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Exploring Erfurt

As I spent the weekend not doing a fat lot, I decided to go into Erfurt this Monday. As I believe I have previously mentioned, Erfurt is the capital city of Thüringen, and is my closest city. I am loathe to describe it as my closest big city, seeing as at home my closest big city is Birmingham, which definitely counts as big, whereas Erfurt, to me, does not.

Despite using the ticket machine in English, I still manage to end up with a ticket which wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Yes, it would get me to and from Erfurt, but I’m pretty sure I bought a ticket that meant I could get on any train going anywhere in Thüringen… So €22 later, I got on the train and headed to Erfurt.

Part of Erfurt is called Anger, which amused me greatly, leading to me taking a fantastic photo of a Burger King sign.

ImageThen I had a wander, attempting to aim for the main shops. I ended up way away from where I wanted to be. Last time I was that far from where I was trying to be, I was on my Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition, and ended up walking for 13 hours in a day. Thankfully, Erfurt has maps handily posted around, and after walking past what felt like every single church, every single hairdressers and the rather cool looking  building below, I finally found the shopping area.

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Whilst wandering the shops, I discovered that apparently the 70s is in (fig. a), some mannequins who would get very cold if they braved the German winter (fig. b) and a rather fabulous hat that would have set me back €130.

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Fig. a

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Fig. b

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Fig. c

The weather was fantastic, and Erfurt is very pretty. I actually managed to find shops that I could afford (Hello, C&A) as well as being watched very carefully in one department store after I tried on the fabulous hat. I got stopped by a charity person, and after I said “Sorry, I’m English”, he actually switched to English, which was a surprise. He was very lovely, though skeptical about the fact that I was spending a year in the area (pretty much my reaction when people tell me they’ve deliberately moved to Walsall) and despite the fact he had no idea where Brimingham is, he was very enthusiastic about my home country. Which is always nice to hear.

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Kids and Other Animals.

My first week at the school was punctuated by children asking me what animals were called in English, namely hedgehogs and squirrels. The thing is, if they weren’t pointing at a picture of the animal in question, I had no idea what they were talking about, so to counter this I have made a vocab list. I really hate learning vocab so I hope you can appreciate a) how frustrating I’m finding it when I don’t understand the children and b) just how little I have to do at weekends.

To do this, I took about five children’s books on nature out of the library, and went on sat on the hill at the back of my accommodation in the sunshine, getting comments from German passerbys that I couldn’t understand. I think the fact that I was chuckling to myself didn’t really help. But I thought I would share the entertaining animal names with you, purely because I want to. So strap in, and prepare to be amused. Also prepare for possible over use of the phrase ‘it’s funny because’.

Rhino – das Nashörn

Literally mean nose horn, and it’s directness as a name amuses me.

Aye aye – das Fingertier

Literally means finger animal, and again, the frankness of the name amuses me.

Sloth – das Faultier

Literally means lazy animal, and really, doesn’t that suit a sloth down to the ground?

Ladybird – das Marienkäfer

Okay, so this one amused me because it’s so different to the English. Though it literally means spotted beetle, which definitely fits with a ladybird.

Shark – der Hai

So to me hai means two things. One, it’s yes in Japanese and Two, it’s how I misspell hi on facebook chat all the time. The fact that it has these other connotations makes me laugh.

Seahorse – das Seepferdchen

-chen is a diminutive suffix in Germany, and for those who don’t study German, See is sea and pferd is horse. So it literally means a small sea horse. Okay, so it’s not amusing in English. But it was to me in German.

Armadillo – das Gürteltier

It’s funny because it literally means belt animal.

Platypus – das Schnabeltier

Of all the things that are weird about a platypus, the Germans decided to focus on the beak, naming it beak animal.

Hippo – das Nilpferd

The horse of the Nile. Good old Germans, with the saying what they see version of naming things.

Dandylion – der Löwenzahn

Okay, it’s not an animal, and it’s more interesting rather than amusing, but it literally means lion tooth.

In compiling this list, I feel that what I’ve really proved is that odd things amuse me and that things aren’t funny in translation… Hopefully you were at least a little amused by them, and aren’t just wondering if I ought to get my sense of humour checked out.

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Kathryn’s School Report

Tuesday

Description of day: I walked to the school, after stressing out too much about what I’d do if the bus was late. Getting there at 7.30 was rather a shock to the system, but I made it and was even a little early. The first teacher to arrive at the staff room thought I was a teacher, which was kind of awkward, especially as I didn’t have a child in tow.
I spent the day with Class 1&2 a, who had German and then Sport. They also have quite a glamorous looking teacher. We started with circle time and I was introduced to the class, who were confounded by my name. After everyone having to say how they were and why (‘Mir gehts gut, weil ich in die Schule bin’ was my stellar contribution), the class began their German work, which I was no help with. I got lost on my way to the gym and missed the beginning of Sport, but as I was only observing, rather than helping them with their kids version of the Olympics.

