Catching up with life in Jena: Part III

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This year can be described in many ways, but certainly not normal. I did, however, feel a sense of normality when I came back to Jena after having been away for so long. I decided to teach the English school system in every class for two weeks. The students were horrified that we start school at 9am, as in Germany school begins at 7.30am. They do, of course, finish school earlier, giving themselves a really long afternoon at home. Personally, I prefer the lie in. One thing is for sure, waking up for 9am lectures next year will be no problem!

I also wanted to show examples of school uniform in Britain, so I stupidly showed this embarrassing picture of me in my first year of high school. Go on, have a laugh at my expense!

I’m the good-looking one on the right

After two weeks of fairly serious work on education, I promised the students a more light-hearted lesson. I decided to teach about Ireland, given that we had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day the night before.

Some weird guy pretending to be Irish

It is, of course, impossible to teach about Ireland without telling a couple of Irish jokes. I have found on many occasions that good-humoured lessons create a far better atmosphere in the classroom and make the students take part more in the lesson. However, I wasn’t quite sure how far I could go. The teachers told me not to hold back. After all, most of the students are older than me! So I didn’t:

Q – “Why wasn’t Jesus born in Ireland?”

A – “Because they couldn’t find 3 wise men, nor a virgin!”

I’m not sure whether they were laughing more at the joke or at the polite English guy’s embarrassment when telling it. Somewhat ironically, I started the lesson planning to show that Ireland wasn’t a land of crazy drunks and violent people, and ended up talking about St. Patrick’s Day and the I.R.A.!

But normality, if you can call it that, didn’t last very long. Soon I was unterwegs again, this time at Schloss Dhaun in South-West Germany. The Warwick University German Department host an event there every year, where 3rd years on their year abroad meet up, catch up and unfortunately, prepare for final year. Oh, and by the way, Schloss means castle, so we lived and worked in a castle for the weekend. When I say we, they stuck an unfortunate chosen few out in a hotel with cold showers, including me. The weekend was certainly a wake-up call for me. After a year of 12 hour weeks (if that), it’s going to take a lot of effort to get back to a hard-working week in final year!

But we’re not in final year yet, so even at Schloss Dhaun we had a good party!

The whole group

When in England, dancing to Tina Turner is only something my mum does after a few glasses of wine. In Germany, it’s perfectly acceptable to dance to! 

The weekend in Dhaun showed me one thing: I have to make the most of this year. So, I will. I’m heading to Paris in the summer for two months, with trips to Dresden and Munich in between, going to festivals and making a final effort to say yes to everything. Two days after Schloss Dhaun I went to the Germany-Kazakhstan World Cup qualifier in Nuremberg. I’ve never been to an England game before, yet found myself cheering for Germany’s national team. I noticed one big difference between the English national team and Die Mannschaft. When England are drawing 0-0 to Macedonia, the fans get on their backs. When Germany were 3-1 up against Kazakhstan, the Germans were still disappointed with the way the team was playing in the second half, even mocking and booing their goalkeeper for a rare mistake. I think it’s fair to say the level of expectation is far higher in Germany.

His mistake was pretty funny though

So that’s the end of my catch-up. Look out for my next post on the most surreal week yet: learning plumbing, heating and air-conditioning in school. 

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Catching up with life in Jena: Part II

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After having promised to write three blog entries in three days, I found myself at the doctors the next day. Twelve hours before, I had mocked my friend Jenna for falling over at a party and giving herself ligament damage. Karma struck the following morning and there I was in the doctor’s surgery with ligament damage. The next day I was going to Nuremberg and then to France, so I found myself failing my target after the very first blog. So casting my mind back to about 6 weeks ago, I’ll pick off from where I finished last time.

The following week was one I’ll never forget. I had been asked to go on a week-long trip to Beinrode in North-Thüringen to do some interpreting for the Thüringer Ministerium (county council). Students from different towns in France and Germany had a week off school to share ideas on a “Dream School”. However, most of the students and teachers couldn’t speak a word of the other language, so I was there to (try to) translate almost every word that was said.

the whole group

jamming

The week was definitely the most surreal week I’ve had since being here. I didn’t expect to be interpreting for the Ministerium in two foreign languages by the end of the year! I expected it to be nerve-racking, but it required so much concentration that I forgot the nerves. In fact, despite it being difficult and the days being very long, it was brilliant. Enabling two groups of people to communicate with each other is extremely rewarding. By the time they were getting on the bus home at the end of the week they were crying their eyes out and had become great friends. The regional news, MDR, went to the event and filmed some of my interpreting, and at the end asked me for an interview. In German of course. To say terrified would be an understatement! Despite somewhat ironically and certainly embarrassingly forgetting the word for interpreter in German in my first sentence, the interview wasn’t too bad, and I was even asked to translate the interviewer’s questions into French in front of the camera. I’ve been thrown into the deep end on so many occasions this year, none more so than here!

