Prague – you should Czech it out.

Important information that you need to know for this blog post. Firstly, it’s going to be a long read. Secondly, this is Maddie:


Photo is not to scale.

Maddie is one of my best friends from university and currently my favourite person because she is the first from England to visit me during my year abroad. Although I use visit in the broadest sense of the term, seeing as we actually met up in Prague. However, she is now in Ilmenau with me for a week, chipping in at the side lines with sarcastic comments about my blog writing skills. So the setting for this blog post is Prague in the Czech Republic, and the two main characters are the fabulous and ever modest Kat (aka me) and Maddie.

And so to begin. Ilmenau to Prague by train, which was my chosen method of travel, is about 7 hours, and because that sounded horrendous, I asked the lovely Manda (who you may remember from this blog post) if I could spend a night at hers in Dresden on the way to Prague. She said yes, and we spent a most excellent night watching Game of Thrones and eating pizza. Then on Tuesday 22nd October, I got on a train to Prague. The weather was beautiful as evidenced below by my terrible photography, but as soon as we crossed the Czech border, mist descended. Which was awesome, because that was kinda what I expected from the Czech Republic.




The Czech republic.

The first port of call when I arrived in Prague was an ATM as my bank in Ilmenau told me they didn’t exchange euros for Czech Koruna (or Corona as me and Maddie spent most of the time calling them) and that I should just get money out when I got there. Which was all well and good, until I had to buy a metro ticket and the machine did not take notes. So I ended up paying for a 30 corona drink with a 1000 corona note, which actually went better than I expected, before being able to brave the Prague metro and tram systems. Meanwhile, Maddie was merrily making her way to Prague by way of a plane and a taxi, having no problems whatsoever.

Our hostel was called Sir Toby’s, and despite the crumbly looking exterior, it was really decent inside. I’d never stayed in a hostel before, so didn’t really know what to expect, though the fact that hostels have to advertise the fact that they have hot showers is a little off putting. However, Sir Toby’s was great. We were in a 12 bed female only dorm, with shared bathroom facilities. There was also a pub and a kitchen downstairs, where, in the latter, we made cups of tea and fulfilled our national stereotype. Once we’d claimed beds and abandoned our luggage, we headed out into Prague.

I’d decided that having been on the tram for all of 5 minutes by myself that I knew all about the tram system. 15 minutes later and in the wrong part of town I was proved very wrong. We’d been aiming for the centre of town and instead ended up on a hill outside of the city centre, somewhere vaguely ish near Prague castle. We managed to wander back the direction the tram had come from and found ourselves on a hill, looking over the city.


From this high up Prague reminded me of Florence.

The view was breathtaking all the way down into the city, though we got highly distracted by the shops once we neared the centre. These shops included a shop selling absinthe ice cream, a shop selling gingerbread houses and a shop with a troll outside it. Turns out we’re very easily distracted. We ended up in a very touristy place for lunch, and while we did not have Czech food, we did have Czech beer, having being persuaded by the waiter’s excellent sales patter of ‘what do you want to drink? Beer? You should have beer.’


The beer was almost as big as Maddie.

Wandering through the town took us a long time because I kept stopping to take pictures of pretty buildings and Maddie kept stopping to take pictures of Starbucks. We found the Charles Bridge almost by accident and took a really long time to cross it because a) it’s really long b) there were lots of statues to take pictures of, and c) the birds that were perched on the heads of the statues greatly amused us. We ended up crossing the Charles Bridge many more times, but this first time definitely took the longest. Continuing on from the bridge we made our way in what we thought was the direction of the Old Town Square. Then, fearing we were lost, asked for directions, only to find it was round the next corner. The Old Town Square was huge and is home to one of Prague’s most famous attractions – the Astronomical Clock. It was beautiful and I have many pictures of it, as well as a video of the procession of the apostles that occurs every hour. We took the opportunity to sample some Czech food, which literally translates as spiralled potatoes. They were crisps on a stick. Delicious, but strange.


I’m on a bridge, Charlie!


The astronomical clock in all its beauty.


A fabulous photo of me and Maddie with the spiraly potatoes.

After crisps we then sampled hot chocolate which again was delicious, though it did not taste like hot chocolate. Wandering further through the town, we stumbled across the Powder Gate. The Powder Gate (or Powder Tower, according to Wikipedia) is one of the original city gates and was used to store gunpowder, hence the name. Maddie wins on this round, because I thought it meant face powder.