Though I was then finished for the day, I ended up helping in an English class, in which they were learning about pets, with vocab including tiger and duck. When asked to talk about a pet and colour, I rather failed spectacularly and talked about a brown horse, rather than a pink tiger, which would have been much more interesting.

Teacher comment: Kirstin was very lovely and very smiley. I’m also jealous of her hair.

English perspective: There’s a stall on my way to the school that sells wurst and beer from around 7am. Gotta love Germany.

Wednesday

Description of day: I was with Class 1&2 b and started with English. Again, the kids were bemused by my name, but soon got over it, when we moved on to playing games with vocab regarding school and colours. After the breakfast break, they moved onto German and I went round the class helping with spelling and the alphabet – this the day after I’d blogged about not knowing the German alphabet terribly well. According to one six year old the alphabet goes a, b, c, d, e, z – which I must admit makes it a lot shorter to remember.  I also helped with maths, though as the year 1s are currently learning how to write numbers, my help was more to do with which way round a 6 goes, rather than any actual mathematics.

I had a five minute conversations with a seven year old, during which time he managed to ask me where I was from, what my home town was called, why I’d talked so fast in their English class (I said three sentences, and I thought I’d talked quite slowly), who the Bundeskanzlerin in England is (trying to explain that we have a Queen and a Prime Minister is really hard, as I don’t know how to say Queen or Prime Minister in German), how to say England and seven in Russian (because it’s good to know how to say things in Russian, apparently), what was my necklace (it’s a heart that was my Mom’s), do I not have a Mom any more, how did I have no brothers, what were the things on my back (they’re scars, which to be honest, most of the time I forget I have), and what happened to give me scars (trying to explain spots is really hard – he thought I meant freckles and I may now have scared him). It was all in German and very entertaining, though he was meant to be doing work at the time… I also kept being called over by one boy even when he didn’t need help. I think he just liked my broken German. At least I can now say ‘you don’t need me, you can do it by yourself’ in grammatically correct German.

I started having school dinners on this day, something I never did when I was at primary school. Although it’s not the best food in the world, it’s decent enough and it’s no worse than anything I can cook. It also makes a change from pasta and toast. While in the cafeteria, a couple of adults at the school came up to me all excited, and introduced themselves in their best English. It’s really nice to see adults, who learned English as adults, enthusiastic about a foreign language. I’ve rarely met people who spoke a foreign language who didn’t start it at school, and it was just really touching.

Teacher comment: Bettina was, again, lovely, even when throwing me into the deep end with the German alphabet.

English perspective:  A seven year old girl asked where I came from, and when I said England, she said that I didn’t sound like I was from England. I’m hoping that means my German pronunciation is good and not that I sound American.

Thursday

Description of day: Class 1&2 c were the most boisterous class I’d come across; I was genuinely worried I was going to come away from the day with tinnitus. We started with circle time (Mir gehts gut, weil gestern ich mit meinem Papa gesprochen habe) and then moved onto German and Maths. Again, I was helping the class, checking they were doing their work, and answering questions on what they were meant to do. After the breakfast break, the kids got changed and we headed to the town park for Crosslauf (crosscountry). There were four races: the boys from class 1, the girls from class 1, the boys from class 2 and the girls from class 2. They were all very excited and properly went for it. I got asked to take photos, and it turns out that some of them were good enough to be printed out for a display on it.

I found out that there is someone roughly my age at the school and that his name is Tom. However, he finishes on Friday, as he’d only been there for a month doing work experience. Only slightly crushed that the cute trainee wasn’t going to be at the school much longer, I ended up talking to the second English teacher, who’d been ill earlier in the week. She’s lovely and reminds me of one of my great aunts. (That’s a good thing by the way; I get on very well with my great aunts.) Then, at lunch I sat with Nelly, the teacher of Class1&2 c, and she suggested a couple of ways of meeting people my own age, and was generally very nice and friendly.

Teacher comment: Nelly is lovely (are you sensing a theme here?) and I like her a lot.

English perspective:  Some of the children have started to call me Katrin, because they can’t handle Kathryn. Katrin is, apparently, the German version of my name, so it does make sense. It does take me a while to respond though, unused to this germanised form of my name. It’s weird enough having everyone call me Kathryn and not Kat.

Friday

Description of day: With Class 1&2 d, circle time was interesting, as some of the kids already knew who I was so when the teacher started to introduce me, they butted in. There was also a new boy starting that day, so I wasn’t the only new face that day. I spent the day doing Maths and German with Michael, a boy capable of doing work but lacking the motivation to finish anything. He was ingenious at coming up with ways of getting out of work, but somehow I managed to get him to finish everything he was meant to, even with time to do “free learning” at the end of the class. He was very helpful in telling me what animals were called in German and was eager to read out loud to me.

In the breakfast break I found out I was actually in the wrong class, but the teacher I was meant to be with was very understanding and nice about it. I’d gone to the classroom in the right place but on the second floor not the third. This school is fairly small and I’ve already gotten lost twice.

