Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

Debates, Stars, and Copenhagen

Okay so a lot has been happening in the past few weeks including the Fulbright seminar in Berlin, a weekend trip to Copenhagen afterwards, and lots more around Wuerzburg. I’m going to save the Berlin seminar for a separate entry since I want to do it justice. So I’ll work backwards and start with stuff that’s been going on around here then go onto the Copenhagen trip. School’s been going really really well lately. I kind of fell into a funk in February where I was a little bored with my schedule, wasn’t really feeling challenged, and was wondering if staying for a second year was a realistic option. But since I’ve gotten used to my new schedule for this semester, it’s been great. The kids are so talkative and I’ve had some really great conversations in my classes, especially with the 11th and 12th grades. They’ve watched An Inconvenient Truth in class and we had a great discussion about global warming (right up my alley), and in practicing for the oral exam at the end of the year, the students have shown themselves competent in current events knowledge ranging from Gutenberg’s resignation due to plagiarism to the earthquake in Japan and debating about nuclear energy. Also on that topic, at least for the past two Monday’s there have been rallies in town protesting the use of nuclear energy in Germany. Chancellor Merkel did temporarily suspend activity at a few plants after the earthquake in Japan, but people speculate it’s only for political reasons (especially since the greens just took power in Baden-Wuerttenburg, traditionally a conservative stronghold). But the debate on nuclear energy hasn’t been pushed to the back burner yet here, and people are adamant about reducing the amount used since the waste poses such strong potential danger. It’s been interesting to witness the reactions, especially since I get the feeling people are more directly politically involved here than back home.

Lacrosse has had its ups and downs. We’re in the semester break right now (school doesn’t start back up again until May 1st. Crazy, I know) so attendance has been low at practice. But in the past week we’ve gotten a few more new players, so it’s nice that I can devote my time and energy to them at practice instead of worrying about running practice and teaching the game. Our team is looking into ordering jerseys (!!) and I’m still trying to organize practice games. I actually get to play this weekend which I’m so excited about! I have a friend who plays for Kaiserslautern, and they won’t have enough players this weekend so she asked if I could play with them. (Since I’m not officially registered with a team, it’s not a problem for me to get a player pass through her team). We have two games in Karlsruhe on Sunday against Karlsruhe and Munich II, my former team! I’ll be heading out to Erlangen on Saturday to watch the men’s team play so hopefully I’ll have lots of good news to report after!

Last weekend we had an international film festival here in town, and my Canadian friend and I went to see an Italian film (with English subtitles) about four guys who travel across their small island by foot to reach and perform in a music festival. It was pretty entertaining. Afterwards we went to Hettstadt, a nearby town, for an astronomy viewing night. My friend is doing her PhD in Astrophysics, so there was no shortage of knowledgeable scientists on hand to explain the constellations, planets, etc.

Pretty much what Saturn looked like through the big telescope

There was one HUGE telescope and about 3 large ones (all bigger than any I’ve ever looked through). We could see the moon up close, craters and all, and saturn with its rings! I loved the astronomy unit back in the 6th grade- 6th grade science was the best, what with that, anatomy, ecology, a frog dissection, and we were still young enough to watch Bill Nye in class. Awesome.

Me and Nadiya at Nyhaven

The weather here has been amazing, bordering on summer, which was a really really nice change from Copenhagen. I dumbly didn’t realize just how far north it is, and it was definitely still winter when we were there (last weekend in March). Nadiya and I headed up there from Berlin after the seminar and spent Thursday-Sunday in Copenhagen. I liked it, but if I ever go back it’ll have to be in the summer months. I just got the feeling that there’s a lot more to do/the city’s more enjoyable in warmer weather. But we still made the best of our time there. We ate a lot of traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches, though I didn’t go so far as to have any with raw fish on them. We went to the Royal Palace and watched the changing of the guard, walked along Nyhaven (the part along the canal with all the colored houses) and took a boat tour of the city. We also visited quite a few museums but I’ve got to admit I really enjoyed all of the exhibits. My favorite were probably the motion of light exhibit, the best photographs of 2010, and the Picasso exhibit out at the Louisiana Museum. It was unbelievable and had so many of Picasso’s famous works, as well as information about his life.