We headed to the ghost and legends of Prague Museum where we bought a joint ticket which meant we could go to the alchemy museum the next day. This will prove relevant (and hilarious) later, so remember this fact. The museum wasn’t massively scary although it turns out that Prague ghosts have really specific ways of being released from their ghost state. Also, I was kinda scared because I am a wuss but it was fine because Maddie (who is half my size) protected me. After our excursion to the realm of the supernatural, we headed to a restaurant for food. We had boar goulash and potato pancakes, which was super delicious, and made better by the shots of Becherovka that the waitress persuaded us to have. We also ended up with musical accompaniment, though we were both surprised when the lead violinist asked us if ‘the two beautiful ladies would like a song? Sorry, two beautiful girls.’ The two beautiful girls declined, but that pretty much made my evening.

Our second day began with pastries from the corner shop which were fantastic, and then we got on the right tram to Prague castle. After wandering through some very autumnal gardens with an amazing view over the city, we found the castle. The part that stands out is St Vitus’ Cathedral, which is very gothic and impressive, but the whole castle complex was cool.


St Vitus’ Cathedral within the castle complex.

Our tickets let us into St Vitus’ cathedral, St George’s basilica and Golden Lane. The cathedral was hugely impressive, especially the stained glass window designed by Alfons Mucha. There was also a huge, over the top, silver tomb of someone important, and I’ve come to the conclusion that when I die, that’s what I want. Nothing else will suffice. St George’s basilica was a little bit of a let down after the majesty of St Vitus’. Golden Lane, however, was really cool. It’s a lane of medieval houses, which are now shops. But we got to try firing a crossbow (I was a better shot than Maddie but neither of us managed to hit the target), and we found the house that Kafka lived in for 2 years, and got very excited about the display of armour.

After trying Grog, which I hadn’t realised existed outside of pirate books, we headed to a restaurant in the castle. We ordered soup in bread and potato with bacon, which were way better than they sounded. We sat outside despite the temperature dropping and got very excited about the fact that there were blankets that we could use. At one point we could hear ethereal music and it turned out to be a procession of singing nuns and believers, passing through the courtyard.  I was pretty much ready to sleep by this point, but we continued onwards, making our way to the Alchemy Museum.


The potato and bacon thing.


Soup in bread – way more delicious than it sounds.

If you remember earlier, I said we’d bought a joint ticket to the Ghost Museum and the Alchemy Museum. Well, when we rocked up to the Alchemy Museum, the guy who’d been working at the Ghost Museum was now at the Alchemy Museum. He was a little standoffish, but I figured he didn’t like his job, or it had been a long day, or something. He explained that we could look round the two rooms next to entrance by ourselves, but he’d have to take us up to Kelly’s Tower in a bit. Which he did, along with a Czech family. He told us to read the boards about John Dee and Edward Kelly while he explained the history to the Czech family, as they had a little boy, who would never have read all that information. When he’d done and turned to us, he half-heartedly started to tell us about the alchemist John Dee, and how there’s a theory that Shakespere’s lost years were spent in Prague with Dee and Kelly. He then told us that if we ever went to London, that we could see a Shakespeare play in the Globe. We went ‘yes, we know,’ Maddie even going as far as to say she was from London. At which point his whole demeanour changed.

He’d thought we were American. Us. With Maddie who at her poshest sounds like the Queen, and me, who couldn’t get more Midlands if I tried. Soon as he found out we were English he was all smiles and jokes. And also commented that he thought we might not be American as we’d read all the information – apparently something American visitors never do.

The alchemy museum was really interesting. Apparently Rudolf II was very interested in alchemy, and as he resided in Prague, alchemists flocked to the city. Kelly’s Tower was set out as an alchemist’s workshop, which meant an awful lot of flasks and furnaces. We learnt that England has no trees because we used them all to build ships and that the royals name their children based on their astrological charts. Gotta say, I took this all with a pinch of a salt, mainly because I’m pretty sure England has trees. I mean, there were trees when I left… We ended our visit in the pub attached to the Museum, where we tried an Elixir. Which was pretty much a strong shot, served in a three pronged glass, alongside a glass of blackcurrant syrup.