Teacher comment: Ina was, again, very lovely, and even suggested that we go out for a meal or something next week, to which I was super enthusiastic and I hope it actually happens.

English perspective: There’s a stereotype that Germans are punctual, and I’m not here to disabuse you of that. In fact, I would almost go so far as to say that it’s a fact not a stereotype. So imagine my surprise when, on finding out that I either have to get a bus that gets me to the school way early or be late, the headteacher said it was fine if I was late. I’m not going to take her up on it – it feels really wrong to do so – but it’s super nice of her to offer that.

End of week homework: Make a list of animals in English and German, because if one more child asks me what something is called in English and I don’t know the German, I shall scream.

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Let’s talk about schools

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A picture of my school somewhat obscured by a tree.

So, as it’s highly likely my next few posts will revolve around the school I’m working in, I feel like I should explain the German school system, or at least the Thüringen school system, as well as specifically talking about the school I’m working at. The Bundeslände (states) of Germany all have their own ministries for education and as such dictate their schooling separately.

Firstly, the children go to Kindergarten, from ages 3-6, and then at the grand old age of 6, they begin actual schooling. Whereas English kids go to Primary school at age 5 (age 3 if you count nursery), German kids start at a Grundschule (primary school) a year later than their English counterparts. Then, after four years at a Grundschule, they move up to either a Regelschule (like a comprehensive school), a Gymnasium (like a grammar school) or a Berufschule (not entirely sure Britain has an equivalent). And there they study until various ages ranging from 16-19, the leaving age depending on which of the kind of school they go to.

I am working in a state Grundschule, so I am in a typical primary school, with kids aged 6-10, who are pretty much exactly the same as kids aged 6-10 in Britain. They want to tell you about what they did at the weekend, how many brothers and sisters they have and which character they play as on Mario Kart.

The school’s motto is ‘every child is extraordinary and very important’, and this bears out in the number of children with special needs at the school. Combined with the fact Years 1&2 and Years 3&4 are together, which means that there’s a huge array of work being done at once in any given class. The two different years (1&2 or 3&4) have different work set for each class, and those children who have special needs also have different work. I’m not sure what effect this has on the teachers, but it keeps me on my toes.

The school day starts at 8am with circle time and the lessons last varying amounts of time, but the day finishes at around 1pm. There’s a breakfast break at round half nine, and then dinner time begins at roughly 11.30, though not all of the children eat lunch straightaway. The cafeteria is small, so the sittings have to be staggered. Furthermore, the majority, if not all of the children, have cooked school dinners.

All of the classes have named after something occurring in nature, including rainbows, dandylions and forests. It’s confusing for me, because it means it’s difficult to find which class I’m meant to be in when all I know is what year they are. As I said, there’s Year 1&2 and Year 3&4, which are further split into five separate classes.

Each class has a permanent teacher but English classes are only taken by one of two teachers. Both of them are lovely, though one of them speaks to me exclusively in English, and the other only switches to English when I’m looking at her blankly because I have no idea what she’s just said auf Deutsch.

I’m hoping I’ve covered everything important, and that subsequent posts make sense. I think the main thing to take away is that I’m working at a primary school, and while some aspects of the school may be different to what you’re used to (wherever you’re from), kids are the same world over.

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It’s as easy as A,B,C.

I love alphabets. I really do. I enjoy learning them. The rest of the language learning process can be less fun, but alphabets are excellent. When I was at school I had to learn Japanese, so that was three alphabets to be going on with (Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji). Then I went to uni and did beginners Russian, so I can read Cyrillic, and then because I was crazy, in my second year I did beginners Arabic, so that was yet another alphabet.

But Kat, I hear you cry , where are you going with this? Surely the German alphabet is the same as the English alphabet? And yes, handily outspoken reader, it is, when you’re writing it. Pronunciation is different. I mean, mostly they’re pretty similar, but there’s the odd ones that just catch me out every time. I can spell my name, that’s pretty easy: car – are – tay – har – air – upsilon – en. Also, the upsilon (aka ‘y’) makes it fun to spell. But as a general rule I am terrible at remembering the German alphabet, mostly because I never need to use it .My absolute least favourite letter in German is ‘w’, as I’m sure any of you who have heard me try to say ‘WG’ can testify to. Firstly, I can never remember how to say it and secondly, even when I’m told, I get it wrong.

So bearing this in mind, today when I had to set up a bank account without an English speaking person at my side, and I had to give my email, it almost went horribly horribly wrong. For one thing, I couldn’t remember what full stop/dot is in German and the nice Bank lady had to remind me that it’s ‘punkt.’ Then I got to the ‘j’ in my email address and it all fell apart. ‘J’ is yacht. Honest. That’s how you say it. And I could not for the life of me remember. Cue a silent minute which finally ended with me yelling ‘yacht’ in a mostly empty bank, so excited that I’d remembered. After that it went fairly well, except for when I couldn’t pronounce ‘u’ to a satisfactory German standard. Oh, and when I had no idea what the @ symbol is called in German. Does anyone know? Is it one of life’s mysteries? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure it’s up there with where do hair grips disappear to and why on earth does turbulence on an aeroplane send me to sleep?

