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Christmassing it Up

So there was no blog post last week. This was due to the fact that I was in Budapest, which means by rights you should be hearing about my trip this week. That is a blogging law, but I’m going to break it. Mostly because yesterday I went to the Birmingham Christmas Market and I’m feeling so Christmassy, I can’t not blog about it. But if you’re desperate to hear about Budapest, you can read my blog post from last time I was there, and if anyone’s super desperate to hear about this trip, drop me a comment and I’ll write about it for next week.

So. The Birmingham German Christmas Market opened this week. It’s open from 10am-9pm every day between now and 22nd December. It’s been a tradition for over a decade and is comprised of the Frankfurt Christmas Market and the Craft Market. Sprawling down New Street, through Victoria Square and taking over Centenary Square, it’s huge. And as the largest outdoor Christmas market in the UK, it is always busy.

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Genuine German market in Birmingham = huge success

I’ve always loved the German Christmas market, and since living in Germany, it’s a really great way to stock up on the things that I miss. Like Glühwein and German gingerbread and dark beer. Drink features prominently with several stalls selling beer, apfelwein and alcoholic hot chocolate. And then you’ve got all the stalls selling food. Some sell gingerbread hearts and nuts, others sell cake and bread. Still others have hot chestnuts, pretzels and chocolate covered marshmallows. And that’s before you even get to the amount of Stollen, Berliners and sausages. Basically, if you want German food, it’s the place to go.

20151114_171542All of the Christmas lights. All of them. 

Amongst all the food, there’s plenty of stuff to buy to take home. From hand carved, wooden decorations to toys to ceramics, there’s so much to see and marvel at, even if you end up not buying it. It’s a great place to pick up interesting Christmas presents. There’s also a carousel and music pumping out. The atmosphere is great, and I can’t recommend it enough. And that’s even before you get round to the craft market.

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The carousel is slightly obscured by the Floozy. But it is there.

The craft market tends to be more UK based, though with ostrich and reindeer burgers available, it’s probably easier to say it’s not German focused. There’s a fair few cheese stalls, and various artisan food stalls. Most importantly, you can get a pork and stuffing roll, which is definitely the food of this time of year. There’s also a ferris wheel and an ice rink. Seriously, what more could you want?

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If you go into the library you get a great view.

I do really love the Christmas market in Birmingham, and now that I work in the city centre, I can walk through it every day if I want. I will have eaten so much Stollen by the time December 25th comes round, and it will be glorious.

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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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The Revelry Continues

Happy New Year! Long time, no blog, huh? I do apologise, I was busy trying to cram as much as I could into a two week visit to the motherland. I hope you had an excellent Christmas time, where ever you were. Mine was pretty darn fantastic, so I’ll run through the edited highlights.

  • Going to Birmingham Christmas Market with Dad on my first day back in England. It wasn’t as good as the actual Christmas markets, but I’ve been going to the Brum Christmas market annually for about 9 years now. And wandering round comparing it to Germany was a lot of fun.
  • Getting to help in the Christmas carol service at my grandparents’ church. During the service, the figurines get taken down the aisle to be put in the crib. And guess who got to carry one of the shepherds? Yes, that would be me. Thankfully I wasn’t in heels, because I didn’t want to trip and be responsible for breaking a figurine that I’m pretty sure is older than me.
  • Christmas dinner at Wetherspoons. Like many students, me and my friends have a local wetherspoons and we decided we should have Christmas dinner there. Because why not? With the only table decorated with tinsel and crackers, we kind of stood out, but it was so much fun.
  • Seeing my family. This one kind of goes without saying, but Christmas Day and Boxing Day were spent with my family and it was great to see them without a pesky computer screen getting in the way of hugging them.
  • Meeting up with uni friends. Some of my mates braved the terrible weather and delayed trains to hang out in a pub in Birmingham for a few hours. Catching up was awesome and it was great seeing them again.
  • London, baby. So I have the misfortune to be friends with quite a few southerners so I spent a few days in London, hanging out with them, having my accent taken the mick out of, losing at Tekken. The usual really.
  • New Year’s Eve. Usually we take over someone’s house in order to play Mario Kart and drink whilst ringing in the New Year. This year we went out. To Birmingham no less. Dancing in the New Year was a lot of fun and I would wholly recommend it. Especially when the DJ busts out Queen.
  • And finally, the TV. Sherlock, Doctor Who, catching up with S3 of Castle. So much good TV, so little time.

I am now back in Deutschland, so the blogging will be more regular. Though at the moment I am without laptop cable, so until that reappears in my life, it might not be back to usual once, twice, thrice when I’m super bored, times a week. But I hope the New Year brings you happiness and does not punish you for being unorganised by taking away your laptop charger.