Maddie was super impressed.

Following on from this we headed to the Reduta Jazz Club to book tickets for the next night, because high on our list of priorities was going to a jazz club. Tickets successfully booked, we made our way to a bar recommended by my guidebook, called Hemmingway. It was all dark leather and tea lights. It even had bar rules, which included not talking too loudly, not disturbing people you didn’t know, and if you wanted to buy someone a drink, you had to ask the bartender to find out if they were interested first. All in all, I felt massively underdressed but it was fantastic. We ordered absinthe, which came with a crystal canteen of water, and a sugar cube to be dissolved by the water into the absinthe. We also had a cocktail each, and as mine was tea flavoured it came in a tea cup with a cookie. Maddie was very jealous of my cookie, but her drink did come with a floppy disk coaster.


The awkward photo to end all awkward photos.

Much later and a little bit giggly, we headed back to the Old Town Square in search of food, and managed to find a restaurant we could afford that looked out at the astronomical clock, which did its hourly routine about ten minutes after we’d sat down.

The third day we ventured into the Jewish Quarter. We visited the Pinkas Synagogue, which is inscribed with the names of the Czech Jews who died during the Holocaust, the Old Jewish Cemetery, which undulates because they had to bury bodies on top of each other as they were only allowed to bury Jews in that one graveyard, and the Old-New Synagogue, which supposedly has a golem stored in the attic. We also visited the Ceremonial Hall, which explained the process of burial and mourning in the Jewish community. Amidst the solemnity of the visits, there was also a highly amusing moment where the lady on ticket duty tried to give us skull caps before realising we weren’t male.


The Jewish cemetery was beautiful, especially with the falling leaves.

After our cultural segment of the day, we headed to the Ice Pub Prague, which is, unsurprisingly, a bar made of ice. We got given ponchos and a free drink in an ice glass, and spent our half hour in there laughing at how ridiculous it was, given that they were blaring dance music but there were only four of us in there. Following our venture into the cold, we decided that food was very much the order of the day. We went to a restaurant called Lokal, which is modelled on an old beer hall and doesn’t have English on the menu. Thankfully, the waitress took pity on us and found English copies of the menu. With the food we ordered beer, but it turns out what we ordered was basically a pint that was mainly head – the idea being that you drink the whole thing very fast. Luckily, the bartender came over to explain and we swapped our order to a “normal” beer, and drank it far more leisurely. We also ordered raspberry soda which was the best drink I think I’ve ever had.


Me and Maddie all bundled up in our duvet like ponchos.

Meandering along the Charles Bridge for the millionth time was very pleasant, and then we went to the biggest English bookshop in Prague, because if there’s one shop you can’t keep me and Maddie out of, it’s an English bookshop. I ended up buying the second Game of Thrones book and Fantastic Mr Fox; the former for me, and the latter for the kids that I tutor. There was a surprisingly good collection of books there, and I think we both decided that we could definitely live in Prague, especially when we could still get English books easily.

For the first time, we went back to the hostel with every intention of going out again. We found Wenceslas Square by accident, and ended up in the worst restaurant of the holiday. The food was cold, and it took them forever to serve us. And then they were a little menacing about a tip.  Needless to say, we were less than impressed, but when we got to the jazz club, our moods were greatly improved.

We’d dressed up as much as we could, because we felt it was appropriate. When we walked in, we did get some weird looks, but I think that was more to do with the fact that we’d booked seats and were under the age of fifty. Ah well. The band we saw was not the band that was meant to be there, but the one we saw were still really good. They were a John Coltrane tribute band, and compromised of two saxophones, a bass, a piano and a drum set. For the second half of the set, there was also a trumpet. It was just a lot of fun to sit in a jazz club, drinking cocktails, dressed in our finery.

Our journey back to the hostel was a little interesting, as we ended up having to get the night tram, which took a different route to the normal tram we’d got back every other night. It wasn’t until we ended up at the Prague’s second railway station that we realised we weren’t where we thought we were. Happily, as I’d looked at the directions to the hostel a million and one times on the way to Prague, I knew that you could walk to the hostel from the second railway station. Of course, we had to study the map quite hard to figure out where we were, but we made it. And quite easily as well. Go us and our Duke of Edinburgh training.