Incidentally, that was my second television interview since being here in Germany. The other was in a night club in Berlin with Netherlands Radio. After only one day in Berlin and far too many drinks, I’d suddenly become an expert on all things Berlin and was more than happy to tell them everything I knew (and lots of things that I didn’t know and just completely made up) about Berlin. Let’s just say the second interview couldn’t have gone any worse than the first!

Back in Beinrode, I asked the interviewer when the interview would be shown on television. “Oh, I’m not sure if it will, to be honest. We’ve only got a 90-second space for the event, so I don’t think we’ll show any of the interviews”, he replied. Well thanks for telling me this AFTER the interview! Anyway, it turns out nothing was actually broadcasted on the event. Thanks a bunch!

Teaching classes of 30 Germans never felt so easy after my week in Beinrode. But the next few weeks didn’t go without their stories either! Look out for my next post on being back in Jena, going to a Germany-Kazakstan football game and casually popping over the border to France for a while!

Catching up with life in Jena: Part I

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I think it’s fair to say it’s about time I wrote a new blog post. I’ve been keeping super busy and am not quite sure where to even start! However, it’s definitely fair to say there’s a lot to tell! I’ve set myself the target of writing three blog posts in three days to catch up with life here in Jena.

I’ll start by following on from my last blog about being the polite English guy who gets used by all of the Germans. I decided it was time to switch on German mode and just say no to things. As a result of this, I no longer have to teach the “Class of Shits” and my contact teacher has made my Thursday nights a whole lot better by getting rid of my early lessons on Friday too (I didn’t even ask for that!). However, the odd German teacher still finds a way to squeeze a little bit of Englishness out of me once in a while. A 60-something German teacher came into my classroom the other day and said he had a task for me to do. In my one-hour break, I had to translate a German article about an aeroplane that had to emergency land in Miami. I thought this translation was for an electronics or mechanics lesson, so I translated the whole thing as precisely as I could. An hour later and after having had to research what the technical terms even meant in English, I gave the article to this mystery teacher, who read it and said, “Oh, ok. I thought that’s what it was about”. It turns out he wanted to know for general interest, so he left the office, without taking the translation with him, and I’ve never seen him since. Somebody seriously wanted to verarschen me that day.

But moving on from persuasive Germans and being far too English, these next few blogs are about the brilliant time I’ve been having here, in France and lots of places in between. Whilst a couple of inches of snow back home sent our wonderfully over-the-top country into mild chaos, closed the schools and trended on the social network sites for the entirety of its short stay in England, Thüringen was covered in snow for pretty much the whole winter. No biggie for people here in Jena. In fact, it’s supposed to be Spring and the snow still won’t go away for good! This did, however, enable us to hop on an hour-long train to go skiing. The local ski resort is in Oberhof, South-West Thüringen. I say ski resort… Thüringen likes to do things on a very small scale, so there was only one ski slope. As we only had one and a half days of skiing, one slope wasn’t too bad, and we certainly made the most of it. Skiing into the woods on the side to find something slightly different to the same blue slope all day meant skiing into the odd tree now and again. Results of the weekend were face plants, hangovers and ligament damage. When you come back from a skiing weekend with ligament damage this can only ever be down to one of two things: ski accidents or après-ski accidents, and this one was the latter. Whether Jenna hurt her knee due to alcohol or whether a completely sober person would have done the same is still up for discussion. Anyway, here are some pictures of the skiing weekend.

I’m not going to pretend to be a pro – this also happened a lot!

