What do the Magna Carta and the BBC have in common?

Me and Dad visited them both last weekend. While I seem to go to London on a regular basis, that’s mostly because I have friends who live there and normally I’m visiting them. So whatever we do is normally a product of us being bored, rather than having a specific purpose. But me and Dad travelled south with purpose. We were going to see the Magna Carta and the BBC.


The St Pancras hotel is super pretty.

Bright and early on the Saturday we made our way into London, looking at every sign because Google Maps reckoned we were going in the wrong direction. With no thanks to Google, we made it to the British Library, bang on time to go into the exhibition, which was alliteratively called “Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy”.

For a brief history of the Magna Carta, check out Horrible Histories

It started quite well, with a video on how the Magna Carta came to be. And then we queued. And queued. And queued. We may be British but since Germany, I have a lowered tolerance for long queues. As it turns out, there were a ton of manuscripts that were over a thousand years old that everyone was stopping to look at and read about. I guess I can’t blame them. But it was frustrating to queue for a ridiculously long time just to see coins that were like the ones from the time of the Magna Carta but weren’t from the time of the Magna Carta.

What got me most were the languages though. Yes, we all know I’m a language nerd. But there was old English and middle English and then the genealogy of King Richard and John’s family was in French. King Richard’s always held up at this most English of English kings and he spoke French. Also lived in France when he wasn’t off crusading.  But back to the language. It’d be really useful if museums would tell you what language the stuff you’re looking at is in. British Library, if you’re reading this, the books you had out were super interesting, but I also wanted to know what they were written in. Whether it be Old French, Middle English or whatever it may be.

The British Library did not use this in the exhibition.

After explaining the origins of the Magna Carta, supplemented by some seriously cool videos, the exhibition moved on to how it then many years later came to be enshrined in law. And then how it impacted English colonies around the world. Namely that a few of them (looking at you America) based some of their initial laws about democracy vaguely on the Magna Carta. Apparently the Bill of Rights was heavily influenced by it.

By the end of the exhibition, there had been dry videos of historian and newsreels from 50 years ago, and so when the penultimate room was full of pop culture reference, I got quite excited. From political cartoons to a Tony Hancock sketch and to Horrible Histories, there were a ton of things to look at. And then, in the final room, there were two original copies of the Magna Carta. One is pretty much unreadable but still has the original seal, and using infrared and stuff historians can now read more of it than they’ve been able to for about 500 years. Which is quite exciting. The copy that still is legible has the tiniest handwriting you’ve ever seen. And it’s just a sheet of paper, with a huge paragraph on it. I think I was expecting the Domesday book, which a different thing entirely.

This is exactly how the meeting at Runnymede went down.

Afterwards we had a wander through the treasures of the British Library, which is super interesting. They’ve got lyrics by The Beatles scribbled on birthday cards by Lennon and McCartney, they’ve got a copy of Beowulf that’s older than I can really comprehend and an amazing array of sacred texts from different religions. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. Did I mention it’s free?

Post British Library wanderings, we went to the National Portrait Gallery, where I saw a ton of Tudor paintings that are in every British history textbook ever, modern portraiture that I was and wasn’t a fan of, and many many pictures that I added captions to on Snapchat. My apologies to the friends who had to put up with me thinking I’m funny.


Snapchat: making museums more fun since 2011.

On Sunday we headed back into the capital for a tour around the BBC. I didn’t know you could have tours round the BBC, but you can and we had one. It starts with looking down into the newsroom. About 3000 people – that’s half of all staff at Broadcasting House – work in News, so it’s a pretty huge newsroom. It’s the largest in Europe, but not the world because apparently China’s is bigger. But China won’t show photos of inside it to prove it. Anyway. We started with News and then we made our way to the One Show studio.


I definitely didn’t have the theme tune in my head while I was there.

It’s way smaller than you’d think. And one of tour guides took minor offence that someone said it looked scruffy. But that was pretty cool, and it turns out that to make it look bigger than it is, half of the word one that’s at the back of the studio is actually outside the studio. Who knew?


Arty shot because reasons.

Old Broadcasting House is super art deco inside which is pretty. And we got to go into the radio theatre which is where they record Radio 2 In Concert and comedies and a lot of stuff along those lines. Basically, if I’d been lucky enough to get tickets for the recording of the final episodes of Cabin Pressure, I would have been there a year ago.


So art. Much deco.

