2

Stellar Stuttgart

So there has been no blog post for two whole weeks. Lately Christmas prep has got in the way, but before that I was in Stuttgart. Naturally this means that this week’s blog post is all about Stuttgart. So sit down comfortably and prepare to hear about a city that has a car obsession and a pig museum.

In the past couple of months, I’ve found myself missing Germany. I lived out there for 9 months (which you can read all about here) and although I enjoyed it, I was very happy to be back in the UK by the end of it. So the fact that I was missing Germany was somewhat of a shock. I also found myself craving German Christmas markets. The Birmingham one is good but it’s just not the same.

As luck would have it, I have a friend out in Stuttgart, doing their year abroad. Helen’s great, I was missing Germany and Christmas markets open in December. Perfect combination of excuses to go gallivanting off to Stuttgart for four days at the start of December.

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Look at Helen being excited about a mmetre of chocolate

My flight was at 7.10, which meant I got up at the hellishly early time of 4am. Don’t do it. Just don’t. I was so tired that I forgot tea was hot. I FORGOT TEA WAS HOT. That’s like forgetting the sky is blue, guys. But, sleep deprived though I was, I made it to Stuttgart for 10am. With a hotel room that I couldn’t get into until 3pm. Such planning ahead.

In the end, I went to my hotel anyway, and beginning in German, asked if I could leave my suitcase there until the room was ready. They said sure, no problem, and asked me my name. And promptly switched back into English.

I know this may come as a shock, but after 9 months in Germany, I can speak German. My grammar can be shaky and my vocab has diminished somewhat, but I can speak German. And as it turned out the receptionist’s English wasn’t as great as you would have thought. But no matter. I left my suitcase and went to explore Stuttgart.

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So pretty.

It’s a decent looking city. Looks like most German cities, so it’s nice but not beautiful. As cities tend to be. I wandered down what I later found out is the most popular shopping street in Germany. And yes, I ended up being part of that statistic.

Laden down with new clothes, I wandered round a pool that’s in the heart of Stuttgart before beginning to wander back to the hotel. Earlier I’d seen a few stalls of a Christmas market and been disappointed in how small it was. Oh how wrong I was. It turned out that the Christmas market went on for miles and so it was through there that I made my way home.

German Christmas markets are great. It’s difficult to explain what it is about them, and I think it’s a combination of the atmosphere and just how much food and drink there is. And that’s before you even get to the knick-knacks, ornaments and all the other stuff that is sold there.

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I ❤ German markets

So eventually I ended up back at my hotel, where I fell asleep because I’d been up at 4. And then about ten minutes before Helen was due to meet me, I woke up. You’d think that would be an issue, but seeing as I told Helen the wrong hotel, it wasn’t actually a problem. (I’d like to clarify that I accidentally told her the wrong hotel. I am not that cruel.)

When Helen and I had finally found each other, we went to the Christmas market to thoroughly explore and sample the Glühwein. It was an excellent night but I was back at my hotel by 9 and asleep by 10, because, as I believe I have mentioned once or twice, I had been up at 4 am.

The next day I headed back to Königstrasse to do some much needed shopping in the shops that I missed most from Germany (New Yorker, why do you not sell online? Why?). And then, because I felt like I needed to be at least a little bit cultural, I went to the Art Museum.

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Can’t ignore an exhibition called I Got Rhythm

They had a jazz in art exhibition on, which was great. But the coolest thing about it was that the audio guide played you songs that had inspired various paintings in the exhibition. Looking at art, listening to jazz – nothing could be better. Well, except for the part where I had to explain to an elderly couple how to use the audio guide auf Deutsch. That was kind of stressful.

Culture successfully absorbed, I wandered back through the Christmas market to my hotel (yes, this happened an awful lot) and then, after watching How I Met Your Mother in German, I met up with Helen to go to a concert.

We were seeing Parov Stelar supported by Eugene the Cat. It was a really great gig and we nearly missed the last train because we were buying merch. Hopefully there’ll be a full blog post dedicated to that evening soon.

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Give me a gig with  a brass section any day.

On the Saturday, we met at a reasonable time because we were going to Tübingen. Tübingen is about an hour from Stuttgart, is very pretty, but most importantly, has a chocolate festival in the first week of December.

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So pretty.

There was so much chocolate. From artisan truffles to chocolate sculptures to metre long cases of Ritter Sport, it was amazing. I bought a chocolate that looked like a conker, because it looked so much like a conker. And it was super delicious.