Our final day we used the metro for the first time and navigated it expertly, thanks to Maddie. Dropping off our suitcases at the railway station was an excellent idea, as dragging them round for the whole day would have been horrendous what with the crowds. We went to see the Lennon Wall, which, during the communist regime was a wall of graffiti against communism, and is now a mass of formless graffiti.


The John Lennon wall was hugely colourful.

We visited a pub for the last time, where I had dark beer, which was way better than light beer, and Maddie had hot honey brandy, which smelt like Christmas in a cup. The best thing about the pub was that the outside seats had fake fur pelts on them as well as blankets. We were definitely fans of the idea of sitting outside with blankets. Then as part of a tradition that I’m sure Dad will not be happy about, we added padlocks to the many adorning a bridge under the Charles Bridge.


So many padlocks.

Lunch was at an art nouveau esque café that we’d kept passing and remarked on more than once, where we had goulash for the last time, as well as cucumber lemonade for me. We then visited shops and spent the last of our money, before going into a church which we’d nicknamed the fairy tale towers, on account of how the spires looked at night.


One of my favourite things about Prague.

With an only an hour to go before we needed to head to the railway station, we sat in the Old Town Square with a cup of hot honey wine each, taking in the atmosphere. Not even the 7 hour long train journey that was facing us could stop us loving Prague.

I had a fabulous time in Prague. Obviously the company helped, but the city really is magical. It’s so beautiful, and as Maddie said, the person who came up with the idea of the dreaming spires of Oxford had never been to Prague. We’re also pretty sure that there’s something in the water, because there were so many musically talented buskers, in particular Jazz and Dixieland bands. I would go back in a heartbeat. I’d have no qualms about living there, in fact, by the end of the holiday we were prague-tically ready to move in. It was just amazing. There really aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. And I’m not sure my photographs do it justice.


To Err is Human.

I do not speak accurate German. This is a fact. And while I’d like to point out that in general Germans don’t speak perfect German, just like the English do not speak perfect English, I definitely don’t speak German with the casual indifference of a native. My mistakes are often basic  grammar points and the wrong vocabulary.

I know my mistakes are basic because the seven year olds at school correct me. Which they think is the best thing in the world. They seriously love it when they get to correct me. And you’d think it would be embarrassing that seven year olds can speak better German than me, considering I’ve been studying the language for longer than they’ve been alive, but no. It’s sweet that they want to help, and the whole point of this year is to improve my German.

On that theme, I said to Therese that if I said something wrong or bad, then she should correct me. As she pointed out, if she corrects me every time I make a mistake, I’m just going to get disheartened. And she does have a point. But I feel that if I just speak German without any correction, while my self-confidence will go up, my German will pretty much stay at the same level.

So, yes. Correction is helpful, though as Therese said, maybe not for every mistake. But because I’ve had stuff pointed out to me by children and adults alike, I now actually make an attempt to think about adjective endings. And my conjugation of past tense verbs is suddenly a whole lot better, thanks to people asking how my day/weekend/whatever has been. Mistakes are normal, natural even. But sometimes it helps to have someone point them out.


Lest We Forget

Terrible things happen every day. If you don’t believe me, go and turn on the news, and I guarantee that there will be at least one report on something terrible happening somewhere in the world. Of course, terrible things have always happened, and they have happened in every country. And, as most of you are aware, Germany is not exempt from that. I am, of course, talking about the Holocaust. If you were for looking for a blog post filled with film references and flippant remarks, this is not the blog post for you.

The Holocaust, in case anyone doesn’t know, is the name given to the mass murder of roughly six million Jews during World War Two on the orders of Adolf Hitler. To try and contextualise that number, that’s roughly six times the population of Birmingham. This genocide was not the only one carried out by the Nazis. Romany, homosexuals, Slavs, people with disabilities, people of colour, prisoners of war – millions of people were killed during the Nazi regime. If Wikipedia is to be believed (and as other sources back it up, it can be) then the numbers are unimaginable. The number that keeps cropping up is 11 million. Again, for context, 11 million people is roughly the population of London plus a quarter.

This horrific loss of life is acknowledged in Germany. It is not swept under the carpet and denying the Holocaust in Germany is illegal punishable by up to five years in prison. Across the country you can find various monuments and memorials reminding you of this dark part of Germany’s past. One of these memorials are the ‘Stolpersteine.’