After that some people had a go at reading the news and presenting the weather, and then people had a go at a radio drama. The tour was really great, in no small part due to our guides Fiona and Ben. I now know a ton of stuff about the BBC that’s never gonna be useful. Oh, and because Dad asked and you guys might be interested: the TV show W1A? It’s apparently very true to life. And Hugh Bonneville once got locked out because he didn’t take his security pass with him, so the guards wouldn’t let him back in. Despite the fact that he’s Hugh Bonneville.


Casual Strictly Come Dancing trophy in the radio drama room

When we’d toured all that we could, me and Dad headed down Oxford Street, because, well, it was there. We ended up in Liberty so I could show Dad round as he’d never been. (If you want to read about my first time there, you’ll want to read this post. We had afternoon tea and everything.) After spending money on a tin of Mortal Terror and Escalating Panic, we wandered down Carnaby Street and then down to Piccadilly Circus. It was really nice seeing Dad go to these places for the first time, because he was excited as I was. And normally I’m with people who’ve been to central London a billion times because they live there.

But all good things must come to an end and we had to head back to the Midlands. I’m glad we went to the Magna Carta exhibition, but I do think it could have been laid out better. The BBC Tour was excellent and I’ve been recommending it to everyone, so if you’ve ever got the time to spare, go. You do have to book in advance though. Just fyi. And Liberty’s is always good. Even if I always come out poorer than when I went in.


Laughter is the best Medicine

A ton of exams (A-levels, GCSEs, Uni exams) have started and my newsfeed on Facebook is full of people taking photos of their finished dissertations. So I figured I’d share some of my favourite language related comedies. I’m not going to lie to you – the vast majority are Eddie Izzard clips. (Also, there may be swearing.)
Jack Whitehall on French and learning directions – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU2DIRxL_jc
Eddie Izzard on French and the uselessness of the first things you ever learn. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FYenHfNTxA
Eddie Izzard on Latin and the sheer ridiculousness of it. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NI8UZubOJlo
Eddie Izzard on Latin and why learning it is not helpful – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JbOa1ssGX8
Eddie Izzard on language labs – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnJxafaOGbQ
Eddie Izzard on language change in English and how we got rid of gendering EVERYTHING – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rjor6IFyCAk
Kumail Nanjiani on Call Of Duty using the wrong language –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bX5OyGlLS-g

Kat and the City

The city, of course, is Berlin. As capital cities go, Berlin is up there. I prefer it to Paris, to Cardiff. It even beats out Edinburgh. And this weekend, I got to go for the second time. Four hours by train seems to be the norm to go anywhere from Ilmenau. Getting on a train at 9.22 on a Sunday was a wrench, seeing as I normally get up at ooh about 12 at the weekend – catching up from all those 6.20 starts, you see – but once I got on the ICE at Erfurt it was plain sailing all the way to Berlin Südkreuz. I then had to figure out the S-bahn system (that’s the tram system) which became ridiculously straight forward when I realised that there were other platforms. Shocking that.

I headed straight for the Brandenburg Gate, because what’s a trip to Berlin without the essential touristy pictures of the city’s icon?


Hello world, this is Berlin calling.

While I didn’t do a cheesy selfie (there were way too many other tourists around for that) I did take pictures from every angle possible. Then I had a wander to the Reichstag before deciding it was far too cold to explore the Tiergarten (a very green area of Berlin next to the Reichstag), and headed for the Willy Brandt museum.


If someone could explain the difference between the Reichstag and the Bundestag, I’d be very grateful.

Willy Brandt is a babe. That’s how I described him in a message home during my time in Berlin, though it was pointed out to me that that’s not a suitable reply to ‘who is Willy Brandt?’ So a (very brief) history lesson. Willy Brandt was the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969-1974. The FRG may be better known to you as West Germany. During his time as leader of the FRG, he focused heavily on interactions with East Germany (aka the GDR), and improved relations between the FRG and the GDR. Essentially, he made a tense time better under difficult circumstances.

So having wandered round the Willy Brandt museum, discovering things like he escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Norway and changing his name, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1971, and was just generally a pretty kickass person, I headed to the gift shop, where I forgot all my German because the cashier looked like Robb Stark.


This bed was so comfortable.