Back in school, I’m not such a novelty anymore, and keeping people’s attention in a Berufschule is difficult. However, I’m always determined to plan something interesting. We’ve had lessons on politics, cooking and music in the UK. When doing a fill in the gaps on Ed Sheeran’s A team, two girls discovered that simply Googling the lyrics at the start of the lesson would save time, effort and completely screw up my whole lesson! Back in my “Class of shits”, I was somewhat unfairly asked to grade each (from 1-4) and every one of my students for their participation and level of English for the previous term. The most disruptive student in the class decided to make things easier for me: “Adam, if you give me a 4 you’re going to have a serious problem. I know where you live”. In another class, I was asked an impossible question by a 17-year-old girl: “Adam, would you say most of the guys in England are worse looking or better looking than you?”

Look out for my next blog tomorrow on an unforgettable week of interpreting.

Germans are the most persuasive people in the world

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After five minutes of being in the office after the Christmas holidays. I had the following request from my contact teacher:

“So, the head of department would love you to take a lesson or two with one of her classes…eventually. This would be on your day off, but she only wants you to do one or two…eventually”.

With a smile of delight when I reluctantly accepted the one or two lessons, my contact teacher took me through to the head of department to say I could do it. “Great”, said the head of department. “What are you doing this Thursday”. Shit, I thought. Think of an excuse, think of an excuse. “Nothing” was my stupid, polite, English response. I left her office thinking up excuses for the following day, when she wanted me to go to her room to discuss it further.

I went to her office the next day with a brilliant excuse (although I could have just said it was my day off and just didn’t want to!). The University has German lessons on Thursdays and I was planning on enrolling for this Deutsch als Fremdsprache course. Then I had a really unlucky moment. When I went to her classroom, she was teaching a class. Sure enough, it was the class I was to teach on my day off, just for one or two lessons…eventually. She invited me into the classroom and said, “hey guys, this is the language assistant who is very kindly teaching you on his day off for the rest of the year”. What!? I thought. The class then proceeded to introduce themselves to me and tell me how kind of me it was to come in on my day off. Until this point I hadn’t said a word and had completely failed in my mission to at least change the day of this extra lesson. I came to Germany planning to say yes to everything. This, however, was a case of an English guy who couldn’t say no. And to put the icing on the cake, the class starts at 7.30 in the morning. And did the class want a single lesson or double? Double, of course! To cut a long story a little bit shorter, 3 of the 10 students who signed up actually turned up in the first week and sure enough, after two hours of preparation and waking up at 5.30 on my day off, nobody turned up to the second lesson. These Germans take the piss!

The following day I had the teacher’s lesson. I said things at my school were unpredictable, but this went to another level! After the lesson, one of the teachers asked if I could come to his office at the end of the day for a five-minute favour. Intrigued, I accepted and went to his office, which is filled with toilets, urinals and machines that you would probably find in the Tardis. What does this guy teach?? His English is fairly good, but very hesitant, and although I greeted him in German, he insisted on speaking English. This is definitely going to take longer than 5 minutes. He then got out all his mechanics gear and set up a Powerpoint Presentation on the overhead projector. You could just show me on the computer…

The keen mechanic began teaching me all about mechanics and how he teaches his students. Each small sentence took a minute, and believe me, there were a lot of sentences. Each word he didn’t know had to be looked up in a dictionary and defined for a couple of minutes, just in case the dictionary was wrong. He then began to explain about a new project he is doing in which he tells other teachers how they should word their questions in order to help the students answer questions in a more sophisticated manner. But his way of explaining this was far from sophisticated. He used the example of his son going to the toilet, and with pictures (!), explained how, with help, his son found the right way to do things. Seriously, this guy is obsessed with toilets. And he uses this presentation in teachers’ conferences!

One and a half hours later, I told him I really didn’t have much time left and asked if we could continue another time. So far, all I knew was that he was trying to introduce a new way of asking questions in mechanics lessons, and had a strange obsession with toilets. At the end of an hour-and-a-half long lecture in slow English, he quickly said to me in German, “what I want you to do is come into all of my mechanics lessons for a week, on top of your lessons, learn mechanics in a week and take an oral exam at the end of the week. But you’ll do that for me, won’t you? And by the way, the exam will be videoed and used in my conferences”.

After an hour and a half of relentless effort on his part to persuade me to do this, and being my usual English self, I said yes, of course. It was impossible to say no!