Our last night there, Denmark was playing Norway in a qualification match for the European Cup in 2012 (this is soccer we’re talking about here) so we asked at our hostel where a good place would be to watch it and found ourselves in a small, crowded smoky pub where we were the only tourists. It was awesome. The Danes speak English better than probably 70% of Americans (it’s unreal) so we had no problems communicating and quickly made friends at our neighboring table.

They take changing of the guards pretty seriously

We played some strange dice game after the game was over (if you watch Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s the dice game they play in the second movie where Will tries to win the key from Davy Jones), and after we all moved on to a bar to celebrate one of the guys birthdays. I made it to the train station the next morning in time for my train and promptly fell asleep (as I do on any means of transportation) only to be woken up about 3 hours later by some woman telling me to go upstairs. Our train was stopped in what looked like a lit-up tunnel and there was almost no one left on the train. Groggily, I grabbed my bags and followed the last few passengers up these stairs only to find out that we’re on a boat. Our train had driven straight onto a ferry which was now carrying us across to Germany. What?!? I was pretty confused/astounded for the first five minutes, but eventually got used to it. When the boat landed in Germany, the train was already lined up with the tracks and simply drove off the boat and on to Hamburg.

I’ve got the next two weeks off for Easter (yippee!) so I’ll be updating a little bit more regularly (although there probably won’t be too much to update on). Bis dann!

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April 15, 2011 Posted by | Germany, Travel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to school to prove to Dad I’m not a fool

And so ends my first full week teaching at school. Phew. It wasn’t bad at all and the kids are great. I’m a huge hit with the 10th grade girls who begged to get out of class to talk to me. I felt like a celebrity. Most of the teachers have me taking small groups out of the room to work on English conversational skills, but others have me working on grammar and lessons in class. The 8th graders are learning about Australia so I’m pretty useless there, but I have to come up with a lesson regarding the Pope’s latest visit to Britain for Wednesday so that should be challenging, to say the least.

I’m in 12 different classes per week, ranging anywhere from 6th to 13th grade. The German school system is really different than ours, and I’m at a Gymnasium, which most resembles a typical American high school. Except they end every day by 1pm. And they don’t have nearly as many clubs or sports teams as we do- it’s almost as if they have more time to just hang out and be kids. It’s kind of nice. It turns out that my school isn’t just a music school, but also a language school (fear #1 put to rest) and most of the kids live in the town or nearby so very few students board (fear #2 gone too). So Germany is trying to convert its education system more to an American one (distinguish between Bachelors/Masters and so on), so they’re making 12th grade the last year in high school, instead of 13th. But it’s a transition process so this year both the 12th and 13th grades will be taking their “abitur”, the exam they must pass to graduate. The 13th grade will take it in February so they have the option to enroll at a university for the 2nd semester (which starts in April) so the universities won’t be overflowing with recent graduates next fall.

So I think at this point I’ve pretty much seen all of the major sights here in Würzburg. I took a tour of the Marienberg fortress last weekend- it’s 100m up a hill, the highest point in the city, and therefore has a really great view. And I swear the weather is perfect every time I bring my camera out to take pictures but it’s not like this all the time. The fortress was originally built by Celtic people when they were in the area and was then rebuilt by the German Prince-Bishops who lived their for safety from the Würzburg people. The people wanted to get rid of him and only pay taxes to the emperor (long complicated history) but it all worked out in the end. The fortress I believe is the largest in Europe and was finished being restored in the 1990s after it was nearly destroyed in the bombings at the end of WWII. (for the history buffs, a little bit more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortress_Marienberg)

View of Würzburg from the Fortress

So I think the only thing I have left to do then is go on a tour of the vineyards (that shouldnt be too difficult to do) and still find an apartment. I thought I was going to get one, I even had an interview, but the girl was only leaving for 6 months and I need something for longer.

Inside the first quad of the fortress

I tried to get a picture in front of the city (I found some British tourists) but it wasnt a point and shoot camera so I came out completely dark. In other news I tried to find a ‘sprachpartner’- someone who speaks German and wants to better their English, so we met up for drinks last night and he definitely thought it was a date. And had no respect for any personal space boundaries. So that was interesting. But my friend Nadiya from BC is coming here tomorrow and then we’re off to Oktoberfest on Saturday!!

gardens, vineyard, and part of the town

PS mom- Ive decided youll want someone to get married at the Fortress. It has all of the qualities of your other 3 wedding destinations:

1. Napa Valley- there’s obviously wine here

2. Mackinac Island Grand Hotel- it’s a fortress

3. Botanic Gardens- hellooooo gardens

And a great backdrop for pictures.

