Monday, 14 October 2013

Hedgehogs, High Jinx and a Happy, Happy Birthday!

So, important news first: The Reichelts have HEDGEHOGS!!!

They found three baby hedgehogs without a mother who would not have survived in the wild, and and took them home to look after throughout the winter. Unglaublich süß!

Now, down to business. On Saturday, it was birthday time!!! (Not my birthday of course, we've still got another month to wait! It's Carly's (my previously-mentioned American friend) birthday today, so we celebrated early.) So, naturally, it was time to head off to trusty Bielefeld again (after retrieving my bike, that I'd left in town during all that saxophone palaver) for the Geburtstag celebrations.

On arriving at the bar, I met Carly's friend Stuart, who, I soon discovered, was one of the few teaching assistants with the actual desire to become a teacher (a surprisingly rare occurrence), and who also held an unusual prejudice against the Welsh. He revealed, somewhat enigmatically, that he had once had a 'bad experience' with a Welshman. When pressed further, he recounted a hilarious but decidedly random story, involving a Welsh mandolin player who was less-than-wisely invited round and fed copious amounts of absinthe, whereupon he began ranting about circumcision, and trying to bake a pie... I'm glad to say that I was able to dispel Stuart's preconceptions of Welsh people (this not being entirely representative of the Welsh population, though I've not been to Anglesey in a while). However, I wasn't able to comment on mandolin players...

The evening progressed, and resulted in us returning by the final train to continue the proceedings in Lemgo, accompanied by a bottle of Jim Beam (of which I did not partake - yuck!). Needless to say, my companions were soon looking a little worse for wear, though perhaps my fellow passengers enjoyed being serenaded in raucous English and being offered swigs of bourbon from the bottle. Who knows? The night was finally rounded off when someone (naming no names) fell asleep on the toilet and was kicked out of the bar. So, all-in-all, a highly successful soirée...!

After an (accidentally) extremely lazy Sunday, it was back to reality. Today I observed the year 5s (mostly 10 &11-year-olds, but there are actually a few 9-year-olds in there as well) in their very first class test, which is just a mini presentation about their old and new schools, then a short role-play. I learnt a new word today, Mitleid, which means 'pity', but transliterates as 'Withpain', or pain that you feel along with someone else's. I was certainly feeling some serious Mitleid by the end, as one nervous child after another timidly recited every detail about their old teachers and favourite subjects, interspersed with uncomfortable silences as they desperately tried to find the right words. My heart went out to them, die Arme.

Having said that, one of them, when asked if he had any pets, replied 'yes, I am a chicken!' Now, I would never laugh in a child's face when they get something wrong (mostly because I know all too well how hard it is to pluck up the courage to speak another language anyway, let alone when people laugh at your attempts!), but this took me totally by surprise! Let's just say that I had to retreat behind my water glass for some minutes before I could trust myself to keep a straight face. Witzig!

So that's what happened the last couple of days! I also have a shameless plug to offer you. I've started writing for LearnEnglish Teens, which is an online magazine by the British Council (which can be found here) to help teenagers from around the world learn English. I have written two blog posts so far, so have a gander if you fancy it!



Anyway, I think that's it! Tschau Kumpels!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A story about a saxophone

So, yesterday was my first experience of true Year-Abroad Fever. I'm talking about the trying-new-things, pushing-the-boat-out, carpe diem kind of fever. For some people it might be taking up a completely new sport, for others it might be couch-surfing or spontaneous travelling.

As for me, I bought a saxophone.

What can I say? I'm a live wire. One minute my eye was caught by a small-ad on ebay, the next (well, the next day actually) I was on a train to Warendorf to pick up my new purchase. Not even the length of the journey and persistent England-esque drizzle could dampen my mood; this spontaneous decision represented a tiny step towards the proverbial edge, and only the gravest of mishaps could quell my gleeful optimism. I didn't even stop to ponder the difficulty of stretching my already-pushing-it luggage allowance to include a heavy and bulky musical instrument, and even less the prospect of putting my erasmus grant to better use.

On the way, I received a text from the seller, Jenny, warning me about her Frettchen. But, since I didn't have any means of looking it up (my phone's too technologically challenged for dictionary apps), I was left to wonder what this word might mean. On arriving at Jenny's flat, she greeted me warmly, and gave me the chance to try out the soon-to-be-mine saxophone before I handed over the cash. I had given it but a few tentative honks, when there was a scuffle and, somewhat to my surprise, two ferrets scurried out from under the bed (thus solving the aforementioned Frettchen mystery!) Lucky I like small animals!

