How to Vienna: Having Fun with Your German Homework

Learning a language is an enormous mental undertaking, and I think it’s safe to say it might not sound like a blast of a task to most of us who’ve immigrated to another country. Thankfully, thankfully, I found Johanna of Pizzera Sprachakadamie and quickly learned it is, in fact, possible to have fun learning a language, including German. Who knew! I’ve been in and out of courses with her or her school over the last six years and have worked my way up to the C.1 level (on paper) (I confess I don’t think I speak at a C.1 level on a daily basis), and continue to go back for refresher courses.

This summer, I went back to Pizzera Sprachakademie for such a course. My teacher, Ana, was truly amazing and a renaissance woman. I never tired of her knowledge of literature, theater, art, global politics, or feedback. I kinda wish we were besties but let’s be real – she’s way out of my league. She gave us incredibly challenging assignments, but the most challenging, and my personal favorite, was what we presented on our last day of class.

My classmates and I had a week to prepare a piece, entirely written in German, that successfully tied six famous works of art into one creative story using as much from our new vocabulary lists as possible. I am not exaggerating when I say I was beyond intimidated by this homework assignment. Ana is a published author, so I had major inferiority anxiety. My anxiety was so intense, that I actually had a dream about this assignment which miraculously formed the skeleton of my story. I tell you that because I honest-to-goodness dreamed, word for word, the first sentence of my story. Also, up until this assignment, I had not written a lick of fiction since… high school? Maybe? We’re talking at least fifteen-ish years. So I felt very out of practice. But I had a surprising amount of fun and honestly would thoroughly enjoy such a challenge again. It’s entirely possible to have a blast while learning a language, even if the language you’re learning is German, because somehow, through all of the harsh sounding consonants and confusing structure, I think you’ll find a unique beauty unexpectedly emerges from Austria’s language, once you finally grasp its rhythm.

For anyone interested, here is my final homework assignment! It had to be short and tie a bunch of things together, so it’s not exactly a well-developed story. But again, I thought it was super fun and highly recommend any and all language learners out there to try something similar.

Since, I think, the majority of my readers are English speakers, I’ve italicised and bolded the English translation. The story is written in the third-person-singular/third-person-plural, and the pictures I tied to together are at the beginning of each “section”. Also, for my German-speaking friends, I know the quotation marks are different, but I don’t know how to make them on this laptop. So please forgive me.

Die Kleine Trommel/The Little Drum

Peter vermeidet seine Musik zu schreiben.

Peter puts off writing his music.

Seit Jahren haben seine Freunde zu ihm gesagt, “Du solltest Musik oder etwas Schreiben, weil wenn du nichts schreibst, verschwendest du dein Talent. Das wäre sicher schade, Peter. Wirklich schade.”

For years, his friends told him, “You should write music or something. If you don’t write anything, you’re just wasting your talent. And that would be truly unfortunate, Peter. Really unfortunate.”

Er grübelt nach wegen den Worten seiner Freund.

He broods over his friends’ words.

“Das ist zu viel Druck,” denkt er. “Und was für einen Ansporn? Bekomme ich eventuell Geld? Schwärmen die Kritiker über etwas ich geschrieben habe? Nein. Das kann nicht sein, weil ich nichts vollkommenes habe. Ich bin niemand.”

“It’s too much pressure,” Peter thinks to himself. “And what’s my incentive? Could I actually get paid for this? Will the critics rave over what I’ve written? No. It can’t be because I haven’t accomplished anything. I’m no one.”

Im nächsten Zimmer Elisabeth und Maria verdrehen ihre Augen. Ihr Bruder, obwohl er Lieb war, neigt immer seine Gefühle zu übertreiben. Fast jeden Tag sudert Peter über irgendetwas: Der Zimmer ist zu heiß, jetzt ist mir kalt, meine Suppe hat nicht genug Salz, jetzt ist sie zu salzig, … Er klagt endlos, bis er sich komplett mies fühlt.

In the next room, Elizabeth and Maria roll their eyes. Their brother, although kind, tended to exaggerate his feelings. Nearly every day, Peter complains about something: The room is too hot, now I’m cold, my soup doesn’t have enough salt, now it’s too salty,… He complains endlessly until he feels completely miserable.

Die zwei Schwestern, die immer noch bei Peter sind, schauen gerade das Bild von Jesus an. Das Bild gehört Peter und sie verstehen die Bedeutung nicht. Er hat es von einem Künstler gekauft und will es immer bei ihm haben. Er besteht, dass das Bild von Jesus ihn zuhört. Wie? Warum? Was macht Jesus in diesem Bild eigentlich? Trägt er etwas schweres? Ist der Kreis vielleicht ein Donut? Jetzt haben beide Schwestern Hunger. Mahlzeit, Jesus.