PPS if you click on the pictures, they’ll load in their original full size (which is way bigger and better)

PPPS I added a link to my friend Pat’s blog on the side. He went to BC and is doing a Fulbright in Russia this year

September 23, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My (lack of) musical talent

Life here is still relatively uneventful but I’ve marked today down as one of the most terrifying days of my life, and it’s only 10:50 am. Let me tell you why: I’ve already had to register as a citizen at the town hall and open a bank account, and I still have to get my visa, but the office doesn’t open until 2 pm. I swear these offices keep the strangest hours because they want to make sure you really want that visa. And tomorrow’s the first day of school.

We’ll start with today. I woke up way earlier than I normally would to get to the town hall by 8:15 and find there’s already a line. Then I get sent to the worst counter I could. Herr ‘insert strict sounding name here’, we’ll call him Herr Streng, did not acknowledge my fear of speaking German or my limited vocabulary, but proceeded to rapid-fire questions at me and getting very discouraged when he had to repeat them. After looking over basic info our conversation went something like this:

Herr Streng: Have you ever been registered as a citizen of Germany before?

Me: Yes in Munich about I year and a half ago. I studied there. (very proud of my competency at this point)

Herr Streng: (not impressed) Did you unregister yourself as a citizen of Munich?

Me: Um… I haven’t lived there for a year and a half so I definitely can’t be registered

HS: But did you unregister?

Me: Uh… I don’t remember unregistering, it’s possible I’m still registered… but I left the country and lived in the US so…. I can’t… (lack of vocab kicks in) I went through a program so… they probably did it.. yeah

HS: (sighs, shakes head) OK then we have to unregister you. What’s the zipcode for Munich?

Me: What? I don’t know. (thinking can’t you look this up? you’re the one at the computer. besided Munich has like 8 zip codes)

HS: (sighs, shakes head again, getting frustrated) What was your address there?

Me: What? My address? I can’t remember it was 18 months ago. Something with the Geschwister Scholl…. uh…

HS: (clearly angry by now) I can’t unregister you if you don’t have an address!

Me: Could we just pretend I unregistered and you try registering me here as a US citizen?

HS: (huge sigh, like he’s doing me the biggest favor ever) ok

Then everything goes fine except I have to ask him to repeat almost every question and this woman interrupts with some Swiss girls unregistration that clearly must be more important than mine. Note to self: don’t forget to unregister in June. At the end of it, Herr Streng gave me a welcome brochure and told me to enjoy my time here, so it wasn’t so bad.

The bank was much better. I could open an account for free at Deutsche Bank since I’m a ‘student’ (I have an international student ID card but that’s it). They explained everything to me and I understood it (my comprehension is way ahead of my speaking ability). So I sat there looking dumb for 45 mins just nodding and saying ‘ok’. They probably thought I had some problems. Now all that’s left is the visa..

Okay but school starts tomorrow. I know 2 teachers out of a lot, and have no idea what I’m doing. I’m an assistant so how much do I teach? I think I’m just supposed to observe for a few weeks but I have no idea what the school has planned for me. Also, I may have neglected to mention this is a school geared towards kids with musical talents. Which makes me wonder why I was place here. Nowhere on my application was music listed. I mean, I played piano for roughly 10 years and can still read music. And in jr. high i was hands down the best clarinet player the north suburbs had seen. Not to brag (but bragging) in 5th grade, I was in 6th grade band, 8th grade band, and honor band- for the really good 7th and 8th graders. But this one kid in 8th grade, we’ll call him Bobby, did NOT like the idea of me being in there. He was first chair but his best friend Charlie was third chair and I was second. And I was a girl. Pretty sure he still believed in cooties. I did. So he tried to do anything to get me out of there but I was too good. Then rumor came around that he made a ‘hate list’ on his calculator and I was on it. Or maybe I just flattered myself by thinking he cared enough to put me on it. I think the school found it so then I was temporarily first chair while he was gone. Take that, Bobby.

But the point is there’s no way I am playing the clarinet or piano now. And music is the kids #1 priority so I’ll have to come up with some way to make English just as important. Oh and I politely turned down an invitation to join the faculty orchestra. Maybe if there are practice rooms or something then by June I’ll give one performance and let them think I was this talented all along. Probably not.

September 14, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , | 1 Comment