‘Stoplersteine’ literally means stumbling block, and are memorials created by Gunter Demnig. About the size of a cobble stone, they are made to honour an individual victim of the Nazis. Usually they have the victim’s name, year of birth, and what happened to them, including a death date and place if it is known. They are placed in the street outside the house of the victim or where the house of the victim used to stand. And, to finally come to the point of this post, there’s some in Ilmenau.


Here lived Sally Gabbe, born 1874, deported in 1942 to Theresienstadt, murdered 23.4.1944


Here lived Erich Ortenberger, born 1898, deported 1942 to Ghetto Belzyce, murdered.

Here lived Jenny Ortenberger, born 1877, deported 1942 to Ghetto Belzyce, murdered.

Here lived Asta Ortenberger, born 1901, deported 1942 to Ghettoe Belzyce, murdered.

I’ve only come across the ones above, because they’re not something I ever planned on going looking for. The Holocaust was horrific, and as I study German, I’ve read more about it than the average person. It is not something I actively seek out, and I will never visit Auschwitz. When I was in Berlin, I did visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and its museum. I don’t think I can quite describe how happy I was to be able to leave the museum. It’s an excellent and appropriate museum, but unsurprisingly, hugely upsetting.  Despite this, I think we’re right to learn about it, and to memorialise those who died. I just find it difficult to do so. So I’ve only found the four Stolpersteine in Ilmenau, but according to the town website there are several. Even just glancing at the list, places like Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Buchwald jump out.

When studying World War Two, it’s easy to think about the big cities and how they were affected. Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg. Finding the Stolpersteine in Ilmenau reminded me that how people all across Germany were affected by Hitler and the Nazi regime. That not only do terrible things happen in every country, but also in every town.


A Word about this Week

That word is exhausting.

On Tuesday I began my year abroad properly, a month after arriving. I am now officially in English lessons 8 hours a week, German lessons 2 hours a week and with Jonas for 2 hours. For those who’ve forgotten, Jonas is one of the children with special needs. I’d been asked (vaguely) to prepare something on Halloween, and (less vaguely) something about England. Which I did by compiling and printing off photos of my home town and my friends dressed up for Halloween – obviously avoiding the ones where they looked more than usually drunk.

On Tuesday, I didn’t really know what I was meant to be doing and just sort of hovered in the classrooms, effectively acting as a living dictionary. A fairly useless living dictionary, as I couldn’t remember what those double tipped pens that remove ink and then write over it are called. (Answers on a postcard please. Or in the comments.) But then I told the teachers that I had these photos of Halloween and then I had something to do. I went into every English class to show the kids these pictures and explain English Halloween to them. I have to say, it was a little difficult seeing as how I never celebrated Halloween before university and even then it was merely another night drinking and dancing with my friends. Not that I told the kids that.

On Wednesday, I ended up doing the Halloween thing all over again, this time including a Jack O’Lantern that I made on Tuesday night. Which the kids all thought was echt cool. But Wednesday is more notable for the fact that it was my first day properly spending with Jonas. Went fine, though we basically ended up playing football. The last time a boy was that impressed with my football skills was at primary school, where they were shocked I could kick a ball because I was a girl. I think Jonas was shocked I could kick and aim a football because I’m “old”. (All the girls keep tell me how their moms are only about five years older than me…) Later that day I ended up impressing another boy with my football knowledge – namely that Dortmund (sometimes) plays in yellow and black. I have to say, I only know this because they were playing a game that was being shown in the Student Union bar in Notts and I thought, for a second, that they were Hufflepuff. This impressive display of Bundesliga information happened at my first ever session of English tutoring. Yes, not only am I a teaching assistant, but now I’m a tutor as well. Somewhere along the way I think I’ve fooled everyone into thinking I’m an adult. But yes, tutoring. Went pretty well, mainly because I ended the hour with cutting and sticking, which everyone loves. Even teenagers though try to pretend that they don’t. Not that I’m tutoring teenagers – no, my charges are 7 and  years old, and think I’m super cool.

