The longer you stay the more first impressions matter. From the San Francisco Bay Area to Germany, the journey of work and travel in Brandenburg begins.
Check out the first Off to Brandenburg! blog to read the story in succession.
The interestingly round shaped Tegel airport showed its face amidst the patches of buildings, tiny houses, and intensely green foliage below. Such a large sprawling city with so much greenery intertwined, now that you just don’t see everywhere. I was ready to be out of the cramped quarters when I was met by a line of people backing up the exit pathway all the way down the corridor to where I could barely step out of the plane. Before a second thought could come to mind, step by step the line moved at a steady pace. A single official-looking terminal labeled ‘Customs’ in German, English, and Russian came closer and closer. It was only a matter of moments until I was up next. The officer released a soul penetratingly stern look as he held his hand out in expectation. He combed through my passport halting suddenly to closely read the page at hand. The silence was deafening. I began daydreaming the many ways that all of this could go down when a loud stamping noise went off 3 times in a row. A reminder to immediately visit the immigration station to finalize the paperwork process for work and travel in Brandenburg rang out of his mouth loud and clear. Once I had my passport and bag in hand, I made my way through the rounded halls of this doughnut-like airport to the pick-up point in the center hole.
A silver classic yet sporty looking German A3 Audi that was moving distinctly slow around the one-way pick-up point took a burst of speed toward the loading zone where I stood. Markus popped out of the car to greet me. We had not seen each other for a few months now and I was certainly relieved to see the face of a great friend in an unfamiliar land. “Wilkommen in Deutschland! It is nice to see you again! How was your flight?” his distinct German accent came out loud and clear with a bit of a rougher sound than when he was in America. We proceeded to hug and began to catch up on life, love, and all of the above as we hopped in the car and took off. The next thing I knew, we were driving up the autobahn making our way through the outskirts of Berlin and into Brandenburg.
Only a few scattered signs indicating a minimum speed limit were to be found in the long sections of the autobahn that held absolutely NO speed limit! Markus certainly showed what his Audi could do as we blazed through and flirted with light speed. A flat landscape of forests, farmlands, and small towns rolled by the windows as we made our way up the autobahn engrossed in conversation. Our exit off the autobahn led us directly to some narrow streets passing through the farmlands and forests lined with a few residential homes or turn offs into various neighborhoods.
As we continued on, a large flat space with random hills covered in grass opened up before us. In a second glance, the extremely unique grass covered hills looked more man-made as opposed to natural. Upon a third close look, each hill seemed to be some kind of grass covered hangar with grass on 3 of the 4 sides and 2 large doors on rails on one side. As we got closer to one of them, it became clear that we were on a rather large former airport. Each grass covered hangar was certainly large enough to cover a small plane. I suppose from above, it would just look like a large flat meadow with no planes in sight.
As the realization that I was in Germany set in, some history that I learned in school did as well. This was physical evidence that years of wars along with the aftermath of war had left imprints on this environment. Whatever happened here in the past, the fact that this old airfield was still here and that it had been transformed into a large spacious park was certainly moving.
We continued our journey toward a rather austere building that looked like it was built out of necessity rather than for some kind of aesthetic appeal. This office building efficiently housed everything you could need including immigration and registration offices, medical insurance offices, a small theater, a bowling alley with a restaurant and bar, and it was also right across the street from a small mall.
The time had come to finalize the paperwork that would allow me to work and travel in Brandenburg. We took a ticket number and waited in the small inlet located in a hall near the immigration offices. After about 30 minutes of awkward staring and listening to two other families chatting away in different languages, we were called into the office and found ourselves face to face with the immigration officer. A larger gentleman peered over his glasses and stood to greet us as we walked in the room. He extended his hand to mine and we had a moment of eye contact and soft smiles. We all then sat down immediately ready to carry out our business.
The officer’s upper lip never even moved. A one-toned sound indicating no emotion just poured effortlessly out of his mouth. He spoke directly to Markus since it was clear that I did not speak or understand what was being said. I smiled and nodded a lot out of just plain nervousness. He took my fingerprints and indicated that I needed to sign some papers to make everything official. The directness in combination with the emotionless one-toned way that he expressed himself caused me to interpret that he was upset with me. Perhaps I had filled something out incorrectly or maybe he is mad that I do not speak German. He proceeded to speak to me catching eye contact with me here and there as he spoke and ended with the extension of his hand to mine for a final handshake.
“Geez, He sounded so angry to me, was he upset that I did not speak enough German? What did he say?!”
Markus started to laugh loudly and uncontrollably as we got into the car. When he finally gathered himself together enough to speak after an obscene amount of time passed waiting in anticipation, he said, “Oh no, Not at all!! He was nothing but friendly and welcoming and he wished you the best in Brandenburg. He also gave us some tips on where we could go to start getting you some German language help.”
I never would have guessed that all that was expressed in the meeting.
How could I have been so off in my interpretation of the meeting? Somehow, I lost focus on what was being said since I did not immediately understand the language. Then I managed to naturally fixate on the tone and lack of facial expression leaving me with a negative overall interpretation of the interaction. A blatantly obvious realization of how much tonality and facial expression played a role in my interpretation of languages rushed over me as Markus started the car and we made our way to the hotel. I was certainly going to need to get used to this straightforward, direct, and one-toned way of speaking sooner than later.
We drove up a main looking street and past a large open and natural looking park when a little downtown area sprung up out of nowhere. The car turned and we squeezed through a very narrow paved path just barely large enough for a full-sized car. A courtyard with an office on the left and an outdoor patio directly attached to a large window-filled and classic looking gathering hall on the right came into view. The pavement abruptly stopped, and a pebble crusted parking area lined by bushes revealed itself straight ahead. We got out of the car and were met by a bustling movement of walkers and bikers making their way through the parking lot to a path. This path continued on to a beautifully arched wooden bridge that led the way over a small river and into the wetland wilds. I proceeded to follow Markus closely as we passed a few guests sitting at some tables outside and talking amongst themselves with expressionless poker faces as they ate and drank.
As we walked into the hotel for the first time, the decoration was historically reminiscent with a combination of Prussian artifacts, classic German woodwork, and a dark green floor. All of these details added to the charm of the hotel that looked like it had made it through many different eras. The hotel staff were caught up in a busy moment with not much time to spare. I could not understand what my future colleagues were saying as they walked by. Each of them seemed to take a minute to stare me down to reach an initial first impression of me, the new American friend of Markus who did not speak German and was here to work. Work and travel in Brandenburg is certainly not a regular occurrence, since the opportunistic city of Berlin tends to naturally draw the most interest.
We made our way to the small kitchen hidden behind a door in the heart of the hotel. The kitchen chef turned to greet me with a customary handshake and a look in the eye. All of the vocabulary that I learned from the German Rosetta stone that I attempted to cram into my brain in the two months prior to arrival, shot right out as the nerves set in. He welcomed me and spoke a sentence or two to Markus before carrying on with preparations for that evening. His rough hands lead up to a creased and weathered brow that pieced together a face commanding respect. An uneasy air of stress and strain seeped out through the sweat of the apprentices desperately seeking a favorable approval of the kitchen chef. His eyes seemed to be everywhere. He would direct comments here and there to particular individuals in the kitchen sometimes eliciting a frantic response of movement. It was as if there was a controlled chaos rushing around in search of efficiency.
This was to be my workplace for the next year and Markus was the only one in the entire hotel who both spoke and understood English.
Next month the story will continue on. In the meantime, the Brandenburg 101 section can help you learn a bit more about the area.
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