Sunday, March 2, 2008

bangs and whimpers

My language school kindly agreed to let me postpone my February language course to March. I had written to my teacher saying I would like to take his next course, whatever that might be; he had replied very kindly suggesting I contact him on my return. I sent him an e-mail last week and got no reply, so went into the school, where I was told Herr Dietrich was in fact teaching the class I had taken back in January. I said in that case I really had no idea which course I should sign up for. The person at the desk fell back on the 'I just work here' routine - that is, he too had no idea which course I should take. He proposed another entrance test.

I went off to Möbel-Hübner to read Adorno and seek enlightenment in sofa brochures. At 5am the next day I woke up and suddenly saw that if I went through the same old entrance test it would be a disaster. The entrance test and interview give no scope for showing the level of difficulty of the texts you have read; they give no scope for showing your command, such as it is, of German prose composition. So it's important to take unilateral action. I spent the next four or five hours on unilateral action, took in my essay (which covered Freud's 'das Ich', 'das Es' and 'das Über-ich', Adorno's Entfremdung, Sofas, Integration, the TestDAF and much more), handed it over; the examiner read it and presently started to laugh. She agreed that it was hard to know which level would be best, went over various options and finally recommended the second month of the KDS (Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom), which is the most advanced course they offer, concentrates on literature (unlike the graphics-minded TestDAF), and generally looks like a good thing. I had the slight impression that vice (in the form of shameless namedropping) had been rewarded; consulting with the other examiner, the examiner explained that the candidate had read Adorno, Zweig, usw (and had also had amusing things to say about the TestDAF).

All good but exhausting. There's a whole persona that goes with asking people to make exceptions to rules, trying to bend a bureaucracy: instead of just going into a room, taking a test, doing what you're told, it's necessary to be plausible, confident, outgoing, good-humoured yet sure of entitlement. It takes a lot of energy, not least because one has to fight down embarrassment at what feels like exhibitionism.

In the evening I went out to Pankow for the VHS class on PHP and databases. It's been a long time since I used Windows; the combination of Windows and German made for a sort of befogged bafflement in which small wrinkles in the database became threats to sanity. I left at the break to go to the launch party of Extra Room, a new English-language literary magazine, wandered the black wet streets of Treptow for several miles in high heels, stumbled into the party which had been described as having a 'donation-based entry fee'. This turned out to mean payment of 5 euros was compulsory but if you felt like giving more that would be absolutely lovely - which is the kind of twisted logic that makes any programming language a thing of joy in its own right, regardless of what it can actually accomplish. Heard a few readings, left, was misdirected to a U-Bahn a mile or so away, couldn't buy a ticket with my card, dodged ticket-inexpectors at Alexanderplatz, got ticketless home.


Jenny Davidson said...

Good for you on the unilateral action, though!

Elatia Harris said...

Sounds like February in Berlin -- glad you've slipped back into it.

Anonymous said...

Weee! PHP and databases!

Database theory can be interesting, database programming is a bore and a chore, but I think you should enjoy PHP at least comparatively. It's an attractive language, with some cool features, like allowing you to access array elements without having to count through every entry, like you'd normally do.

There should be some brighter moments later on, but should it ever get dark again do let me know if I can be of any help...