What I’m trying to say is that although I could write a love letter to the German language about so many aspects of it, the alphabet is right up there on my hate list, along with the passive and the subjunctive. Possibly above the passive and the subjunctive. Which is really saying something.

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Die Kathryn goes to school

So today I went back to primary school. While I was at school, my Mom used to take a photo of me in uniform on the first day of every school year, up to sixth form. So somewhere, in the depths of my parents’ photograph albums, you can find pictures of me from ages 6-16, getting progressively taller and more embarrassed by this tradition. However, traditions are good, so have a photo of me on my first day of school in Ilmenau.

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In actuality, this photo is from the night before my first day at school. I made the executive decision that there was no way I was getting up even earlier to continue the tradition. But that is what I wore on my first day of school, so I’m sure Mom’ll understand.

So after getting up at 6am, which is the earliest I have ever got up for school, I decided to walk, because I was worried the bus wouldn’t come and I’d be late. As it turns out, I was early and had to skulk outside the staffroom until a teacher turned up. Going into the staffroom still feels weird, even though I was never a pupil at this school. I had to ask permission though, because the teacher who arrived first thought I was a parent – and parents aren’t allowed in the staffroom.

By decree of the Ministry of Education in Thüringen, I have to spend two weeks observing classes and getting to know the kids. So each day this week I’ll be in a different class. Today I was in Klasse 1/2 a, so I was with 6-7 year olds, and one of the most glamorous looking teachers I’ve ever seen, whose name I forgot the instant she told me.

We started with circle time, but before I was properly introduced to the children, a couple of girls asked me what my name was. At Karl-Zink I am officially ‘die Kathryn’ (You see that article at the start? That means I’m female. In case there was any doubt.), so I said my name was Kathryn. Apparently this is not a name and the girls didn’t believe me. Course, as soon as their teacher said it, it was gospel. Ah, the issues of having a name Germans can’t pronounce. But yes, circle time, where we had to say how we were and why – Mir gehts gut, weil ich in die Schule war, in case you were wondering – followed by Deutsch. The problem with children, lovely though they are, is that they tend to believe all staff in a school are infallible, and as such, all speak perfect German. Which, as you may have guessed, I don’t. So trying to understand the kids fast enough and well enough to reply appropriately was hard. And after a while they stopped asking me what to do when they were finished, because it was obvious I had no idea.

We had the Frühstuckpause (breakfast break) where I was shown the kettle and told to help myself to tea – pineapple and coconut tea is not good, just fyi. I was given a cone of sweets because it was my first day of school (that’s what the kids get in Germany for going back to school, it’s awesome, England should introduce it) and I handed over the mountain of tourist stuff I’d brought from England. I was told to keep the postcards relating to Walsall (my home town) and the kids’ history of The Black Country, so I could use them to introduce myself to the kids when I started actually working, but the pile of postcards of London and the Horrible History of Great Britain were taken off my hands.

After the break, the class I was with had Sport, so I got lost on my way to the gymnasium, while the kids had a whale of a time, messing around with footballs, skipping ropes and hula hoops. When I finally found it, they played a version of Stuck in the Mud where once you’re tagged, you cannot be freed. Then they did some fitness type exercises, which really made me miss netball training and Quidditch. For those who are surprised to see Quidditch in that sentence, yes, I play Quidditch, no, we don’t fly, and yes, it is hella fun. (Please forgive the use of hella. I’m missing freshers week in Nottingham and all the Quidditch events that I can’t go to are making me sad. Apparently I go gangsta when sad. Is hella even gangsta?)

It turned out that, by this point, I’d done four hours and I was only meant to do three, so I ended up helping out in an English class, because what else was I going to do? Go home and blog? Oh, wait…. English was interesting. They were learning about pets, and I was dreading that they were going to asked me what blahblahblah was in English, because I know very few animal names in German. Haven’t needed them since year eight, so they’ve sort of fallen out of my brain.  But it was all fine, went well, and the word Walsall confused them. Didn’t have the heart to tell them it confuses British people too. (So many people think I’m from Warsaw. Apparently I even look Polish.)

Other notable events from the school are that from now on I’m going to have cooked meals at lunch from the canteen and I’ve basically picked all the very German/Russian sounding ones, because why not? It’s going to cost €2.15 a day, and you can’t argue with that. Well, I’m sure you can, but let’s not. Oh, and I might be proofing the Thüringen equivalent of the year 6 English SATs, because of reasons that I don’t fully understand. I’ll let you know how that goes.  One final thing is that I keep being introduced as the new Becky. Becky was the last Foreign Language Assistant, and in her emails she does seem lovely. I just wish I wasn’t ‘the new Becky’, mainly because these introductions keep going ‘Oh yeah, she’s the new Becky except she [insert German I don’t understand here]’. I’d be a lot less skittish about it, if I knew they were saying something like ‘ she’s the new Becky except she’s taller’, or ‘she’s the new Becky except she wears glasses.’ Ah well, I can live in hope, right?