By this time, I could check into my hotel, and I’d like to thank all family members who gave me money for Christmas because it meant I had a queensize bed and the best shower in the world. And Dad got peace of mind. So thank you very much. I then fell asleep in front of the Princess Diaries (auf Deutsch, natürlich) before heading out to the Imperial Club, for the whole reason I was in Berlin.


This comedian is about 2/5s responsible for me studying languages at university.

As previously mentioned, I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan, and last year I got to see his show Force Majuere in Birmingham. So when I heard he was performing it auf Deutsch, I was super excited, and thus went to Berlin. The venue had about 150 seats, so it was tiny, but it was full. And there were so many native English speakers. I surprised the Americans behind me with my accent when I turned round to apologise for being tall, when they started discussing whether or not they could still see.


See those purple lights? They’re at the back of the stage. And I was half way back.

The show itself was about an hour long, and was a very heavily cut down version of what I’d seen in Birmingham. No less funny though. I think the highlight was listening to him explain how at some point the English must have gone “You see this? It’s just a spoon. We’re not going to use feminine or masculine,” but explaining this in a language that still genders every noun. Was hysterical. He also pulls the universal face of non-native German speakers of “wait, did I say the verb already?” I kind of felt like I was watching an hour long oral exam, albeit it a prepared one. It makes me very glad my lecturers don’t expect me to be funny as well as accurate. All in all, it was an excellent evening, and if you’re in the Berlin area, he’s there for the next few weeks. Go. Have fun. Enjoy the cheap tickets and expensive alcohol.

Monday was a very cold day. The whole of Berlin was iced over, which made walking around for seven or so hours fun. But I hit up the nearby bakery for breakfast and then I headed towards the Fernsehturm. It took me a while to get there what with the ice, and getting distracted by the Nikolaiviertel, but I got there eventually.


The tower disappearing into the clouds is the Fernsehturm.

The visitors floor is 203 meters above the ground and the idea is that you get a fantastic view of Berlin. I went on a day when it was both foggy and cloudy, so that didn’t really work out that well. But it was still cool and for the first time ever, someone who could speak English found out I was English and continued to speak to me in German. In the lift there are stewards and on the way down, the steward was telling me to be careful because it was very icy outside. I must have said thankyou one too many times or something because then he went ‘You’re German, right? Or English?” When I said English, but I understand German, he repeated the warning in English to the other tourists in the lift and then told me auf Deutsch that lots of people have broken arms and legs because of the ice. Basically, the staff at the Fernsehturm are lovely.


I could just about make out the cathedral through the cloud cover.

Then, trying not to fall over, I headed to the DDR Museum, which was totally worth it. (DDR is the German for GDR.) There’s a ton of interactive exhibits, including the section on the Stasi (the secret police) where you can listen to what’s being said in another part of the exhibit. They’ve got a Trabi you can pretend to drive and a typical east German flat set up, and it was just really really cool. As a German student you get to study two parts of German history; WWII and the GDR, and personally, I’m more interested in the GDR, so this museum was awesome. Even if there was a school group of teenagers who really didn’t want to be there.

Following this I went and hid out in Starbucks for a while, because the cold was seriously getting to me. Bless Starbucks and their radiators. And their free wifi. Finally, when I couldn’t hide any longer, I braved the cold again, heading down towards Checkpoint Charlie. At the moment, just round the corner from Checkpoint Charlie, is a panorama of the Berlin wall. It’s not a hundred percent accurate, but the artist is trying to show how life continued despite the wall. It’s shown from the West looking to East Germany, and was generally pretty cool. Even if again, there was a school group who really didn’t want to be there.


A very small section of the panorama.

Finally I went on one last wander that took in Potsdamer Platz and the Holocaust Memorial, stopping only to take ridiculous photos in a photomat from the 70s. It was only when I got on the train home that I realised I’d only been in Berlin for a little over 24 hours. Now I’m ready to sleep for a week, but it was so worth it.


Oh, the things I do when I’m alone.


Queen Kat of English.

Welcome back to the usual weekly updates of my life. Let’s begin, as always, at the beginning. Monday was spent wandering round Ilmenau fairly aimlessly, because I had no lessons to plan. The highlight of which was someone talking to me in the café and me having no idea what was being said to me. So I apologised and told him I was English, or apologised for being English, I’m not quite sure which. He asked me if I came from near London, and to my eternal shame I said yes. Don’t revoke my Midlander citizenship. I’m sorry.