I have come to the conclusion that Germans are the most persuasive people in the world, and the English are the most persuadable. A mix of the two means I am doing way more than I’m supposed to be! I’m paid to assist a teacher in an English lesson. Instead I’m taking classes of 30 on my own with no teacher present, covering lessons, learning mechanics and next week I’m teaching French and German kids, only in French and German. It’s all good experience, I guess.

Other lessons have been the same as usual. I’m finding it difficult to come up with new, innovative, imaginative lessons every week, but when I get the hang of it, ideas come easily. Normally, the students are interested and engaging, but in one class I had to cover, this was not the case. One student was on his phone for 15 minutes at the start of my lesson, and after having asked him to put his phone away in English about ten times, I decided to surprise him. “Handy weg!”, I shouted in German. He looked up and I, feeling quite proud of myself, expected him to apologise and put his phone away. This was, of course, not the case. “Nein”, he replied. I asked him in English and German multiple times to put it away, thinking he would eventually give in. But he didn’t.

Although I’m not supposed to tell them off as this should be the responsibility of the teacher who should always be present in the room, I didn’t want to give in. In front of 30 catering students, I told him, in German, that I would find his head of department if he didn’t put his phone away. “I don’t give a shit”, he replied. “In fact, she won’t give a shit either, she never does.” Shit, I thought. That was meant to have a far bigger impact than that. I asked him for his name and naturally, he wouldn’t say. I found myself stupidly asking the rest of the class what his name was, which was, admittedly, a long shot. Naturally, the whole class had completely forgotten his name. When I told his teacher, she knew exactly who he was. “Ahh yeah, that’s Tobias.” And that was the end. No reaction. And what’s most shocking is, Tobias is 24 years old.

I came to only one conclusion after my first week back: I never want to be a teacher.

Long time no blog: Christmas, England and Berlin

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I must first start by apologising for the lack of blogging last month. Thanks to those who have been asking where my next post is – I needed a kick up the arse! It’s been a really busy few weeks, which does, of course, give me a lot to blog about!

I never felt so Christmassy in my life as I did last December. I’ve already written about Germany being a festive country (you have to be a Partyland to celebrate the onion), and nothing changed over the Christmas period. Well, actually everything changed. The whole of Jena town centre was given a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) makeover, with stalls selling confectionary, Christmas decorations and most importantly, mulled wine. My classes all had “school trips” to the market, and who’d blame them? Mulled wine is better than school, after all, no matter how good their language assistant is (just kidding).

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Weihnachtsmarkt

I must have been handed a mulled wine in 8 classes in the last week before Christmas. The school seemed to take “winding down” to the extreme.

Being in a foreign country, I planned to buy great, quintessentially German, or at least original presents for my family. Naturally, I went back to England having to buy 90% of my presents in Worcester on Christmas Eve. It was further confirmed to me that German efficiency is a complete myth when my Dad’s Christmas present didn’t come in time. All Amazon’s fault. Then to make matters worse, I managed to send a Christmas card to my Nan on her birthday. I think it’s fair to say I’m not the most organised person in the world when it comes to Christmas.

Being home for Christmas was great. The two weeks flew by. I had planned to spend loads of time seeing all my friends and telling them all about Germany, but inevitably ended up seeing them once or twice in the short, busy time I had back home. It was nice to go out with friends a bit earlier on in the evening and get home earlier than on the usual German night out, but it has to be said that I missed Germany a little bit.

After the shortest Christmas holiday of my life, I soon found myself back in school in Jena and things soon got back to normal. But by normal I mean not normal at all. School was, in fact, just as unpredictable as ever. All will be explained in my next blog tomorrow.

There’s no point hanging around on your year abroad. So on the first weekend back after a week in school, some of us Fremdsprachenassistenten went to Berlin for the weekend. Being my usual self, I didn’t buy my train tickets early enough and faced an 84 euro return ticket. But it was the best mistake I’ve made so far this year. Instead, we took Mitfahrgelegenheit, a car sharing organisation which is extremely popular amongst students in Germany, and we ended up paying 28 euros return. Incidentally, both Mitfahrgelegenheit and Wohngemeinschaften (shared-flats) demonstrate a far more sociable, communal student culture here in Germany than in England.

Our weekend in Berlin was brilliant. We visited all of the typical sights including the Bundestag and the Brandenburger Tor. It was snowing in Berlin, which led to the most ridiculous statement I’ve heard since I’ve been here: “I didn’t think it snowed in big cities”. Oh dear Charis!