If I may go off on a tangent here, all the kids think I’m cool. Like, I get waved at in the corridors, some of them stop and talk to me every time they see me, they want me to eat lunch with them. It’s probably as close to being a rockstar as I’ll ever get. They also think everything I say is cool – or ‘geil’, as they’re fond of saying. On Friday I was showing a class pictures of my home town, and they thought it was super cool and exciting. Walsall is not super cool nor is it exciting. It is a big, industrial town, and I’ve yet to meet anyone from there who has something good to say about it. (However, I will defend it to the death, if an outsider criticises it. Say something bad about Walsall. I dare you.) But to the kids, it’s foreign and thus exotic and exciting etc.

Getting back on track with my listing of the days, on Thursday the class I was meant to be with was not there. They were on a school trip, which I didn’t know about, so I ended up picking a class at random and attempting to help them with German and Maths. It did not go well. The less said about my failure, the better. Thursday was greatly improved by my shift at the BC-café, which you can read about here.

Moving swiftly onto Friday, as previously stated I ended up teaching one class about my home town, as well as London. At one point I had to explain that the Queen is a woman… Anyway, a different class got to try apple bobbing, seeing as I’d explained it as part of Halloween, which was highly amusing to watch. They all thought it’d be easy. Oh how wrong they were.


Samira victorious. After about five minutes.

Outside of school, I’ve now watched all of Season 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones (I have too many feelings and opinions on it), discovered that Therese is the kind of person, who, when they need to use up eggs, bakes (which is my kind of flatmate), and kept the German postal service in business, through sending packages to England (too many people have birthdays).

An interesting development in the brain work it takes to speak German, is that I’m finding it harder to switch quickly between German and English than I was finding it to speak German all day. This means that in English class, I’ve ended up speaking a weird form of Denglish at times. Sample sentences include “Also, wir spielen Apple Bobbing, and then, in diese Foto, I mean, in this photo, is one of my Freunde, one of my friends dressed as a vampire, also ein Vampir.” (By the way, all those alsos are German alsos, and not English alsos. Though I will admit that I over use also in both languages.)

So yes, a tiring week, but I have no plans for this weekend besides sleeping and eating. Oh and getting ready for Prague. Because I’m headed to Prague next week. *dances* S’gonna be good. Not least because I get to see Maddie. At some point there will be a huge post, inundated with pictures, about our adventures. Bis dann, friends… I mean, Freunde. I mean… Oh, you know what I mean.


The Tale of the Hero Kat and the Fearsome Coffee Machine

Today I did my second shift at the BC-café. (You’re gonna be so fed up of hearing about the BC-Café by the end of this year). This time I was with my tutor, Natalie, and she was showing me how to work behind the bar, which basically boiled down to her telling me prices and showing me how to work the coffee machine.

Ah, the coffee machine. I’ve never worked in a café. I worked behind the bar at a Youth Centre during my late teens, but that was just tea and instant coffee in polystyrene cups. While this coffee machine is nowhere near as complex as I was expecting it to be, it’s not simply a kettle. You’ll be pleased to hear I didn’t break it, and in fact, I worked it just fine. Except for the point when I forgot to top up the milk and though that could have ended badly, it didn’t.

Despite being a little scared before I got there – “I’ll have to talk to Germans in German! What if I don’t know what they want? Can I even speak German?” – it went well and was actually fun. When I first walked in, I was greeted by one of the Romanian girls I’d met on Tuesday, who, thinking about it, you don’t know about, because that’s in a blog post that I haven’t finished yet… So I met some girls from a Romanian university on Tuesday, and I saw a couple of them again today. You never really appreciate how nice it is to know people until you don’t know anyone. And I’m starting to recognise people, which is super awesome. And the people who recognise/know me are talking to me in German, which although difficult, is great, because the whole point of this year is to improve my German. My self-esteem gets a boost every time someone says ‘speak German to her, she understands well’ and then gets knocked down again when I completely misunderstand something.

But yes, it turns out that struggling with a coffee machine and the German language at the same time is a really good cure for homesickness, tiredness and general bleh-ness. Though when a group of men are talking amongst themselves in English and then order in German, it hurt my head to figure out which language to reply in. I went for German, ‘cause that’s the one that came to mind first. Which I think is good. Right?


How to be German

Wie Man Deutschen Wird by Adam Fletcher is a book based on a blog and contains 50 easy steps to becoming German. You can buy it here.