After we’d successfully chocolated ourselves out, we returned to Stuttgart for the evening. We ate at a burger place that gave us free satsumas when we left, and then we headed back to the Christmas market. Because where else would you go on a Saturday evening in a thriving German city?

Sunday was a very chilled day, because of the Glühwein from the night before and because I was leaving in the evening. So we went to the pig museum. It has over 50 000 pig figurines, divided into different categorgies like “The Divine Pig” or “Pigs around the World” or “Fictional Pigs”. It is an odd experience and well worth the five euros entry, just for the bizarre factor.

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This pig shaped tram was terrifying. 

I had a really great time in Stuttgart, which, it has to be said, is mostly down to Helen and the fact that I am very happy exploring Germany by myself while my friends are at work. I didn’t make it to the Porsche museum but seeing as everything was sponsored by either Porsche or Mercedes-Benz, including the art gallery and exhibits, and the fact that every tenth car was a Porsche or Mercedes, I feel like I got my monies worth from the city of cars.

Stuttgart’s not am obvious tourist destination, but the Christmas market was fabulous. The city itself is headed towards hipsterdom, though it’s got a ways to go before it can rival Dresden. But I enjoyed it. And managed to understand the local dialect, so result.

5

Frankfurt comes to Brum

There are many Christmas traditions and everyone has their own. I’m not gonna regale you with all of mine because, well, frankly that’d be boring. But I hope that, if you celebrate Christmas, they all went well and that Christmas was generally good. I am however, going to talk about one European Christmas tradition that I got to experience several times last year. I am, of course, talking about German Christmas markets.

But I’m not in Germany any more. I am, for better or worse, back in the UK, and right now, this Christmas time, I am back in my home county of the West Midlands. Which means, happily, there’s a German Christmas market on my doorstep.

The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas market first opened in 1997, making it a respectable seventeen years old –  a year off being able to buy the Glühwein it peddles. Stretching the length of New Street, there are stalls as far as the eye can see, from the Bullring to the Floozy in the Jacuzzi. With what feels like every other stall selling food and drink, it’s really easy to gorge on Lebkuchen and Glühwein and Wurst.

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All the drinks you could want.

There are plenty of things to buy and not eat, ranging from jewellery to nutcrackers to candles to ridiculous hats. But the best can be found in Victoria Square: namely, the carousel. Surrounded by every even vaguely German related food you could want, you can hurtle through the air on a painted carved horse. Ah, Christmas magic.

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All the pretty lights.

In Chamberlain Square, the market continues although it becomes a craft fair, rather than the German market and then, if you continue through to Centenary Square, there’s yet more stalls, selling specialty food (kangaroo or ostrich burgers, anyone?) and to finish it off nicely, there’s a ferris wheel and ice rink outside the New Library.

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In my experience, the Birmingham Frankfurt Market isn’t quite the same as Christmas markets in Germany, but that doesn’t stop it being an excellent day out. I’ve been in snow, in the dark, in the rain and in the sun and it’s always been fun.  Next year if you’re in the neighbourhood, you should drop into Brum for some German beer and sausage. Just like what Deutschland makes.

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Grundschule Vocab List

Here is a list of words and phrases you’ll need to know working in a German primary school aka the vocab list I wish I’d had back in September. It is by no means comprehensive and spelling may be dodgy as I’ve only ever heard some of them, but it is alphabetical, so that’s something.

Du brauchst mich nicht
Means ‘you don’t need me’. For when the kids keep calling you over despite being perfectly capable of doing the work themselves.

Halt deine/eure Klappe
Means ‘shut your mouth’, though is slightly more acceptable to say to kids in German. Use sparingly and only when at the end of your tether.
Hör zu
Means ‘listen’. Will be said several times over the course of one lesson, most oftentimes with little to no avail.
Ich glaube
Meaning ‘I believe’, it is an excellent addition to any sentence where you’re not entirely sure what you’re talking about.
In die Reihe
Means ‘in the line’, as in ‘walking in a line’. A state of affairs which never happens as the kids aren’t too bothered about the fact that the road is for cars.
Keine Ahnung
Meaning ‘no idea’, it will be used liberally by kids and by you when faced with German vocab that however many years of study didn’t cover.
Leise
Means ‘quiet’ or ‘quietly’. Is often said, but cannot often be used to describe the children.
Leute
Must be said with great exasperation. Literally means ‘people’ but can be more accurately be translated as ‘children, c’mon. Pay attention, be quiet and give me a break.’
Mensch!
An exclamation of exasperation.
Mund zu
Means ‘mouths closed’. Often combined with ‘Hör zu’, and if ignored, may later by followed by ‘Halt euere Klappe’
Setzt dich/euch
Means ‘sit down’. Will need to be said at least three times for anything to happen
Stickies
The trend which has all the kids enthralled at the minute. Tiny plastic figures with big eyes that stick to things. Makes one long for pogs or pokemon cards.
Was denkst du?
Means ‘what do you think?’ Gives you time to work out the answer to the maths problem a child has presented you with.