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Brandenburger Tor

We did, of course, make the most of the nightlife in Berlin. We went to a club called White Trash Fast Food, which is certainly an interesting place. They have a tattoo studio at the bottom, where you can make some bad decisions on a night out. Apparently, if you get a tattoo saying “White Trash Fast Food”, you are entitled to free drinks for life. I bet someone’s done it.

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Some club in Berlin

Look out for the second part of this post tomorrow.

Bis dann.

King Kevin

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Last Saturday was my Einweihungsparty (initiation party). Having seen what a normal night out in Germany was like, I had a feeling it was going to be lots of fun. And I wasn’t wrong!

We invited all of our friends to our WG, and stupidly cleaned the flat before the party (only to have twice as much cleaning to do the following morning afternoon). Once again contradicting the German stereotype, everyone was late. But they made up for it! I taught them English drinking games and we had a great time.

Through the course of the night, my German friends began to realise from the English people’s pronunciation that they were saying my name wrong (normally they say either Edem, Aderrrrm or Adarrmm). So it was time to give me a nickname to make it easier. Cool, I thought. I’ve always wanted a nickname. But I was given the nickname Kevin. King Kevin. And they even made me a pink crown.

Apologies for the terrible quality, but this is the only picture I have and I'm not putting that crown on again!

Apologies for the terrible quality, but this is the only picture I have and I’m not putting that crown on again!

In England the name Kevin is pretty normal. In Germany, however, it’s hilarious. I’m not quite sure why, but I think it’s something to do with the Backstreet Boys. Great!

The party was a great success (but probably not for the neighbours). However, my friend Pete had one far too many shots of rum and ended up in, well let’s say a bad state! He is now pretty much famous around the whole circle of friends. Even those who have never met him have asked me, “how’s Pete?”

A few days later, our flatmate Nina had to move out. We haven’t seen much of her because she has a work placement in Berlin, but it’s a real shame because she’s lovely. However, her moving out gave me the chance to meet her 13 year-old brother who came to help her. He is without a doubt the funniest, most interesting 13 year-old I’ve ever met. He went around the flat fixing our door-handles, realised that smashing Nina’s unwanted bed into pieces was an easier way of getting it out of the door, and he even fitted my light for me. Yes, this is the light that I haven’t had in the three months I’ve been here, and a 13 year-old boy fitted it for me. How embarrassing.

I can now finally show you a picture of my completed room.

room

Nina’s brother also gave me a reasonably normal excuse to go on the dodgems. He ran up to the stall, paid for me as well (I gave him some money later) and insisted I got in a separate car. I found myself driving around like a grandma trying my best not to kill all of the small children surrounding me. Nothing held them back from smashing into me, of course! So there I was, stuck in between 10 aggressive dodgem fanatics, looking and feeling like one of the Inbetweeners, in the middle of Jena’s Christmas Market.

Me in the middle of the dodgems

Me in the middle of the dodgems

Back in school I have been teaching English humour this week, as it’s supposed to be one of our best traits. The lessons were lots of fun: I showed them clips of Little Britain, Catherine Tate, stand-up comedians and we all had a laugh. I don’t want to be a boring teacher, after all. I was desperate to show them the Inbetweeners, but I thought that might have been one step too far!

At one stage, whilst I was showing a video of Lou and Andy from Little Britain, my computer crashed. The class laughed at me cursing in English and one student shouted out, “COMPUTER SAYS NO!” I found myself laughing hysterically in front of the whole class, who didn’t understand the joke, which made the whole situation twice as funny.

I then went on to ask the students if they think us Brits have a good sense of humour, to which one student responded, “well you have to have a sense of humour to eat the shit food you have!”

I keep asking myself the same question in my time here in Jena: who said the Germans have no sense of humour?