Tempted though I am to leave the post there, I feel like I should explain why you should buy it. And I’m going to do this in list form because I can. So there.

  1. It’s well written. The writing style is fantastic. It’s as if the author is talking directly to you, and I can well imagine that it’s how Fletcher actually speaks.
  2. It’s funny. While fun is being made of Germans and German culture, it’s in a friendly, gentle, teasing over a beer kind of way, rather than a crash, bang, wallop on the piñata that is Germany. (I think that metaphor rather escaped me. Ah well. Leave better metaphors in the comments.)
  3. It’s true. While I read this book, I kept looking like an idiot in public, because I couldn’t stop chuckling in recognition. Although some of the points I have not come across, a lot of them are exactly my experience in Germany, and it made me want to show the book to every German I came across, going ‘see this point? That’s exactly what you’re like. This is your nation in 68 pages.’ In a good way.
  4. It’s bilingual. A reversible book, you can read it in German or in English. I’d recommend doing both, or at least flipping through the alternate side as the graphics are different for both and they’re fabulous.

I think those are my main reasons why you should read it. Any non-German currently living or who has lived in Germany, will get a kick out of recognising your experiences and realising that it’s not just you who has noticed. Any non-German who has never lived in Germany will enjoy it anyway, because of reasons 1 and 2. Germans will like it because it’s largely complimentary, and who doesn’t want to know how outsiders view your country? (Don’t answer that.)


Kat, Kim and the Café.

Today I served my first shift in the BC Café. I realise that my post (look, I learned how to hyperlink) was probably garbled and didn’t make a whole lot of sense, namely because I didn’t really understand it either. So, let me try and explain. Again.

The BC-café is a café which is, as far as I can tell, run by students for students. On Wednesdays and Fridays it is also the BC club, one of four night clubs on the Ilmenau Technische Universität campus. And the society that I joined is the society for those who want to volunteer there. I think that’s it. If anyone wants to correct me, feel free to comment.

So today I went at 4.45 to the café, ready to fail at making tea and coffee, when it turned out the shift I was on was actually the closing up shift. Result. No need to fail at basic catering just yet. The guy I was working with is called Kim. He reads my blog (hey Kim) and also seemed a little surprised that my gingerness is fake. (Superdrug hair dye – works wonders. Seriously, it’s the best.) He was also super lovely and began by saying he was going to speak to me in German unless I said otherwise. Considering I’m here to improve my German, I did not say otherwise.

Work wise, I brought in ashtrays from outside, tidied the tables and spilt cold hot chocolate down myself. That last one wasn’t compulsory. It was just my unique take on the job. I also walked into tables and generally prayed really hard that I wouldn’t break anything. For a lot of the time, I was watching Kim while he explained how stuff worked to me. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to remember it all. Especially how to clean the coffee machine, because that seems important.

Because it was closing time, most of the people there were people who volunteer/work at the café/club, and people said hi, which was super nice. One guy introduced himself and I didn’t quite hear so I asked him to repeat it. He did and added “I’m Indian.” I felt kind of bad, because I wasn’t asking him to repeat it because I thought it was an odd name – I just hadn’t heard him. Ah well. Next time. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to comment on how many guys there seem to be at this uni. And no, this is not me going ‘ZOMG, Boys exist!’. I did that the first two weeks of uni in freshers year and then got over it. No, it just surprises me how few girls I see on campus. I mean, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t girls on campus. Just means I’ve not seen them. But yes, lots of boys around. Let’s move on.

Actually, there’s not a lot to move on to. My shift went well, probably mainly because I didn’t actually do a lot, so I didn’t really get a chance to break anything or screw up. Kim was super lovely and helpful, and reckons that learning English as a second language is easy, which goes against everything I think about my native tongue. I’m there again on Thursday, and I think this time I actually have to, like, serve drinks and not break the coffee machine. We’ll see how that goes.


Misadventures in Subway, or, How I Amused Two Bored Members of Staff

Ilmenau has a Subway – as in the sandwich shop, not the underground pedestrian pass. Thus far I’ve managed to avoid it, citing the fact that I ought to eat German food while I’m in Germany, but actually, I was just terrified that in a food shop where you have to talk quite a lot to the staff, I’d massively mess up with my German.  Today I braved it, and guess what? I kinda messed up in German.


