Thursday, January 31, 2008


Signed up for another month at my language school. My teacher said he thought I could skip two months and move on to the preparation course for the next level of exams. I'm not convinced this is the best course to take next, but he is an exceptionally gifted teacher; it cheers me up to turn up at 9 and watch him in action for 3 hours.

Today he talked about the days before the fall of the Wall. When he was young West Berlin was a demilitarised zone, by requirement of the Americans, French and British; this meant that Germans living in West Berlin were exempt from military service. At the time he thought Communism was A Good Thing and would go out on anti-American demos against the Vietnam War; West Berlin was a good place to do this, because the S-Bahn belonged to East Berlin, even the parts that were in West Berlin. Even the tracks were East German. So demonstrators could disappear into an S-Bahn station, or jump onto the tracks, and the West German police couldn't do anything. When his family came up from Karlsruhe to see him they all wanted to see East Berlin, so they would all go over for the day; it was necessary to pay 20DM per person per day to do so. That is, they were required to exchange 20 DM per person into Ostmarks, but prices were so low it was impossible to spend them. A meal in a restaurant would cost 1.35 Ostmarks. One might buy a book; it would cost 1.75 Ostmarks. It was strictly forbidden to take Ostmarks back to West Germany; if one was caught carrying Ostmarks one could get a year in prison. People would think, OK, I'll give them to an Ossi; they'd see someone near the station who looked like an Ossi and try to hand over the money. But this was dangerous because it was forbidden to have any contact, the Stasi was everywhere watching, someone who was caught could face 5 years in prison.

There is a deal for immigrants and refugees that I am just too competent to benefit from. Foreigners who have been in Germany a long time - those who have married Germans, or have the right to stay for some other reason, or are EU citizens, or some others - are legally entitled to 600 hours of German language instruction and 45 hours of Orientation. Those who are unemployed get this for free; the rest pay 1 euro an hour, the remainder subsidised by the government. Unfortunately the Integrationskurse only cover linguistic instruction up to Level B1, which I have just completed, and the deal covers only designated courses, not any course at the relevant level. It's a bit silly, because part of the point is to facilitate employment, and the level of competence certified would not be enough to qualify one for much of a job. Be that as it may, I thought this was a fabulous deal that might be of some use to the incomparable TAR ART RAT, who is married to a German, has lived here for years, gets by in German but has an approach to the grammar which is an invention of his own. I thought he might extract grammatical enlightment from the B1 end of the range. Which he might well. Unfortunately - and again idiotically, given the purpose of connecting participants with employment - none of the language schools offering IK have evening courses, or rather the only evening courses start at 5.45 or 6.

There have been pieces in the press deploring the fact that only about 45 percent of participants complete the course and take away a certificate, also that only a tiny proportion land a job. It's hard to see this as surprising, given that those providing the courses have neatly eliminated from the pool all the people who have managed to land some kind of job. TAR ART RAT works for a PR firm, but it's easy enough to imagine people who, without being positively unemployed, are underemployed - making less use of their skills than they could - for want of better linguistic competence. The fact that there is no support for the level of study that would qualify people for good jobs presumably means that the not-so-good jobs are heavily oversubscribed. Not that it is not a good thing as far as it goes, better than anything comparable in the US or Britain.

Anyway, meanwhile, no good deed goes unpunished. Over a year ago, in December 2006, I gave a end-of-book party to celebrate the second completion of Your Name here, and I sent an invitation to a reader who had sent me an e-mail, a Russian musician. It is not possible, obviously, to invite people to a party without disclosing one's address. It is not normally necessary to spell out the fact that an invitation to a party does not constitute a standing invitation to turn up one's doorstep. So there has been a year of phone calls and reader on doorstep. Most of the time I leave the phone unplugged to avoid interruptions. I have explained that I don't like people turning up uninvited. To no avail. Perhaps I should move to China.


nsiqueiros said...

This is an unrelated question, but have you been to see the Ishtar Gate?

"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

indeed, I am quit excited about all of this, thanks for the information- hopefully I will be able to iron-out the foundations of my German!!! an i can't believe the Russian is STILL showing uP... (what do you have to do for a restraining order?)