Those who can, do: the ups and downs of teaching

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One argument

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The other side

Before I came to Germany, some of my friends in England, and especially my dad, reminded me of the saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”  I must insist that it’s a lot harder than people think. Of course, with only 9 hours of work per week, I really can’t talk! But I’m going to anyway…

I’m finding teaching really fun, interesting and most of all, rewarding. There is nothing better than teaching people who are interested in what you’re talking about. Then at the end of the lesson, when you ask them what they have learnt, one student answers in faultless English, describing the story of Guy Fawkes probably better than I could have done myself. This is the case in most of my classes, but one or two of them aren’t that easy. Here are some things that I want to get off my chest about teaching…

The class of shits

You can probably guess what this paragraph is going to be about. I have one class of students that can only be described as a Class of Shits (not exactly witty, but certainly appropriate). Before I explain why, I first have to tell you how it normally works in this lesson. Whilst in my other lessons, I often translate difficult words (maybe 3 or 4 per lesson) into German and sometimes talk to them in German outside of lessons, the teacher in this class told me to only ever speak in English. So much so that it became ridiculous: I would say something in English and the teacher would simply translate it into German for them.

In my last lesson with them, one of the students walked in late and had an announcement to make: he had “sussed me out”. He had heard me talking to the head teacher in German the day before, and figured out that I can speak German. Well done Sherlock, it’s not like I told you at the beginning that I study German, and am here to learn German, I thought. However, this was treated as a revelation in the Class of Shits. I’m talking when the monkey screams “NO” in Planet of the Apes, or when you find out that Santa isn’t real. Yes, this caused chaos. The students decided that because I can speak German, there was no point speaking English. I’m not really supposed to discipline the students, but it was impossible not to get angry! As I left the classroom, already in a bad mood, one of the “Shits” showed me a porn video on his phone and asked me if I liked it. I said no, and put that away, to which he replied, “but it’s in English”. Admittedly, I did find that quite funny. But anyway, impossible class. Class of Shits!

One of my students nearly ran me over

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into one of my classes and everyone was talking about me. One of the students, the one I call the Crazy Russian Guy, raised his hand. In a stronger Russian accent than you’ve ever heard before, the student said he owed me an apology. The previous night, he’d been working as a pizza-delivery man. Somewhat ironically given the Russian stereotype, he had drank a few vodkas at work in between jobs, and was drink-driving. Basically, he had nearly run me over the night before and only just swerved away in time. The whole class, including the teacher, found it hilarious. And for some reason, so did I!

You can’t be late

When you’re a teacher, you can’t be late to your own classes! I was late to one a couple of weeks ago because I was held up by the head teacher, and it’s the most awkward thing ever. Especially in Germany, where the teachers are so strict about the students being on time!

I’m not a student!

I know I’ve already said this, but I can’t stress how many times this has happened! The staff and students all think that I’m a student. I am always asked if I’m on a school exchange here. This alone should be a reason to bring in school uniform!

Despite these small things, teaching is really fun, but I definitely couldn’t do it as a profession later on in life!

Prague, back in Jena and getting back to…normal?

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Firstly, I must apologise for my lack of blogging these past two weeks. It can only be put down to the awesome, busy time I’ve been having in France, Prague and now back in Jena.

Our last few days in France were spent chilling, cooking and trying to find Emily the cheapest French car possible. The French love their bangers, and charge normal prices for them.

The next few days were spent in Prague. People who have been to Prague always seem to recommend it, and being so close to Jena, we decided to go across to Prague before coming back here. We visited all of the main sights in the two days we had there, and made the most of the beer. I found the Jewish Maisel Synagogue the most interesting part of our time there. From the moment you walk in to the moment you leave, the synagogue’s walls are covered with the names of the 80,000 Czech Jews who died during the Second World War. The writing is so small, yet the building is so big. Behind each name there is a story, a family and a life cut short, then you turn around and you are surrounded by names. Stalin infamously said, “One death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic”. Bollocks Stalin. Every death is beyond words, tragic and sickening. This is the feeling I got at the synagogue, and to think that there are people out there who don’t think the Holocaust even happened, these “Holocaust Deniers”, is just ridiculous.

On a lighter note, the rest of Prague was stunning and there was so much to do. If only we could have stayed there for a few more days! Here are some photos of Prague (but don’t expect this many next week, Emily’s gone now!).

Prague from the castle

Prague Old Town Square

 

 

The Astronomical Clock: Possibly the coolest clock in the world, but it doesn’t tell the time!

 

An outside restaurant in Prague. They put blankets on the chairs for you!

Prague Cathedral

 

Prague’s wanna-be changing of the guards. They don’t even have cool hats.

