My internship at Der Tagesspiegel is going well. As an intern, I’m mostly doing “busy work” – formatting articles to be published online and building picture galleries – but I’m getting more and more chances to write! My first week on Thursday afternoon, the editor didn’t have any assignments for me at the moment, so I asked if I could write something. I had been expecting to suggest my own story ideas since I’d heard from other interns here they don’t really give you much chance to write unless you ask for it, so I already had a list of things I wanted to write about that I’d been brainstorming for a while. I suggested my idea to the homepage manager, and she OK’d it, so I went ahead and wrote – in German.
I wrote a fluffy little opinion piece about things I miss about America, namely, public drinking fountains and free public restrooms. The word “toilets” (Toiletten) appears in the article 10 times. The gist of it was that compared to America, Germany is EXTREMELY social. (They get really mad when you call them socialist or socialistic, but can’t argue against “social” because, well, it’s true.) Every parent, regardless of income, gets child support until the kid is 18 – or til 25 if the kid goes to a university. They subsidize everything, from the public transit to the opera. And everybody has health insurance – it’s mandatory. So why oh why do you have to pay to use the toilet in a shopping mall, or have to pay for tap water in restaurants? I mean, you’d think fulfilling basic human needs like drinking water and going to the bathroom would be more important than going to the opera, but that’s German values for you.
The article was published online and generated a surprising amount of commentary – over 50 user comments in the first day, and was the third-most-popular article on our website for a few hours. Because of its unexpected success, they decided to print it in the print version the next day!
I was also spontaneously asked to interview an Australian artist living in Neukölln (a five minute walk from my apartment, actually!) and write a little story about him. Due to time constraints of being a daily, and due to Germans being rather asocial (at least when it comes to interacting with people! Not their politics… hahaha), editors typically call people on the phone for interviews. The interviews usually go like this: “Hi there, Angela Merkel? Yeah, it’s Herr Müller from the Tagesspiegel. What’s your stance on making preschool mandatory for all children over the age of 3? … uh huh … mm hmm… okay, thanks!” VERY different than what I’m used to!
Anyway, I wrote the article, and it actually wound up being published right next to my opinion piece! So I had two bylines in one paper. Pretty cool! I wrote them both in German.
Since then I’ve written a couple of other things that haven’t been published (yet!), and then yesterday I wrote a little piece in English which the other intern helped me translate into German. (I could have translated it myself, but then someone would have had to go through and fix all my mistakes anyway, so it was faster this way.) I wrote “Berlin for Beginners” with some tips for tourists and newcomers in the city, which has also been relatively popular online – at least in terms of people looking at it and commenting. But the comments are incredibly negative! They range from “Humanity doesn’t need articles like this” to “I’m guessing that someone at the Tagesspiegel fell in love with this young ‘Ami’ (American) and felt bad for her and let her write this article” to “no substance – the ariticle isn’t funny and the tips are not useful.” Well, guess what, you snobby Berliners, it wasn’t written for you – it was written for newcomers in the city, hence the title! So that’s a little frustrating. About 3 out of 40 commentors said “I don’t see why you’re being so mean, I thought the article was cute.” But whatever – at least they’re reading me, and forming opinions!
Yesterday me and the other intern were sent out to interview people on the street about the summer holidays ending in Berlin. (Yeah, it’s the beginning of August and kids are going back to school. Unbelievable. At least they only spend half the day there.) I was glad to finally do some “real” journalism rather than just accumulating information from the internet and the wire services, but I was shocked at how private the Berliners were. We introduced ourselves, very friendly, as interns at the Tagesspiegel, which is a very well-known newspaper. We talked to maybe 15 people in two hours. Half had no interest in talking to us. Two-thirds of those who talked to us didn’t want us to use their names, and only one out of the 15 let us take a photo of him. I don’t know what people are so afraid of! But the whole NSA-Scandal has been huge news in Germany – they are EXTREMELY pissed that the American government was monitoring them, and even more so that Ms. Merkel is playing dumb about it – so maybe that’s why they’re so concerned for their privacy. How big of a deal has the NSA surveillance been in American media?
I was also surprised at how rude some of the people on the streets were. Some people, when they didn’t want to talk to us, politely smiled and said “No thank you” or “I’d prefer not to,” but some of them gave us the stone-face and the death-glare and just said “No.” Not exactly encouraging.
It’s a different culture here for sure. I think some of the privateness and rudeness comes from being in a big city, but part of it’s just German or just Berlinish. They have a name, actually, for Berlin rudeness – “die Berliner Schnauze” or literally “the Berlin snout.” While non-Berliners perceive it as very rude, Berliners just think of it as a “very direct way of talking.” Everything’s relative!