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So Much Christmas

As previously stated, I spent a good chunk of Monday traveling back to Ilmenau from Dresden. The rest of the day was spent making a powerpoint about London for tutoring and finishing off my lesson plan about Christmas in England. I also proofed a friend’s C.V, a friend’s Masters proposal and the family Christmas newsletter. I’m good at proofing – I live to correctly position commas. If I can get into the copy editing business, I’ll be a happy (and lucky) girl.

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My favourite slide. Look how cute.

Tuesday meant two hours of work as usual. In the first, all I did was staple flip books together for the kids and point out that blonde is spelt with an e. Though I did discover my new favourite German word – Takerei. Not entirely sure what it means, but it has to do with staplers. It just sounds fantastic. And speaking of staplers, well done English on calling a spade a spade. What does this do? It staples. Let’s call it a stapler. (Not sarcasm – genuine pride in my language being logical for once.)

As always, Tuesday ended with the weekly meeting of the BC Café, where I found out that Kim now owns a TARDIS, that chocolate Lebkuchen tastes even better than normal Lebkuchen and that even German people who’ve talked to me and said my name correctly can’t read it correctly. There was also alcohol which I feel is a welcome to addition to any meeting.

If I may go off on a slight tangent here, Prost is a serious business here in Deutschland. (Prost means cheers, if you were wondering. The exultation before drinking, rather than the slang for thank you.) In England, I think I’ve only ever said cheers followed by clinking of glasses a handful of times – all of them on special occasions. In Germany, I have watched two guys in a club, on the dance floor, say Prost and clink glasses every time they took a swig of their drink. Every. Time. They. Drank. If you drink with Germans expect to say Prost before touching your drink. I once drank without saying Prost, and the looks I got were like I’d walked into a mosque with my shoes on or started eating without saying grace in a Christian household. And you have to try and clink glasses with everyone. That includes the person at the other end of the table who is about three arms lengths away. Viel Glück!

Wednesday is my busiest day. 5 hours at school and then tutoring in the evening – I’m so overworked. (Note the sarcasm.) I was meant to be in English for the first two hours, but as the kids had a sport party (more on that a bit later on) I went and used the internet in the media room for a couple of hours. Then I was with Klasse 3/4c. Normally I do maths on the computer with them for the whole 2 hours, but this time we started with a short excursion. The children have a colouring book of Ilmenau, and they get to go see the things they’re colouring in. One of the things is a cabin, which I’m not quite sure why it’s important except for the fact that it’s old. After we’d been out in the cold for about 20 minutes – the cabin was shut for repairs so we couldn’t go in – we were back in school and it was time for me to do maths with the kids. It was addition up to a 1000 and it took one girl 20 minutes to do what was taking the other kids 5. The problem with me helping with Maths is I don’t know how they’re taught. I mean, the way they’re told to do stuff might be different to how I was taught. It’s a different country and I left primary school 9 years ago. Ah well. At least my mental maths is improving.

I don’t remember what happened in my last class. I suspect I had it free because of the Sportparty. But instead of heading home, I hung around waiting for Monika. Monika is one of the teachers and wanted to take me to the animal park in Ilmenau. Which was pretty cool despite it being freezing (does that count as wordplay?). The only issue is that Monika thinks I come from London and spent a lot of time going “that’s a sheep, they live in fields.” Now, I know I have had to say I’m a “city” girl because I don’t know tree names, but I do know what sheep look like. But it was really nice of her to take me, and even nicer to pay for lunch.

Tutoring was good. Both of the kids have been to London, so I got them to tell me about where’d they’d been. Then I did a rundown of the top tourist sites and then we did arts and craft. The idea was that they’d draw their favourite place in London, but as Viki’s favourite place is Victoria Station, which I didn’t have a picture of, she ended up drawing the queen. I drew a double decker bus, if you were wondering.

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Why yes, I did give up art in year 9. How could you tell?

I think on Thursday I slipped into a parallel dimension. I ended up helping at the second Sport Party. What this involved was giving the kids candyfloss at 9am and hoping they didn’t get too hyper.

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Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, heu heu heu.

So what it actually was, was six different stations of various activities, like crawling through tunnels, or trying to knock down 9 tin cans, or one of those strong man tests where you hit the thing with a hammer and if it makes the bell ding then you’re the strongest person alive. This was led by Michael. Ah Michael. Fetchingly garbed in a chef’s hat, pink jeans and a lime green tank top, it was his job to hype the kids up. Which was highly amusing to watch but also slightly terrifying. But there was music (most of it English, none of it censored) and the repetitive cry of Zicke Zacke, Zicke Zacke (the German equivalent of Oggy, oggy, oggy) and the kids had a ball. And I got to have candyfloss and popcorn for my second breakfast.