Surprisingly, having only been away from Jena for two weeks, I missed Germany quite a lot! I was very happy to return to Jena with Emily and introduce her to all of my friends. We spent a lot of time with my lovely flatmate Luise, and my friends Daniel and Malin. Daniel used to live in my room and now lives with his Swedish girlfriend Malin, who speaks fluent German and English. Whilst Emily was here, we all spoke in English. I’ve told them they have to slap me every time I say anything in English. Extreme, but necessary! Daniel and Malin took us to Ikea (nothing to do with Malin being Swedish, just to buy some cheap furniture). I have been here for two months, yet after a week of Emily being here, my room finally looks like a bedroom! But I’m sure that’s purely coincidental…

In the week that Emily stayed here, we visited Erfurt, Weimar and Buchenwald, the concentration camp near Weimar. I found Buchenwald even more shocking than the Jewish Synagogue. Having studied Elie Wiesel’s La Nuit, in which Wiesel tells of his time in Buchenwald and Auschwitz, I found it particularly interesting and shocking to visit the exact place that I was writing about during my exams only a few months ago.

Buchenwald entrance

Back in school, my lessons have been a bit more serious than in the first few weeks. This week I have been teaching about Guy Fawkes, UK politics and the US election. Teaching is still fun and rewarding, particularly when your students research things you’ve told them about outside of the lesson and ask lots of questions. Interestingly, politics went down really well with them. Although I had many classes in which neither the students, nor the teachers knew the Prime Minister’s name (one came close with James Cameron, the director of Avatar, whilst others thought it was the Queen). At least this meant that I had a lot of questions to answer!

This weekend I plan to blog more about teaching. There’s always a funny story to tell when you’re a teacher, but there are also a few things that I would like to get off my chest!

Bis dann.

From Bratwurst to Baguettes: A week in Lure, France

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Until now, I’ve been staying in more or less the same place, settling in and having fun. Now I can finally blog about a bit of traveling!

This week I went to visit my girlfriend Emily in Lure, Franche-Comté, Eastern France. Having first regretted not bringing any shorts, the weather soon changed and it snowed (in October!). But I’m not talking about big flakes of fluffy snow that settle on the floor. Not snowman material. Not even snowball material. No, this was the kind of snow that might as well have been rain. And to add insult to injury, it snowed in Jena this week, and I wasn’t even there.

From the moment I arrived in France, the culture differences from Germany and the UK were evident. Despite having been to France more times than I can remember, I found some of the French traditions even more surprising than normal. This is probably because Lure is a small, traditional town far away from metropolitain Paris.

Here are some of the things that I found fairly surprising in my week in Lure; a hat-trick of mini culture shocks:

1) People in Lure will happily stop, kiss each other on each cheek, have a full conversation, kiss again and walk away without even realising they are in the middle of the road, blocking all the cars. In England or Germany, the drivers would be sounding their horns and cursing aggressively, but in this case, the driver did not seem to care.

2) When you enter a small shop or bakery, you say “bonjour” to the shopkeeper, and they say it back. But when someone follows you into the shop, they will greet the shopkeeper and everyone else in the shop, whether they know them or not. I think it’s fair to say that this would never happen in England!

3) I must confess that I deeply regret criticising the German train services, having experienced the nightmare that is the SNCF. A cancelled train in France is nothing less than a normal occurrence. But don’t expect the replacement bus service to be running either. Lure is a taxi driver’s heaven. I must contradict my previous blog: Germany’s trains ARE efficient. Any country’s trains are compared to this!

Is it weird that after a week of in France, I miss Germany a little bit?

Saturday was going to be our main cultural trip. We planned to visit Epinal with my girlfriend’s friend, Rory. Epinal is supposed to be a beautiful French town, with lots to do. Unfortunately, we did not expect many of the shops to be closed (on a Saturday) because it was a bank holiday (ON A SATURDAY!). Soaked in sleet and snow, we walked around Epinal wishing we had stayed in Lure. We decided to spend as much time as possible in a restaurant, which cost us 30 euros each, and then head to a café to waste even more time. The next train home was at 7pm. Stupid French trains (see point 3). Our visit to Epinal can only be classed as a serious fail.

Cold, wet, but still smiling! Rory and Emily in Epinal

On a more cheerful note, Lure and its surrounding towns are lovely and it has been a great week. You will notice that this blog has far many photos than the others. This is because a) Emily has a camera (I use my phone) and b) she is a girl. Girls take pictures, and lots of them!