The two sisters, who are always around Peter, look right at a picture of Jesus. The picture belongs to Peter and they don’t understand its meaning. Peter bought it from some artist and always wants it right next to him. He insists that the picture of Jesus listens to him. How? Why? What is Jesus actually doing in this picture? Is he carrying something heavy? Is the circle actually a donut? Now both sisters are hungry. Guten Appetit, Jesus.

Peter, dem jetzt total fad ist, denkt weiter und überlegt sich seinen Lebensentwurf. Gerade erinnert er sich an seine Kindheit. Wie die Zeit vergeht. Als er ein Kind war, hat er eine kleine Trommel geliebt. Studen lang hat er getrommelt. Elisabeth und Maria haben seine Musik nicht geschätzt aber das war ihm egal. Er wollte seine Träume verfolgen, um ein Schlagzeuger zu werden. Er wollte nie Musik schreiben. Nur spielen liebt er.

Peter, who now feels totally down and out, reflects on his life plan. He thinks back to his childhood. How time flies. When he was a kid, he loved this one little drum. He’d beat on it for hours. Elizabeth and Maria never truly treasured his music, but he didn’t care. He wanted to follow his dream of becoming a professional drummer. He never wanted to write music — just play.

Er schaut langweilig sein Leben wie ein Werbespot im Fernseher an: Ohne Zweck. Ohne Ziel. Er will es sich gönnen, aber wie, wenn er so viel machen muss? Er denkt an die letzte Zeit, als ihn etwas berühret hat.Es gab einen Tag, als er überfordert war und daran dachte, dass all die Leute in seinem Leben ihn als einen irren Menschen ansehen, weil er in dieser Zeit so verwundbar war. Nach der Arbeit ist er nachhause gegangen und warf einen Stein durch sein Fenster. Das hat ihm eine beruhigende Wirkung gegeben. Vielleicht soll er das heute auch machen.

He boringly looks at his life like a commercial on TV: Without purpose. Without a goal. He wants to enjoy himself, but how can he when there’s so much to do? He thinks back on the last time he truly felt something. There was this one day when he was overwhelmed, thinking that all the people in his life considered him a madman because he was so vulnerable at that time. After work, he went home and threw a rock through his window. That certainly had a calming effect. Maybe he should do that today, too. 

“Ich habe es geahnt!”, ruft Peter zu niemanden, obwohl seine Schwestern alles hören, das er sagt.

“I knew it!”, yells Peter to no one in particular, although his sisters hear everything he says.

“Was genau?”, fragt nur Elisabeth. Maria läuft weg. Sie weiss, was kommt.

“What exactly?”, asks solely Elizabeth. Maria runs out of the room. She knows what’s coming.

“Ich habe es geahnt, dass ihr mich daran hindern werdet, meine Träume zu verfolgen. Ich fliehe von dir und Maria sobald ich genug Kraft habe!”

“I knew you’d prevent me from pursuing my dreams. I’m running from you and Maria as soon as I have enough strength!”

“Ja, klingt gut, Peter,” sagt Elisabeth in trauiger Stimme. “Klingt gut.”

“Ok, sounds good, Peter,” says Elizabeth sadly. “Sounds good.”

Elisabeth ruft nach eine Krankenschwester.

Elizabeth calls after a nurse.

“Heute ist Peter 84 Jahre alt,” sagt Elisabeth in Tränen. “Er glaubt noch, dass er nie ein berühmter Musiker war. Aber doch, es war so. Können sie ihm seine kleine Trommel geben, damit er sich für eine kleine Weile erinnert, wer er in der Vergangenheit war?”

“Today, Peter turns 84 years old,” says Elizabeth through tears. “He still believes he never became a famous musician. But he did. He was! Could you give him that little drum so he can remember, just for a little while, who he was in the past?”

“Sie wissen es doch,” antwortet die Krankenschwester leise, “dass ich nicht erlaubt bi—”

“But you already know,” answered the nurse quietly, “that I am not allowed—”

“Nur für heute!” schreit Elisabeth. “Nur für heute.”

“Just for today!” yells Elizabeth. “Just for today.”

Elisabeth beruhigt sich und steht vor dem Glaszimmer, wo Peter seit den letzten 10 Jahren gelebt hat.

Elizabeth calms herself down and stands before the glass room where Peter has lived for the last 10 years.

Peter vermeidet seine Musik zu schreiben und schlägt seine kleine Trommel mit ruhiger Vertrautheit. Und sein Jesus ist immer noch dabei und hört still zu.

Peter puts off writing his music and plays his little drum with quiet familiarity. And his Jesus is still there, listening quietly.

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