Fast forward two hours and I was back in Lemgo, the burden on my wallet considerably lifted. I set off home, sax in one hand, the other precariously manoeuvring my bike, while resolutely ignoring the torrential downpour in true British fashion. A little further along, now looking distinctly drowned-rattish, I abandoned the bike in town, (Has anyone ever managed to successfully carry a saxophone on a bike? Anyone who has is a liar...) and hopped on a bus, tucking my new instrument lovingly onto a luggage rack.

Ten minutes later, I stepped out into the rain and, having (naturally) got out at the wrong stop, trudged some way up the hill to my flat. It took me a good few minutes to realise I was feeling somewhat less weighed down than I should have been...

Then, my distinct lack of saxophone began to ring alarm bells. I'd left it on the bus. Classic.

Cue an even-more-drowned-rattish Rachel frantically scouring the posters at the bus stop for a phone number, finding one, discovering it did not include area code, flailing wildly at a passing German to ask the area code, mentally searching in vain for the German for 'area code', miming and pointing and flailing some more, and finally getting the valid area code from said rather bemused German (after making him repeat it three times). One mostly successful (but even more lacking in the vocabulary department) phone-call later, I was resigned to the fact there was nothing I could do for now, and headed home.

But, refusing to accept my sax's gloomy fate, I was struck with the bright idea that maybe I could run down to the town centre and catch the bus as it came back around. I am glad that it was dark by this time, so the curious mixture of running (anyone who knows me will know my feelings about this) and hobble-run-shuffling that followed went mostly unnoticed. Despite my woeful lack of skill in the running department, I finally reached the central Treffpunkt, and even felt a faint glimmer of hope at the sight of so many buses.

It seems that my predicament was already known, because the first bus driver I spoke to asked, with amusement, whether I was the one who'd left the trumpet on the bus. I nodded enthusiastically (this not being the time to split hairs), hurried breathlessly in the direction he indicated, and soon found the bus driver who had just finished locking my sax safely in the office. Initially, he stated grumpily that he was already running late and couldn't retrieve it, but something about my pathetic whimpering and sodden appearance must have convinced him, because he eventually consented to let me into the office.

I couldn't say for sure exactly how the bus driver felt about me at that moment, but he did use the word ärgerlich less than sparingly, while shooting dark looks in my direction. But at that point I didn't care, because there, lying innocently on the table, blissfully unaware of the trouble it had caused, was my new saxophone. Unable to express in German the heartfeltness of my gratitude, I stammered many a grateful danke, and scurried back out into the rain.

As the driver headed back to the bus, however, it suddenly occurred to me that, should I want a fast and (most importantly) dry way to get home, I would have to board the same bus as him, and bear yet more of his disdainful looks. I seriously considered the Very British solution of striding resolutely in the opposite direction until the bus had gone, then trudging home in the rain (a suitable fate for any Bus-Delayer and Causer-of-Public-Scene, such as myself). But that certainly would not have been the German solution. And when in Rome... So I slunk sheepishly onto the back of the bus, ignoring the smirks from fellow passengers who had witnessed the whole malarkey, and cradled my offending instrument like a new-born all the way home. 

Finally home! Soaking wet but WITH my new sax. Careless whisper, here I come!
So there you have it, the long, but hopefully entertaining, story of how I acquired a brand new saxophone, and a healthy dose of shame. Here's to Year-Abroad Fever!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

I guess Germany's pretty OK :)

Not quite my usual post format, but I had fun making these lists, so I hope you enjoy them. :)

So, I've been in Lemgo about a month now (how time flies!), which means I can look back on my first impressions of Germany with a fresh perspective (although I'm sure this will continue to change as my time here goes on). Though I have to admit I'm still very much a home bird, there are many things that I'm distinctly warming to in this strange land; I'm almost being won over to the German way of life. There might even be a couple of ways in which the Germans even manage to one-up us Brits. (Who would've thought!?) Perhaps these Germans aren't so crazy after all.

Here are just a few things that, in my eyes, Germany does better.