But yeah, I was a bit aimless for most of the day, because observation of classes doesn’t really leave much room to actually do anything. Especially when you watch two hours of sport. It is, however, really tiring. Who woulda guessed? Though I do now have a new best friend. Her name is Leonie and she’s good at jumping. She’s also six, so I guess the raves will have to wait.

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Adventures wanted; please apply within.

This weekend, adventures have been thin on the ground, but even though I’m sure you’re all thoroughly fed up of hearing about my solitary escapades in Ilmenau, I have yet to start work and my flatmates are still AWOL at weekends, so my solitary, fairly low key, possibly not that interesting escapades in Ilmenau are still the order of the day. As a warning, despite the lack of adventures, this post is fairly long. Sorry, I got distracted by the elections and how Germans can’t say my name.

Friday and Saturday

On Friday, I managed to actually successfully obtain the washing machine room key. The way it works here is that you book a day and a floor on which you wish to use the washing machine, and then you go early on that day, pay and take the key. It turns out that 8 is not early enough, so instead of being able to use the machine on my floor, I now have the key to the fifth floor washing machine room. But it’s all good. Washing is washing, no matter what floor it’s on. The washing room is fairly Spartan, with a washing machine and almost enough washing lines to make me want to pretend to be a master thief and try and sneak from one side of the room to the other without disturbing the lasers… I mean, the washing lines.

I’ve also discovered that using Facebook uses up very little internet data (At least, only using the chat does) so my internet presence will probably be increasing. Happily, I discovered this in time to talk to the awesome people I’d met on the training course. It’s nice to talk to people and not have to remember there’s a time difference. Concurrent to this, I now have credit on my German sim card, so I’ve switched over to that now. Really ought to find out how much it is to text England… I know they do special deals on texting Turkey, but as I know no-one in Turkey this doesn’t help me at all.

Changing the subject entirely, Germany has a general election on Sunday. Since I’ve been here, there have been election posters everywhere. Most of them are photographs of the politicians – the guy from SPD looks fairly trustworthy – but some of them have slogans. My favourite is ‘Teilen macht Spaß – Millionär Steuer’ which means ‘Sharing is fun – taxes for millionaires’. There are quite a few parties here in Germany but the main ones campaigning in Ilmenau are the SPD, Die Linke, and the CDU. However, there are a couple of posters of the NPD, which is basically the BNP of Germany. (For any readers not from the UK, it’s the racist party who want to send everyone back to where they came from. Don’t know if that includes those of us with Viking, Roman or Norman blood in us.) And I am delighted to inform you that the only election posters that have been graffitied on are those of the NPD. You go Ilmenau, four for you. There’s also the Piratenpartei (the Pirate party), who, as far as I can work out, are pro privacy on the Internet. They also seem to be exclusively targeting young voters, which makes sense, seeing as their main policies regard the internet and traditionally older citizens care less about the internet. Whilst still on the subject of elections, our flat got a free copy of Das Bild today, all about the elections. I’m fairly dubious about reading Das Bild, seeing as it’s a tabloid in the vein of The Sun and the Daily Mail, but a) it was free b) it’s about the elections which I’d like to know about, and c) the language is really easy. The first article is all about why you should vote, which is actually pretty decent, and there’s also an article about how people in the GDR marched for free votes, which is highly relevant, seeing as I’m living in what used to be part of the GDR. However, one of the main articles is famous ish people putting questions to Angela Merkel (the current chancellor) and Peer Steinbrück (who I believe is the leader of the SPD). These include such excellent, politically informed questions like ‘would you rather be a cowboy or an Indian?’, ‘when you’re hungry, what food do you think of?’ and ‘if you could go to any planet, which would it be?’ The last of these has my favourite answer, representing Herr Steinbrück running out of patience with the inane questions, which is ‘I am not Captain Kirk, but rather I want to become chancellor!’

A couple of posts ago I said I was watching a TV series  auf deutsch which is called Echte Menschen, and I’m still working my way through it, but three episodes in, I got fed up of the subtitles being different to the speech. So I’ve been watching it without subtitles. This is weird, ‘cause I normally put the subtitles on even when watching English speaking DVDs. It’s definitely helping with my listening, because it means that even when I’m by myself, I’m still hearing German for some of the time. Also, it’s a good TV series, which always helps.

Saturday evening I went to a bar by myself. It was one of the most depressing evenings of my life, and those of you who know me in real life will know that that’s a hotly contested title. (I feel like I should point out that I am exaggerating, before I get panicky texts from my family.) But yeah, spending an hour by myself in a pub wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had. It was a music café and bar, but it wasn’t anything like I was expecting.  For those lucky enough to know Nottingham, I was basically expecting The Malt Cross. For those not so blessed, I was pretty much expecting a decently sized bar, fairly family friendly, and prettiness. In reality it was a tiny tiny bar with coloured lighted panels, selling double spirits as standard. I mean, I liked it, it was good. I felt like I fitted in more there than at the Malt Cross. Would probably be better if I went with people though. There’s also a bar with a robot bartender somewhere in this town, which I have a desperate need to find soon, because it sounds fantastic.