Me with some French bread

Lure lake

Emily

Lure woods

Some little French van

I call these Twiglet trees…

The park suggests exercises to you…

Very artistic. You can tell a girl took this. To me, it’s a shed!

All in all, it’s been great to visit my girlfriend, of course, and it’s also been very interesting to come to France. Seeing as it makes up half of my degree, I’m going to have to practise my French a lot this year!

The not so good things about life in Germany…

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To every German person reading this: Please read my previous blog about all the good things about Germany! You’ll have much more fun, and be far less offended…

Just kidding. There’s nothing that makes me want to leave the country immediately whenever I see it. I just have a few things I want to get off my English chest. So here goes…

1) German supermarkets are 20 years behind

If you go to a German supermarket, no matter what for, expect to be disappointed. This is the mindset I have to have now to be satisfied with a shop at my local supermarket. My original plan was to make a real effort with my cooking this year. I had the intention of buying loads of fresh food, herbs and spices so that I could cook some really nice meals in the ridiculous amount of free time I have.

I like food from all around the world: Fajitas, Stir Fries, Curries, Pasta. So I really intended to continue cooking interesting, international food. I came out of the supermarket with a pizza and two microwave-cheeseburgers. German supermarkets seem about 20 years behind ours, despite Germany having the strongest economy in Europe. You can buy anything from a Sat-Nav to a pushchair in my local Tesco. The nearest supermarket to me sells chocolate, crisps, very cheap alcohol, slippers (?) and a load of packs of processed sausages.

Good old British supermarket

But that’s not the worst bit. Having already waited 10 minutes for the Germans to stop pushing in front of you in the queue, you then approach the cashier and prepare for the biggest race of your life. If you’re not ready, you’re in trouble. I was not ready. The cashier puts your items through the till at lightning speed, normally achieving a sub-ten-seconds time and leaving you with a massive pile of shopping that you have to cram into your bag in a nervous rush. The cashier at my local supermarket literally drips with sweat all the way through his shift. Oh, and by the way, don’t expect to find free shopping bags anywhere like in England. The cashier then barks the price at you as quickly as possible, meaning you’ll inevitably not understand how much it costs, and you are left looking and feeling far more foreign than ever before.

2) Efficiency is a myth!

Before coming to Germany, I was looking forward to the stereotypical German efficiency and punctuality. Putting my trust in German trains, I gave myself as little time as possible to change trains. I have now been on three long journeys, and every single time the train has been at least 10 minutes late. Efficiency is a myth!

3) Cold early mornings

My school starts at 7.30am. Naturally, this means that if I am needed for the first lesson, I will freeze on my bike on the way to school. I go to school wearing my thickest coat, gloves and a scarf, and then return in the afternoon when it’s actually very warm. Of course, I boil on the way back because I have to wear the same coat I wore on the way to school earlier that day because it won’t fit in my bag. I’m still trying to figure out how to get around this problem.

4) Manners can backfire

In my previous post, I said that German people are, in fact, really nice, friendly people. And I stick by this. But one thing that really annoys me is that British manners are only useful in Britain. Firstly, I am beginning to realise that us Brits are far too polite. Here, I have had to teach myself not to hold a door open for someone if it will take more than around 2 seconds to wait, not to thank a driver for letting me cross at a zebra crossing, and not to say sorry every time I get in someone’s way. And here comes the worst bit. If you give someone money for something and say thank you, it means keep the change. Of course, I didn’t know this when I paid 20 euros for two pizzas worth 14, nor when I used a 20 euro note for the world’s biggest Schnitzel, worth 16 euros with a drink. Now, I find myself saying “danke, shit!”. British manners can backfire.

5) Pfand

In Germany, they make a real point of recycling your bottles. So much so that you get money for taking them back. Even in clubs, you get a token with your drink, and if you bring both back, you get a euro. However, when you are in a packed club having a good time with your mates, recycling is not exactly the first thing on your mind. I find myself embarking on a bottle hunt before leaving a club, to try and get back the 5 euros of Pfand that I am owed.

6) I look like I’m a pupil in my school

I hate the fact that German school’s don’t have a uniform. Not only because I am jealous that I had to wear a blazer, shirt and tie, but mainly because there is no differentiation between teachers and students. I am constantly mistaken for a pupil, so much that I get funny looks going into my shared office every morning.

Rant over. At least there were more good things than bad!