  • Giant square pillows... it's true! I've been converted! They're still weird though.
  • Cycling - Everybody does it, even old ladies! And I absolutely love it! Much quicker than walking, but still provides that inner smugness that comes with doing exercise. Win win!
  • Beer (We should definitely bring Altbierbowle to the UK! And who had the brilliant idea of mixing beer with lemonade??? Whoever it was, I take my hat off to you)
  • Table service in pubs - Such a good idea. Though I'll definitely have lost my ability to elbow my way to the bar in Wetherspoons.
  • Haribo - Germans do haribo in a big way. Not just gummy bears, but gummy everything. My taste buds are loving it! My teeth? Not so much.
Yes, I did buy Christmas Haribo in October. Don't judge me.
  • Opportunities for sausage puns - I think we all know how I feel about those... (They're the wurst)
  • Language - Germans have so many useful terms that we don't have single words for in English! I've read about words such as Drachenfutter (a gift to make it up to someone, especially a spouse, who you've done something to annoy) and Treppenwitz (literally 'staircase joke', a joke or comeback that you think of once the moment has passed). Since coming here, I've also come across fremdschämen (to be embarrassed on behalf of someone else), Suppenkoma (or 'soup coma', the tired feeling you get after a big meal), and Liebhaberstück (something an individual especially likes to collect). See, English seems ridiculously wordy by comparison!

However, much as I love the Vaterland, there are some things that we Brits just do better!

  • Tea - sorry Deutschland! I know you try.
  • Tap water. There is nothing wrong with it, despite what the judging looks from waiters would have you believe.
  • Films - seriously, it seems like every German film is actually a British or American one (well, mostly American if I'm honest) dubbed into German. And it isn't half confusing trying to lip-read while you listen.
  • Jokes. (To be fair, humour is one thing that just doesn't translate. When I've grown to fully understand the deutsche Humor I'll know I've become a fully fledged German!)

Edit: I just read the best German word! It's verschlimmbessern, which is the verb used to describe the act of making something worse, while actively trying to make it better. Such a great one!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

I went to some places

Hello first post in October!

So, this Thursday was Tag der Deutschen Einheit (celebrating the anniversary of German reunification) and, since the Germans have a profoundly sensible attitude, my school had a bridging-the-gap day off on Friday too (I have Fridays off anyway, but I still count this as a win!). Hello 4-day weekend, the perfect way to celebrate my first significant contribution to the enrichment of young minds (I told some year 10s some words) in appropriate style.

Although I'd known for a week that this abundance of free time was approaching, my powers of organisation failed me (as usual), and Wednesday evening found me still at a loose end as to how I would spend the next few days. I was determined to make the most of it, however, and ended up arranging at the last minute to meet for lunch with a trainee teacher at my school, Sonja, who lives in Detmold.

Detmold itself is a beautiful town, a little bigger than Lemgo, which I thoroughly enjoyed pottering merrily round, taking many a touristy picture.

This house is old apparently
Probably a horse

We luncheoned at a lovely pub-slash-restaurant, which served Detmold-brewed beers and enormous portions of (delicious) food. It also boasted an impressive but confusingly unnecessary rotating toilet seat (well, it didn't exactly boast it. It was just sort of there)! I can only assume the rotating was for cleaning purposes...

So, all-in-all, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day of looking round sunny Detmold, chatting shameful amounts of English (considering I spent the day with a real-life German!), and meeting Sonja's highly vocal cat, who did not respond to me, despite my attempts to solicit its affections.

That evening I went to the Hauskreis (or church small group) for Gemeinde am Grasweg, which was fun, but extremely German. Everyone was lovely, but integrating into a group of new people is hard enough when they're all speaking English, let alone when you can't get the words out in time (or in the right order!) to keep pace with a conversation in another language. But this is definitely something that will get better with time!

After a fun-filled Friday in good old Bielefeld, which involved Spaghettieis (ice cream in the shape of spaghetti - ours not to reason why), Semester tickets (FREE STUFF!!), and even more English speaking, we arranged a spontaneous trip to Münster for today. It was certainly strange to be back (I spent just under a month there last year at a language course), and the weather did not quite live up to the memories, but it was still a lot of fun to spend the day somewhere different, and to have the excuse to use our freshly-pressed semester tickets (free train travel in the whole Bundesland? Ja, bitte!).

Summer 2012 - The Aasee in glorious sunshine

We still had a lovely time though.  And we all enjoyed perusing the market in the Domplatz (which included free honey tasting!) and seeing the palace and botanic gardens. We did see a confusing number of wedding photoshoots though (about 3 or 4, all with different couples) in the palace grounds, but no guests or other signs of any significant events taking place. We guessed they were taking photos for a bridal magazine, but who knows!? (Crazy Germans)

Overall, an energetic few days. Here's to a lazy Sunday!