This is Sub Wayne, Subway’s mascot here in Germany.

So, firstly the bread was different. Well, some of them were. I haven’t been in an English Subway for a while, but I’m pretty sure “cheese-oregano” is not one of the breads on offer. Whereas it is Germany. This presented my first problem. It was labelled as “Cheese-oregano” in English. So did I say it in English? Did I say it English but with a German accent? Ahh, the dilemma. To  put this in context, every time I’ve ordered a Big Mac in Germany, I’ve had to say it with a German accent, despite it being spelt the same in both languages, because my round English vowel just isn’t understandable.  In the end I just said Cheese oregano in English, because panicking in Subway didn’t seem like a great idea. Next issue was in a similar vein. When asking for Tuna, did I say Tuna (too-na) or Tuna (chew-na)? Drama, drama, drama. Think that time I went for the German pronunciation, because after the whole Cheese oregano thing, I felt I needed to get back on safer territory.

Then I hugely confused the guy because I didn’t want lettuce, and just wanted cucumber. It was kinda my fault, because I forgot that they call lettuce Salat (salad) here, so when he went ‘do you want Salat?’ he meant ‘do you want lettuce?’, so my reply of ‘cucumber please’ didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

My final act to confuse and amuse the staff was to completely forget the word for peach, so when the woman asked me whether I wanted the lemon or peach drink, all I could stammer was ‘not lemon’.  She was highly amused by this, and I guess my complete panic and loss of any German capabilities was funny to onlookers.

So yeah, I managed to officially panic in Subway because of too much English and the disappearance of my German, which at least amused the staff, if not me.


Liebe Mauer

So, as I may have mentioned once or twice, I’ve borrowed a lot of DVDs from the Ilmenau library. Most of them have been American films or TV programmes, and while there is the option to watch them in German, I have pretty much firmly stuck to my mother tongue. However, this weekend I watched Liebe Mauer in German.


You can tell from the cover it’s a happy film.

Liebe Mauer is a love story set in Berlin, 1989. As many of you will know, something kind of important happened in Germany in 1989 – namely the fall of the Berlin Wall. Liebe Mauer begins a couple of months before die Wende and the Wall is a big part of the story, as Franzi (played by Felicitas Woll) is living in West Berlin when she falls for Sascha (played by Maxim Mehmet), an East Berliner who works as a guard along the Wall.

At first glance this seems like a typical love story, and to a great extent it is. However, with the backdrop of the film being predominantly East Berlin, it’s interesting from a historical point of view, as well as being an enjoyable film. It also makes a change from Goodbye Lenin! and The Lives of Others, which are two films set in East Berlin (though Goodbye Lenin! is mainly set in Alex’s fictional GDR) that I have watched several times, as I’m sure many students of German have.  Like The Lives of Others, Liebe Mauer focuses more on how the regime affected those within it, rather than the ins and outs of life in the GDR.

I have to say, it was nice to watch a film set in this time period that had such an unequivocal happy ending. And the build-up to the climax of the film which is the fall of the Berlin Wall was subtly done, with the date being innocently pointed out a few times throughout the film. I’m not exactly equipped to say whether this was a masterpiece of a film, but I enjoyed it. Though I am loathe to compare a love story to Romeo and Juliet, there are echoes of that play within this film, which are only emphasised by one of the main characters quoting the Shakespeare’s work.

So yes, it’s a love story with a happy ending set against a backdrop of an interesting and unique historical period. What’s not to like?


A corner of this foreign field that is forever England

This week people kept asking me if I was homesick. And I wasn’t. Not at all. Not until people started asking me if I was. And then I watched ‘East Is East’ (the film) which made me even more homesick, though I’m not sure why given a) my family is nothing like that, b) I’m not from Manchester or anywhere nearby, and c) I wasn’t even thought of in the 70s.

But anyways, have a list of things that I miss about England that doesn’t include people. Or fish and chips, because I’ve discovered I can get it in Erfurt, which made me ridiculously happy.

  1. Buses running a hundred times an hour
  2. Indian takeaways
  3. Playing Quidditch
  4. Buses that go ding when you press the stop button.
  5. Wifi
  6. Big supermarkets

S’quite a short list really. There’s probably other things that I’ve missed off, but if I didn’t think of them pretty much straight away, I can’t miss them that much, right?