My plan for the rest of Thursday was to head to Erfurt because there was a job fair on (I know how to have fun). After falling asleep on the train in, I couldn’t figure out the trams and gave up. Went to the Christmas Market instead. Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

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Ferris wheels and fairy lights. What more could you want?

The Erfurt Weihnachtsmarkt is very pretty. It’s in the square below the cathedral and is fairly big. What was cool was they had sideshow games as well, like hook a duck. No, I did not attempt it – I have enough stuffed toys as it is, thanks. I did however buy Christmas presents, a bratwurst, and a chocolate apple. The chocolate apple was delicious. Might even be better than toffee apples. Is less sticky at least.

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Behold the deliciousness.

I then headed to Arnstadt. Arnstadt is a town 22km from Ilmenau and I’ve been meaning to go for a while, if only to put another sticker on my map. Because I’m a dork, I bought a map of Germany. And it now has pink stickers where I’ve been this year and black stickers where I’ve been in previous years. And if you ignore one pink sticker, then the others mark out the train route to Prague from Ilmenau. I really ought to stop going east… Nah. But Arnstadt was a place I wanted to go and the Weihnachtsmarkt was opening on Thursday. So I rock up at 5 past 5, when, by the way, it is already dark. And when I say dark, I don’t mean the sun is starting to set, I mean I suddenly understand why we’re afraid of the dark and am ever grateful that we’ve invented street lights. I make my way to the town centre to find the Weihnachtsmarkt closed. So England’s been having some storms recently, and Germany is getting the winds from that. Which meant despite the fact that the Weihnachtsmarkt was meant to being officially opened at 5pm on Thursday, it had been closed at 3pm. Leaving me with nothing to do but to work very slowly back to the railway station, admiring their Christmas lights as I went.

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Look at the pretties.

And now we come to Friday. Today was Nikolaustag, which mean on Thursday night the kids cleaned their biggest pair of boots and left them outside the door, hoping St Nicholas would leave presents for them. Which he did.

I started in English where I was used a walking dictionary as ever. I’m always grateful that I’m in a primary school and therefore don’t need to know big English words. Not because my vocabulary is limited but because I don’t think the kids would appreciate me going ‘it’s that word that’s like Versailles but isn’t.  Oh what is it, I can never pronounce it. It’s…er… It’s…wait, it’s verisimilitude.’ The problem with learning long/clever words from books is that they never tell you how to pronounce them, making what was meant to be an intelligent sounding sentence sound like gobbledegook. I’m looking at you ‘epitome’.

My second English class of the day was teaching about Christmas in England. Had one smart alec kid ask how Santa goes all round the world in one night, and my mentor teacher neatly stepped in to point out this was the British Santa Claus, so he only had to deal with Great Britain. My answer was going to be ‘magic’. The issue with talking about Christmas to children, of course, is not slipping up about Santa. (Spoilers: he’s not real.) They were super impressed by a paper chain that I made whilst very tired a couple of nights ago, and if anyone from 13e2 is reading this, they loved the Narnia we created in M12.

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Yes, we did win best decorated classroom, thanks for asking.

At lunch one of the boys asked me if I’d got presents from St Nikolaus and I said no, explaining it doesn’t happen in England and I didn’t know I was meant to leave my boots out last night, he gave me a chocolate Santa. Because he felt bad for me, being English and not having St Nikolaus Tag. But I had spoken too soon. When I headed to the staffroom at the end of lunch to check which classroom I was meant to be in, it turned out I had a package. A package that was super difficult to get into.

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English sweets, christmas pudding earrings, the brightest knitwear you will ever see and a Santa badge.

Dad has fantastic timing. He managed to send me sweets and gloves (the two most popular gifts) for St Nikolaus tag without even trying. And speaking of my Dad being fantastic, you see those Christmas pudding earrings? He made them. That’s right, my Dad can make Christmas earrings out of beads. I have Santa ones from last year.  The hat and gloves were made by my grandma, who doesn’t expect me to wear them. But when it looks so good, how can I not?

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For someone who doesn’t like hats, I have an awful lot of pictures on here with me wearing them.

In my final English class of the week, I confused them by saying I’m 20 years old. They only know numbers up to 10. And then I read out descriptions of monsters. Because why not? And because they’re learning about body parts. Afterwards I headed home through the snow, because the snow has made a reappearance. Which has sent my internet screwy. And though when I got in, I really ought to have been productive, I watched The Jane Austen Book Club instead. But now I’m going to go be productive. Well I say that, I have a skype session planned in ten minutes. But either way, I shall bid you farewell. Bis bald.