Audition tour in Germany week 1: Willkommen in Berlin, Susan!
In case you are new to the blog, we are following Susan on her first audition tour to Germany! Susan has officially arrived in Berlin. Just like any trip to a foreign country, her first couple of days there were overwhelming to say the least. Even if you are someone who has been travelling or practicing speaking foreign languages since you were little, it can still be incredibly daunting to step foot on foreign soil and hear nothing in your native language. But, with a bit of help from her friends, some pastries, and a big coat, she made it through her very first audition in Germany!
"I had a great flight. My parents used to use work conventions as an excuse to take us on a lot of mini-vacations when we were kids. I started getting on airplanes before I could walk. This has resulted in me being the opposite of a nervous flyer. To me, getting on a plane is like a more comfortable version of getting on a bus. It’s all about expectations. I don’t expect the food to be the best food I’ve ever had. I don’t expect the guy randomly seated next to me to be my new best friend. I don’t except the flight itself to be an amazing adventure. I expect to sit here quietly for several hours, watching this movie, reading this book, maybe napping, while people who work here periodically offer me free beverages. For an introvert like me, it’s bliss.
Before I left the U.S., my voice teacher very thoughtfully gifted me a Pimsleur course. Pimsleur is an integrated language learning program online, often used to train employees in government agencies. I’ve been doing that in my apartment every day. Coming up with the right answer when I’m totally calm and alone, and coming up with the right answer in a real life situation with other Germans standing around turns out to be not at all the same kettle of fish.
When I walked off the plane in Berlin and I saw that, “Wilkommen in Berlin” sign, my heart skipped a beat. I’ve thought about coming here since I started studying this language at all of thirteen years old and I am finally, finally here. While I was trying to take in the moment, I got into the wrong customs line, because of course I did. Eventually I got myself sorted out, picked up my baggage, and ran to catch a cab.
I landed at 9:05 pm, local time. Check in time for my apartment was supposed to be at 4 pm. If I arrived from 8-10, there was a 20 Euro fee. If I arrived from 10-12, there was a 40 Euro fee. So, after customs and the baggage carousel, I was in a real rush. I arrived at my new studio apartment at 9:55 pm, just in the nick of time, and met my landlords, who seemed very nice. I signed a copy of my lease agreement, in German, so hopefully I did not sign away my first born. Near as I can tell, it’s a pretty standard short term lease. Everything in this apartment is from Ikea. It’s minimal and adorable and I love it.
The next day was Reunification Day, so most of the shops were closed. I knew that the reunification of Germany was something they celebrated every year, but I did not realize it would be the first full day I was in the country. I walked around looking at things, getting to know my neighborhood. Eventually, I thought to myself, ‘oh, I should eat something.’ I walked around for 2 hours, working up the courage to go order food somewhere. Eventually, I settled on this coffee shop.
“Hello. I would like this apple pastry.”
“We are out of those.”
“But that is what it says right here.”
“It’s mislabeled. Those have cheese inside.”
“Okay, whatever, just give me one of those, please.”
“Do you have any bills that are smaller than this?”
It was a nightmare, basically, and the last time I tried to talk to somebody that day. I, like a coward, made a pack of soup somebody left in this apartment for dinner.
The next day, I had a nice, long panic cry in my tiny bed. Of course my German isn’t as good as I’d like it to be. Of course there are going to be lots of things I don’t totally understand, a lot of conversations I’m going to have to sort of bluff my way through – especially at first. “What exactly made me think I could do this?” I messaged to my best friend. She, in bed sleeping due to the time difference, did not reply.
Jet lag is almost certainly a part of this equation as well. This week, I did a lot of falling asleep at 9 pm, only to wake up at midnight and fail to go back to sleep for a long time. I’m not at my best when I’m not well rested; nobody is. I’m sure that’s a contributing factor to me getting so emotional these first few days.
This is the part of this story where I’ve really got to say, thank God for the internet. In my wanderings the day before, I’d taken some pictures – just of my new street, trees, graffiti – and posted them on social media when I got back to the free wifi in my apartment. Three separate girls I’d known in graduate school saw my post and reached out to me saying things like, “You’re in Berlin? I’m in the next neighborhood over! How long are you here? Let’s go get lunch! Do you have any questions? Let me know if I can help you in any way.”
I was really struggling just then and without the internet, my community would not have been able to locate and assist me. With the internet, they can. I went to brunch with one of them the next day. I cannot tell you how much that helped. She told me this hilarious story about how she mis-gendered the word for cat once. That turns the word “cat” into the swear word, “pussy.” She made me feel way better about my interaction with the donut guy. When learning a new language, you’re going to make a bunch of embarrassing mistakes. There’s no other way to do it. You just have to keep getting back on the horse.
Friday was my first audition in Germany. I practiced my slate in German over and over again. “Hallo, ich heiße Susan. Ich möchte Les oiseaux dans la charmille aus Les Contes d’Hoffmann von Jacques Offenbach singen.” I kept flipping aus and von - probably because von sounds a lot like from. Eventually it occurred to me that those two words go in alphabetical order. I reviewed how to say, ‘This is my first audition in Germany.’ “Heute ist meine erste Vorsingen in Deutschland.” Ya know, just in case that came up. I got on the bus and rode it all the way downtown, 45 minutes. Berlin is a beautiful city. I’d been too busy being a baby to see much of it yet, but it really is lovely.
They were running about 30 minutes behind at the auditions. It was raining really hard outside. Some of the other singers waiting to audition were actually British, so I chatted with them some. I kept my big coat on while I was waiting – a big coat can feel like armor. When it was my turn, I walked in all ready to do my slate for these 20 German agents when the guy running the show said, “So what would you like to sing?” in English. It seemed like bad manners to respond in German when he’d asked me in English, so I just slated in English like I normally would. They said they might stop me after the first verse, but then I started singing and I’d worked in all these winks and funny robot gestures – some of them even laughed! They let me do the whole thing. Then they asked for a second piece, my Italian, and that also went really well. I walked out feeling really good. One of the girls who was waiting for her own audition said, “Hey. That was fantastic.” I know she’s not an agent or a casting director, but that was really sweet of her to say – especially because she didn’t have to say anything. I thanked her and basically skipped my way home.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a first week, but I’m on my way."
You are WELL on your way Susan! Congratulations for having your first German audition in the books! It can only get better and easier from here.
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Feel free to share her story with your friends and be sure to comment with any advice you have from your travels abroad! Danke!
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