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Berlin 2011

It might seem quite weird to go to Berlin to take an exam in Chinese, but that still was the principal reason for this weekend’s trip to the German capital. I arrived home safely earlier today after a three-day sojourn, and even though I don’t have much to offer by way of visual impressions of my journey (there are some photos on Facebook) , I still want to write a few words about both the test and about Berlin in general.

The test in question is the standard Chinese test used in Taiwan to assess the language level of non-native speakers and I attempted the highest level. I knew beforehand that it would be difficult (results from mock tests lead me to believe that I had a fair chance of scoring around 85%), but it turned out to be more difficult than I thought in two ways. First, it wasn’t easy to get to the test site in the first place. We went there on Friday evening to make sure I knew how to get there the following morning (our hostel was located in the north east, the university is in the south west). I took us little more than one and a half hour to get there and that included some serious detours.

I left the hostel around 7:30 and thought that two hours and fifteen minutes would be enough. It was, but only barely. It turned out that a station that was open during Friday was closed for construction work on Saturday, so I had to improvise a new route. I don’t know much German and if there is one thing I’d like to complain about regarding Berlin, it’s the lack of accurate information for tourists. I asked staff that directed me in the wrong direction, I spent an hour and finally ended up exactly where I started. I gave up and took a taxi to a station that had a direct link to the university. I ran the last kilometre and arrived on the test site five minutes before the test started, winded and a bit annoyed.

I’m going to write a long, Olle-style analysis of the test itself, so I won’t say very much right now, instead I’ll just say that it was harder than I thought and harder than the mock tests. I don’t think I passed, but it might be close. If I pass, it’s because I’m lucky, not because I’m good. And for those who don’t know me very much, I’m not being humble here. The test was really hard and to anyone who has managed it with reasonable grades, respect. This isn’t something anyone will pass without working very, very hard. To summarise, I will (probably) fail because I cannot parse spoken 成語 (idioms) that quickly and I suck at deciphering single sentences without a context. Also, I my reading speed isn’t up to par. I will lose approximately 10/70 points on the reading part because of this and that’s too much. Still, I’m not very disappointed. This is merely a sign that I need to study more, but more about this later.

What about Berlin in general then? Well, it was cold, seemed to consist only of construction sites and suffered from a lack of decently priced restaurants and grocery stores. Berlin did have some nice things to offer, too, such as several museums and some cool buildings (such as Berlin Cathedral and the new Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church). Still, the city wouldn’t have been worth a visit only for these reasons, especially not in mid-November (it was quite cold, especially on Friday). Fortunately, I didn’t experience Berlin alone, but was accompanied by two friends (Martin and Svante). In their company, the overall rating for the journey climbs above “it was worth it” mark. I probably wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t for the test, but I don’t regret going, even if it turns out I botched the test completely.

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  1. simon’s avatar

    Hej. Just found your site through random googling Practical Audio-Visual Chinese and recognized your name from the anki deck I’m using. *erm* Thank you, you’re my hero! orz
    I’m Berlin born and raised, living here again at the moment and studying “Japanology” (thankfully not at the FU, which is where you apparently had to go to take that test, but at the HU). Reading of your problems with public transport I just felt I had to reply to your post, because OMG you’re right. T-T It used to be really great and theoretically it still is, but the Deutsche Bahn who are running half the cities trains started saving money, apparently or something and the end of last year was transportation hell. November was worst of all. I remember trying to get to the main station from where I live on a Sunday. In theory only a 15 minute ride, at least a dozen ways to get there (different trains, busses, whatnot). I gave myself two hours. When I got to my station in the morning, there’d been some accident-malfunctioning-whatever and also construction work. No information whatsoever (so it’s not just no info for tourists!) and when, after an hour of unsuccessfully trying to get where I wanted to go, I asked some DB clerk at the station he just said I couldn’t possibly make it in time. He actually smiled. He was lucky I didn’t have enough time to punch him in the face but had to run for a taxi. So… I can totally feel your “pain”.
    Also, Berlin in November is not a good idea. Totally shitty. Cold, possibly rainy and just *bleugh* – and not yet Christmas illuminations and markets (and possibly snow) to help you get over the fact you chose the wrong season. And yep, Berlin is the world capital of construction siteishness (I kid you not, it’s a perpetual contender for a top spot in the “number of construction sites per squaremeter/city/whatever” lists). That professed “lack of decently priced restaurants and grocery stores”, though, makes me wonder, if you’ve really been here. That’s like THE one major upside of living in Berlin. Everything’s cheap, as in “very low priced, but very good, anyway”. Cheap (really nice) restaurants, cheap grocery stores and markets, cheap clothing, cheap everything. Where have you been, man? ^^; (OK, Dahlem, possibly Pankow, Zoo, you said so. I understand. bah) Next time you feel an urge to come to Berlin just to take a Chinese test (says you’re Swedish in “about”. wtf? don’t they offer them at least in Stockholm? o_O), write me an e-mail and you’ll at least get your belly filled right! (I mean it, btw.) ^^;

    Reply

    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      Hi! Wait, you don’t mean to say that you found me randomly twice, because you just commented my atricle on Hacking Chinese as well, and you couldn’t have found that by google PAVC? :) Thanks for you sympathy, man, it was quite hard to get to the test site. But I did! And I passed the test as well. :) Perhaps I should go back to Berlin in the spring or summer instead? I will definitely send you an e-mail in case I decide to go to Berlin! They only offer the test in Stockholm in the spring and I needed the result ASAP.

      Reply