Tuesday I was back at school, and two interesting things happened. The first was an English teacher telling me that ‘jumper’ must be a regional word because the textbooks all say ‘pullover’ or sometimes ‘sweater’. Naturally, I took to Facebook to document this and it appears my fellow FSAs have had the same problems. And my American and Canadian friends assure me that no-one across the pond says ‘pullover’ either. Ah well, sometimes it’s nice to sound like you’re in a Famous Five novel. The second thing that happened was I somehow ended up talking about the Royal family. And the kids wanted to know if I was a princess. It was eventually decided that I was the English Queen of the Karl-Zink Schule, and that if I ever marry Prince Harry (George, of course, being too young) I have to invite the kids from school. Though they do seem to be under the impression that it’s more a case of when I marry Harry rather than if. (Though I’d get to play this song constantly. I always did love Calamity Jane.) But if I did marry Harry, my sister in law would be Catherine. Which would make four Catherine/Kathryn/Katherines in my family, and I’m not sure I can cope with that.

Wednesday I emailed in ill. I went to bed at half ten. You know what time I actually fell asleep? Half four. I have to get up at 6.20. Trying to get up after 2 hours of sleep resulted in me nearly throwing up, so I made the executive decision that I wasn’t going to be any good to them. So some time later, after actually getting some sleep, I went on a wander because it was beautiful day.


I’m going to miss the woods when I’m back in England.

Then that evening I went to tutoring. It was Victoria’s birthday, so we did about dates and how to say Happy Birthday. I gave her a birthday card in which I spelt her name wrong, but she gave me a christmas card with my name spelt wrong so I think we’re even. Her and Luka told me how to say Happy Birthday in Serbian and Bulgarian, but I can’t remember it, because they refused to say it more than once. They told me not to be too upset that my pronunciation was horrendous, because they’re difficult languages. At which point I told them I’ve studied Japanese, Russian and Arabic. Cue wide eyes and demands to know how to say ‘hello’ in the different languages. We also had cake because it Victoria’s birthday and we played Uno. Sadly I had to leave halfway through a game otherwise I would have had to walk home. And seeing as it takes about an hour to walk whilst the bus takes 20 minutes, that wasn’t something I wanted to do.

Thursday I really wasn’t needed at the school. I watched the kids do a maths test and then helped them with normal maths work and then the teacher said I could go. So that was a grand total of 25 minutes work on Thursday.  However, I had a doctor’s appointment at 1pm, so despite being finished by quarter to nine, I stayed in school till 12. When I finally got home, because I still had no laptop cable, I ended up reading more of Game of Thrones. Or A Song of Ice and Fire, I suppose I should call it. I read two and half of the books in four days. Have you seen those books? They’re huge. That’s what happens when you don’t have a functioning laptop. You get all productive.

Friday I talked about London and breakfast in England. This included me trying to explain to eight year olds why I’m not a huge fan of David Cameron and yes, there are different types of eggs. That was really it on Friday. I came home and crashed out for the rest of the evening. I know, I lead such an exciting life.

Oh wait, no, one more thing I did on Friday. I bought a ticket to see Eddie Izzard in Berlin next Sunday. I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan and I saw his current tour last year in Birmingham. So Kat, I hear you cry, why are you going again? Because, dear reader, he’s doing it in German. Oftentimes he tours in France in French, but never have I heard of him doing other languages. So to Berlin I am going. (If you’ve never heard his comedy, I would like to recommend The Death Star Canteen, his thoughts on empires, dictators and cake or death; and Robin Hood. Though I probably should point out there is liberal swearing in most of it.)

So Saturday I was on a cleaning up shift at the BC Café, which involved much washing up and talking about TV shows with Kim. It also involved a guy who looks like Daniel Brühl’s younger brother and Kim insisting that I speak fluent German. And free food. Can’t forget the free food. And then Saturday evening I went to hang out with Ausama, who lives on my corridor and plied me with cake and tea. Was a very pleasant way to spend an evening, and I got a crash course on variations within Islam, the geography of Syria and Syrian etiquette.


The phonetic spelling of what this is called is Kneffi (according to me).

Sunday I was at the BC café again, helping to pack away after the Spanish brunch. Every month the café puts on a themed brunch and you should care because Therese, my flatmate, helps organise them. Again, this involved much washing up. Pretty sure my hands are just going to remain prunes forever at this rate. And I thought Queens had people to do their washing up for them. Hmm… Might have to work on marrying Harry quickly.