Sunday and Monday

Sunday has been a red letter day. Firstly, someone smiled at me in the street. This, although it sounds like a weird thing to be excited about, is huge, because up until now, I’ve basically been ignored every time I’ve offered a smile to a stranger. I also finally saw someone in my building who doesn’t live in my flat AND they said hi. Considering Sundays are normally fairly slow what with everything being shut and my flatmates being not here, two people acknowledging my existence is pretty awesome.

On a slight downer, I am officially getting a cold. I thought maybe I’d held it back with lots and lots of tea and Vita Cola (“cola with a citrus kick” – coke and orange juice basically, and yes, it tastes as bad as you’d expect), but no, a cold is definitely making an appearance. Happily, a) I have enough cold and flu medication to knock out a whole field of horses, b) I now know where I can go to drown my sorrows, and c) I’ve discovered Rosinenzopf – sweet bread with raisins and almonds – which is delicious and takes my mind off the cold.

The other thing I did today was start to make a list of places I want to visit this year. Thus far I have Leipzig, Dresden, Munich, Weimar and Nuremburg. Also Prague and Warsaw. Please send any other suggestions on the back of a postcard please. Or in the comments. You know, whichever’s easiest.

First thing I did on Monday was register with the local authorities. Finally. I’d been waiting on a letter from my uni that proved I went there, because last time I went to the town hall they said I needed one. This time, however, it wasn’t even asked for. I thought German bureaucracy was meant to be efficient. Unless it’s just that the Germans meant to be bureaucratic and efficient, with no overlap between the two.

My plan for the rest of the day was initially to go to Erfurt, but what with it being an hour journey I decided to potter around Ilmenau for the umpteenth time. I visited pretty much all of the clothes shops and I’m here to tell you that turquoise and mustard are in this season. Though not together, obviously. The shops are nice though they do fall into two camps. 1) So cheap you know anything bought from there is going to fall apart within two weeks, and 2) just expensive enough that I can’t justify buying anything.

I ended up in what’s becoming my favourite café, surrounded by old people giving me judging looks. I think I may have accidentally crashed an unofficial 75 years and upwards coffee morning. But it’s my favourite café, what you gonna do? Course, it is only my favourite café because it has free wifi… Ah well, it appears to make me like your café you must only have free internet, and to get me to go in your shop have something sparkly in the window. Unless you’re the library. The library here is small and looks unloved by the council, but I have now joined. There’s an English section, which is mainly aimed at teenagers, so most of the books are Young Adult Fiction that I didn’t want to read in England. I did get weird looks when I went into the kids section, but let’s be honest – my brain can only cope with the German novels we read at university because there are about twenty other people with whom I can discuss what’s going on in the plot. The librarians were lovely though, even when I had to get them to repeat how long I could take books out for, because my brain blanked on what Woche means. (It means week. I’m so good at this foreign language business.) They even asked if I went by my first or middle name, which has never happened to me before, and they pronounced my name correctly, which is some kind of miracle. Though most of you know me as Kat, my full name is, in fact, Kathryn. The ‘th’ represents somewhat of a challenge to the Germans, as the sound doesn’t exist in the German language. Maybe I should just employ my younger cousins’ tactics of replacing the ‘th’ with a ‘f’. Least that way I won’t get blank looks when I introduce myself.

Anyway, I did end up giggling to myself in one shop because they were selling Yazy, the game, and having never played it, Yazy is forever linked in my brain to this Humon comic: http://satwcomic.com/not-a-yahtzee (For those of you unaware, Humon sometimes makes comics of countries interacting, and they’re often hilarious.) Possibly looked a little weird laughing over a game, but never mind. Me and my friends look pretty weird playing Uno in a pub at home, and we still do that. Talking of weird, there were some English speaking tourists in town, and I felt myself gravitating towards them, trying to convey my Englishness by how I walked and fiddled with my phone. I think what today has proved is that starting work cannot come too soon. By happy coincidence, I begin tomorrow. I have to be at the school for 7.30am in order to meet the teachers, though every day after that I don’t have to be in till 8am. I still don’t want to think about when I’m going to have to get up to be in on time. So wish me luck, let’s hope the weird levels go down as soon as I have something to do, and fingers crossed that I manage to wake up on time.

2

To boldly go

This week I went to training for being an English Language Assistant this year. Firstly, this meant getting up at an ungodly hour in order to make the five hour journey from Ilmenau to Cologne, which is where we were being picked up. It turns out that getting up at half six is surprisingly easy; it’s the staying awake that’s the problem. But somehow I managed to stumble bleary eyed to the railway station and get on the right train.

Three trains, five hours and two chatty old ladies later, I arrived in Cologne. I made my way to a café in order to take advantage of their free wifi (for those of you not privy to my endless moaning, I have restricted internet access here in Germany) and to play spot the English assistant. Hints leading to success in this game include listening in on conversations to see if the people are speaking English and deciding if their suitcases are big enough to hold a year’s worth of stuff.

