is to bring myself from a deep slumber at 6am every morning, the feeling I get walking around the city at 10am after class knowing I’ve already smashed out 2 hours of German study is pretty good. The weather in Vienna is getting very nice and sunny too which makes it all the more better 🙂

So, how have the classes been?

Well, once again I’ve managed to be the only ‘native’ English speaker in the class. It’s not that uncommon, there’s normally a token American or Canadian around. But somehow it always ends up just being me. Not that it’s a bad thing. Pretty much everyone can speak English quite well anyway. But there’s some kind of awe about being a native speaker. You’re like sacred or something. My teacher finds this fascinating . We are all at the level where we don’t speak any English in class, but occasionally we need to translate a word if no one has any idea,  and the teacher always looks at me.

“How do you call this in English Jack?”

Most of the time I’m quick to answer. I nod along as she uses gestures and short stories to try and explain the word using the German vocabulary that she know’s we all have, and I tend to pick up on what she’s referring to after a while. This time the German word was rücksichtslos. She had tried to tell a story of a guy in a car cutting you off, and then tried to explain the opposite being rücksichts by talking about what a mother would say to her children if they are annoying their father after he had just come home from work. Looking back, these two stories don’t quite work as opposites, yet they did still make sense… Hmm thus is language studies.

So anyway I replied, “Disrespectful”.

Immediately she shook her head, “No.”

Damn, I was sure that was right, I thought. Well I was. Kind of. Funnily enough this wasn’t the first time I knew the direct translation yet received a ‘no’ from the teacher. I realized that it wasn’t always my lack of German, but sometimes the teachers lack of English. Although disrespectful kind of works, a better translation for rücksichtslos would be reckless and the opposite, in the story of the father and child context, “considerate”. But when you think about it, disrespectful still works…

Anyway, then she said to me, “Isn’t it respectless not disrespectful?”

One would think right? Well sometimes its a good reality check that when I sit back and condemn German for all its annoying little tidbits, English is just as annoying at the same time.

And to tell you what, German isn’t all that bad. In fact I find it to be a very literal language. If you just describe something in literal detail, sometimes it just works out. Well that or just say an English word with a German accent. That sometimes works out too…

 

For some fun here are some very literal German words that I love:

Headphones: kopfhörer (literally head listener)

Wednesday: Mittwoch (literally middle week) [Why not right?]

Slug: Nacktschneke (literally naked snail)

Pubic Hair: schamhaar (literally shame hair) [We should all be ashamed]

Gloves: Handshuhe (literally hand shoes) [Classic!]

 

And my all time favorite:

Nipple: Brustwarze (Literally, yep you guessed it, breast wart)

 

There are plenty more, I even stumbled upon this little quiz you can take http://www.sporcle.com/games/nnneeennn/literal-german-translations. It’s kind of fun, even if you don’t know German you can do it. It’s all about thinking laterally, thinking like the Germans…

See you next week for week three. Remember to hit subscribe on the right if you don’t want to miss out on the awesome antics of an Aussie, in Austria, learning German. Catch ya.

 

German Intensive Course: Week 1

When ever someone asks me how my German is I never really know how to respond. I am definitely not fluent, though friends keep wondering why I’m not. For anyone who’s actually learnt a language before they know, it takes a while! So here I am, two and a half years of learning German, and mind you I have spent most of that time in a German speaking country, yet if a German asks me whether I speak it or not, my reply is still ‘ein bisschen’ (a little).

Though I was saying ‘ein bisschen’ when the extent of my German was ‘zwei Bier, bitte’, ‘dankeschön’ and ‘ich bin schwanger’ (you can Google that if you want. Don’t ask me why I knew that back then…)

I’d like to think I know a little more than ‘ein bisschen’  right now. But perhaps out of all the new words I’ve learnt I just haven’t quite learnt those few words to describe the extent of my German. Do I know a little, a little more than a little, am I pretty good, am I OK  am I not bad… even in English nothing sounds very good. I mean I’ve met travelers who say they, ‘only speak a little English’, then end up reciting Ulysses before my very eyes. I think it’s just a confidence thing. From the moment you start learning a language, until you can fool a native speaker to thinking you’re native, you’re probably just going to say ‘a little’.

Well the one good thing about doing a course is Europe has a nice little list of letters and numbers to help describe where you’re at. To people who don’t know the CEFR system, it doesn’t mean much, but to the rest, its a beautiful way of classifying us. I am currently B1/1 and will over the next 8 weeks be studying 10 hours a week to hopefully boost myself two levels to B1/2 then B2.

Having not been to a German class since last year, after going to my first few classes I realized that although my grasp of the language is pretty good, I make a hell of a lot of mistakes. I haven’t been using my reflexive pronouns very well, naughty, naughty e.g. ‘I myself am interested’ would be the correct phrase, not ‘I am interested’. Though obviously they both work in English. Typical. And secondly, my articles are down the toilet, just another awesome thing about the German language. What the hell is wrong with just ‘THE!’

I will hopefully keep you updated on the awesome new things I learn through the weeks. Click the button on the right toolbar to follow me 🙂

German phrase of the day

Having an Austrian girlfriend and working with a German, really helps improve my vocabulary and grammar, even though I am not currently studying Deutsch.

Today I learnt “hat mich gefreut Sie kennen gelernt zu haben” which is a formal way of saying “nice to meet you”. I tried my own phrase once before when I met my girlfriend Simone’s Opa. I remember saying “es war nett mit dich zu treffen”. Now I know it really made no sense, there’s no wonder he looked at me funny.

Communication Complication

Ok so, I arrived in Konstanz just a few days ago.
So far so good.
I was welcomed by familiar faces, brought to my university, and amazingly the secondary bag I had left at the start of my trip, still remained behind a door in a random office in the uni. I literaly walked into the office, asked the guy about the bag whom seemed to have no idea. I then proceeded to look on the otherside of the door, and there it was sitting there, two months later, exactly as I had left it. So far so good.
Next I arrived at my flat. A little away from the uni, but I soon found out that Europhaus, was the ‘party’ house of the town, and I had my own room. So far so good.
That night, I met a bunch of exchange students, all of whom were extremely nice, we chatted, we drank into the night, things were getting good!
The following night I enjoyed two dinners by two different homes who welcomed me in and I made even more friends. So far so good… Then came Friday, the course began.
My relaxation had finally ended as I arrived at my first day of my language course to be confronted with a test in which I knew not one answer. Not only that, I had been already placed in a higher class in which I was required to perform a speaking task with a German teacher to see my competency in German. “Ich spreche German nicht” I whole hartedly replied. Suddenly it turned on me that I was in Germany, and learning the language was not going to be an easy thing.
In the end though, things don’t seem to bad, I was told that quite a few people have no understanding of German and that we are all going to be in the begginer class, A0. But I mean that’s why I’m here to learn, and I aint alone, so it should be fine.
Still a long while to go, but for now things are not as breezy as they have been for the past 2 months travelling. It’s time to hit the books, turn on my brain, and learn this shit! But first, pub crawl tonight :p

Tschüß!

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