4

Yes, I study German. And what?

When I was deciding what to study at university, lots of people had an opinion. Especially when I announced that I was applying for German Studies. This is the way of the world. Just as every English Lit student gets asked what exactly they’re going to do with their degree, language students get asked if they’re going to become a teacher. If you ask me if I want to be a teacher, you will get a response that sounds as if I’ve had to say it many times. That’s because I have had to answer that question a lot. I will, however, be polite while repeating the words, because I don’t mind you thinking the only thing I can do with my degree is teach. Even when you bring out the old “those who can’t do, teach” joke that makes me hope you step in Lego. Because while it is annoying, there are other questions, worse questions that you could have asked.

So I’d like to go over a few things in response to three questions I got asked an awful lot when I said I was going to study German by people who for the most part should have known better.

German? We fought and won the war so we didn’t have to speak German.

Ah, the amount of times this has been said to me, jokingly or otherwise. Firstly, this is almost always said by someone not old enough to remember World War Two, never mind actually fighting in it. Secondly, I’m fairly sure Britain got involved in World War Two because Hitler invaded Poland and Poland was our ally. Believe me, I’ve written one or two essays on the subject. I’m also fairly sure that the point of WW2 was to defeat a dictator who was hell bent on world domination, via genocide and enslavement. As far as I’m aware, Chamberlain never sat down and went “By Jove, if we don’t do something, we’ll end up speaking a language that has three genders. The English will never cope with that. To war we go.”

But you’re seriously trying to invalidate my degree and ability to, you know, speak a foreign language, based on a war that ended nearly 70 years ago. And if you’re going to say you shouldn’t learn the language of a country who invaded (not that Hitler ever quite made it to the UK), there’s a huge number of countries who, by that logic, should not be learning English. Which brings me onto the next question.

A foreign language? But everyone speaks English.

Yes, a lot of people do speak English, don’t they? And you know they acquired that skill? By learning a foreign language. Just like I’m doing.

Many people do learn English as a second language. But that means when you, dear monolingual sceptic, want to talk to someone whose native language is not English, you’re relying on the fact that they’ve wanted to talk to you enough to put effort into learning a foreign language when you couldn’t be bothered. And you have to hope that they’re fluent enough to understand everything you say. I’m currently living in Germany, a country where it is not uncommon for people to have studied English for at least eight years. The number of times I have had to modify my English or indeed switch back into German because all I’m getting in response are blank looks is huge. Which brings me on to the third and worst question.

You know that if you study German you’ll have to live in Germany for a year, right? Are you sure you want to do that? Aren’t they all Nazis?

Can the English let go of this stereotype now? Like, seriously, put down the “all Germans are Nazis” stereotype and walk away. It’s ridiculous that it still endures. Firstly, at no point in Germany’s history has every single German been a Nazi. That’s like saying that while Tony Blair was in power, everyone in the UK was Labour. (Yes, my British political references are a little behind the times. So are your dumb stereotypes of Germans. Guess we’re even.) Secondly, the end of WW2 was nearly 70 years ago. Any idea what’s happened in Germany since then? Well, for one thing, the East was ruled by the Soviet Union for forty years, and yet no-one ever calls the Germans communists. Not that they should. But it would at least be a more recent ridiculous stereotype.

The Germans are all Nazis in the same way that the English are all colonialist, slave trade perpetuating scumbags. It’s stupid and ignorant to base your opinion of a country on their history. Guess what? In the same way that the English alive today aren’t responsible for, say, the crusades, or the mass murder that furthered the British Empire, the vast majority of Germans weren’t around during WW2. Yes, there is a neo-Nazi movement, but they’re viewed the same way in Germany that the BNP are viewed in England. Actually, possibly worse if the graffiti I’ve seen in Germany is anything to go by.

Before you get too bent out of shape, you can keep the “Germans are efficient” stereotype. You can keep the “Germans are punctual” stereotype. You can even keep the “Germans all wear Lederhosen” stereotype, despite that being a Bavarian thing, rather than a nationwide thing. But I will fight you to the death before I let you tell me one more time that all Germans are Nazis.

0

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.

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

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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.