Eventually, I had to go in search of the meeting point. With 90 odd twenty something year olds standing around in the main atrium of Cologne station, it wasn’t hard to find. I’d say plucking up the courage to ask someone if they were a Language Assistant was difficult, but after having to try and sort out internet in German by myself, asking someone a simple question in my native tongue wasn’t hard.

The double decker coach seemed to take forever to get us to Maria in der Aue, which was where we were staying for the three days, and it was also the second nosiest place I’ve ever been in; the first being the bar on the last night of this course. With most people sitting next to people they’d never met before, everyone was talking, trying to make friends, and to keep a conversation going for an hour.

We’d not been given any information about where we were staying or what to expect, and although I suppose I could have googled it, I didn’t. So, being perfectly honest, I was expecting a hostel, with dormitory type bedrooms. I even brought Haribo with me, in case the meals were terrible. I was wrong. Oh so wrong. It was a proper hotel, with twin bedrooms, and meals three times a day where you could help yourself to as much of the gorgeous food as you wanted. And there was a coffee break each afternoon with cake.

With everyone trying to make friends, and the point of the first day being getting to know people, it felt a lot like Freshers. But with less clubbing and more German geography. The weirdest point of the first day was definitely finding out that my roommate for the week had shared a house last year with one of my best friends from high school. It is indeed a small world after all.

The point of this course was to prepare us for the year, so there were sessions on how the school system worked in each Bundesländer (state) and simulated lessons, where we got into groups and then prepared and delivered a lesson, on a topic of our choosing to an age group of our choosing. Real teachers gave us feedback, and mostly it was positive, which was reassuring.

Of course, as is always the way, the main things I learnt weren’t really to do with teaching. I learnt that I have to watch and read Game of Thrones, that kiwi fruit can be a huge talking point, and that the Canadian accent is glorious. The latter came about because it wasn’t just British language assistants on the course – there were Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians and people from the Republic of Ireland thrown in for good measure.

Germany is the only country to offer such a course, and I’ve got to say, I’m really glad they do. Last week I was having a bit of a wobble; wishing I was at home and wondering why on earth I was in Germany. (Shhh – don’t tell Dad.) But spending three days surrounded by other people doing exactly the same, and making friends with them has reassured me greatly. For the first time, I’m actually excited about this year, which makes a change from the stomach gnawing nervousness that has been my general feeling towards it in recent months. So I am now prepared to boldly go to the school on Tuesday and start work. I mean, it’s not a different planet, but I feel it’s worth the split infinitive.

2

Little Red Riding Hood and other tales.

The title of this blog post is a reference to the fact that I went a-wandering in the woods whilst wearing my red hoodie, and the reference amused me for at least 15 minutes. But yes, things that I have done during my second week in Germany:

  1. Walked in the woods. Lots. It always feels weird coming back out ‘cause it feels like I’ve been gone for ages. Maybe I just read too much Narnia as a kid.
  2. Figured out how the buses work. Shockingly, they’re surprisingly similar to English buses, with a mix of nice and surly drivers, stop buttons that say stop and old people who talk to you even when you have no idea what they’re talking about.
  3. Watched the entirety of S1 of Dollhouse, the complete S3 of Being Human, half of Alice by the Syfy channel, all of the episodes of Firefly with commentary, the entire S1 of 2 Broke Girls (some of it in German) and 9 films.
  4. Read ‘The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making’ by Catherynne M. Valente (who is just showing off with the spelling of her name), ‘The Stupidest Angel’ by Christopher Moore, ‘Going Underground’ by Susan Vaught, ‘Timeline’ by Michael Crichton, ‘Turning Forty’ by Mike Gayle, and ‘Maximum Ride’ by James Petterson.
  5. Started to read ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd, ‘Neverwhere’ by Neil Gaiman and ‘Harry Potter und der Feuerkelch’ by Joanne K. Rowling.
  6. Phoned Tesco mobile about 500 hundred times to top up my monthly tariff. Not because they were inept, but because I was.
  7. Actually met and talked to one of my flatmates. Her name is Lisa, and she’s the most helpful person I’ve ever met.
  8. Wished I had internet access roughly five times an hour.
  9. Tided my room, just for something to do, about ten times.
  10. Wished Mom was still around because I keep seeing birds of prey and not having a clue what they are, and for the first time I care whether it’s a kite or a hawk or a falcon or whatever.
  11. Eaten my bodyweight in Haribo and Kinder chocolate.
  12. Negotiated with a guy over the washing machine room key auf deutsch, and quite possibly have either made an almost friend or a complete fool of myself. One of the two.
  13. Introduced Lisa to English tea with milk. She likes it.
  14. Pronounced William as Villiam because I was concentrating so hard on German pronunciation whilst talking about the royal family.
  15. Failed to register with the town hall because I have no proof that I’m at uni with me.
  16. Made an appointment to open a bank account.
  17. Purchased a German sim card (I’m on O2 now. Can call other people on German O2 for free. Yay. Though currently I have no credit, so I’m still using my English number.)
  18. Discovered that there’s a severe lack of girls wandering round the uni here. I mean, boys are great, don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are boys. But it’s a little unsettling to only see packs of boys. And I know it’s a science based university, but I mean, some of my best friends are female scientists, so what gives? (I’ll stop with the overuse of ‘some of my best friends are-’. Promise.)
  19. Learnt that, apparently, mp3 format was invented here.
  20. Realised that Germans talk about the weather just as much as the English. Especially when it rains.
  21. Learnt that apparently the dialect in Bayern is unintelligible.
  22. Had one of the most awkward introductions ever, with Theresa’s (she’s the other flatmate) boyfriend, in which he went to shake my hand, and I was in the middle of washing up. And then I explained who I was, he explained who he was, and then we stood there in awkward silence till I went back to washing up and he left the kitchen. Almost beats the awkwardness of meeting Lisa for the first time at night while I was half asleep, and stumbling from the bathroom in my pyjamas.
  23. Learnt that everyone shakes hands.
  24. In my excitement at having internet that didn’t cost a bomb, used up nearly 200MB in about an hour.
  25. Had the promise of internet and then had it snatched away three times in one day.
  26. Learnt the vital difference between ‘ein(e) Freund(in)’ and ‘ein(e) Freund(in) von mir’. James and Maddie, my apologies. For a few brief moments, people were under the impression I was dating you two.
  27. Cursed whoever thought putting help for device which connect you to the internet on the internet to an eternity of stepping on legos and getting papercuts between their fingers and walking in wet sugar while they’re wearing socks.
  28. Successfully arranged having the washing machine room key over next weekend.
  29. Met Theresa, the other flatmate, who’s doing Biotechnology or some such impressive type degree at the uni.
  30. Successfully asked for and received a key so I can actually check the post box.
  31. Wondered several times why whoever lives upstairs decides to rearrange all their furniture at one in the morning.
  32. Nearly been run over 4 times because I looked the wrong way down the road.
  33. Discovered that the town shuts at 1pm on a Saturday.
  34. Wondered at the madness of the town shutting down at 1pm on a Saturday.
  35. Thought my bank account had been suspended, had a bit of a panic, had a chat with a lovely person at the bank, and discovered my card was fine.
  36. Bought a copy of ‘Das Bild’, ‘Thüringer Allgemeine’ and ‘Freies Wort’. And massively felt like I was back in the “Media in Germany” module.
  37. Bought a copy of Glamour auf Deutsch, because that’s more my speed.
  38. Found out that couples cooing at each other in German are just as annoying as couples cooing at each other in English.
  39. Found out that three people trying to cook on two hobs is a lot harder six people trying to cook on four hobs, two ovens and a microwave.
  40. Realised that basically everything I cook is centered around toast or pasta or garlic.
  41. Danced round the kitchen to rap then realised I should probably not, in case one of my flatmates walks in and thinks I’m crazy. (I mean, they’d be right, but there’s no need for them to know that this early in the year.)
  42. Created a music playlist called upbeat which features early 00’s pop almost exclusively.
  43. Realised that when I’m really really bored I start to pontificate about Harry Potter.
  44. Had to remind myself that internet access is not a human right.
  45. Bought a Brave themed colouring book and after painstakingly colouring in Merida in proper colours once (it’s a lot of orange and blue) gave up and gave her green hair, blue skin and a yellow and pink dress. Yes, I’m a child.
  46. Tried to figure out if the company I’d kill to work for does internships. (If anyone from The Writer is reading this, that’s you.)
  47. Packed for the three days of training I get to go to next week.
  48. Worked out that, as my train leaves at 8am, I have to get up at a time that although seems super early now, will most likely become normal when I start working at the school.
  49. Started to watch ‘Real Humans’, which is a Scandinavian TV show that looks like ‘Orphan Black’ meets ‘Stepford Wives’ (‘Stepford Wives’ the book, or the original film. Not the remake.) Oh, and I’m watching it in German.
  50. Realised just how long this blog post is.
  51. Worried that this is a boring blog post.
  52. Decided that I’d rather cook tea than worry about this blog.
  53. Cooked tea.
1

It’s nothing to worry about.

Parts of this week have been dedicated to missing people. Not huge parts, only small parts. Very brief moments. Of missing friends, family. Today I nearly sent the text of ‘I miss you, come home.’ Which is a ridiculous thing to almost send, because it’s not them who aren’t home. I’m the one who’s gone away.

And I know some people are going to read this and worry (Dad, I’m looking at you) and I’d like to say, very clearly, that I’m okay. If I wasn’t missing people, it’d be more worrying. And let’s be honest, at the moment, I have nowt to do, so there’s a lot more time to be missing people.

So yes, tiny blog post just to say I miss the peoples from home. You lot know who you are. Leastways, you ought to.