Saturday, 25 May 2013

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Hello my darling readers,

As some of you may be aware, my time in Germany is drawing to a close. My last day of work at the Realschule is on Tuesday so I'm packing up my stuff, trying to find a "Nachmieter" (someone to rent my room after I've left), sorting out my last Erasmus papers and making myself thoroughly miserable in the process. I literally cannot believe how quickly my year abroad has gone and even though it is not over yet (I will be back for a bit in June after going to Ireland and being at home for a while), I feel that this is an appropriate time to assess how much I've learned this year.

Of course, I have learned so much about the German language but before I come to that, I also want to point out the differences in culture that have either been enforced or that I have discovered during my time here! I'm umm-ing and uhh-ing about whether to write it as a list, as my last few blog posts have been in list form... Hmm, ok I'm just going to do it. Judge me (and my writing capabilities) if you will!

1. Famine Sundays - All of the shops (including supermarkets) close on Sundays here! This little German tradition has been the bane of my life. I know it used to be like that in England too when my parents were kids, but I've grown up being able to go shopping on a Sunday and therefore I always seem to forget to buy food to last me through the weekend. It's such a nightmare!

2. "Guten Appetit!" - I really like the custom of wishing your fellow diners a pleasant meal, it's just that we Brits don't really do it. It seems to be rude if you eat before the people you are eating with say "Guten Appetit!" to you and it also seems to be rude if you forget to say it to them. Needless to say that I always end up forgetting...

3. Looking people in the eyes when saying "Prost" - This is a funny one that I first encountered in the beer halls in Stuttgart. Apparently if you don't look people in the eyes while you clink glasses and say cheers, then you will receive the ultimate dose of bad luck: Seven years of bad sex. From then on, us language assistants have always made a massive thing of looking each other in the eyes when we are clinking glasses. Wishful thinking, one may say!

4. English Politeness vs. German Politeness - I have come to realise that the British people are maybe a little over polite. An example that I have experienced is the use of "thank you". If you are going through a series of doors and the same person holds each one open for you, my very British politeness cortex tells me to say thank you each time, often varying it in some way. ("Thanks!", "Ta!", "Cheers!") Germans don't do that. They say thank you once, the first time, and that is perfectly adequate for them. And I agree, though I still can't quite manage to pull it off!

5. German Directness - This is a bit of an extension of the previous comment. In Britain, we tend to hedge a lot and it takes us ages to get to the point! I go into a restaurant in England and say: "Could I please have the sirloin steak, if that's ok?" The waiter will then reply: "How would you like it cooked?" And then I would reply: "I'd like it between rare and medium, but don't worry if it doesn't turn out that way, I don't mind. Whatever is best for you." Ok, maybe that's a slight exaggeration but you get my gist, right? Well, Germans miss out all of this and get straight to the point. They specify exactly what they want, when they want it and how they would like it done. At first it can seem a little disconcerting and plain rude, but it's really not! It's just the way the German culture is and I'm growing to love it.

6. Supermarket Rushing - This is one custom that I am not a fan of. In a supermarket, you are somehow expected to pack all of your stuff into your bag and have the exact money ready within five seconds. If not, people behind you start tutting and rolling their eyes and the checkout clerk accidentally on purpose forgets to wish you a nice day as you leave. I much prefer the British system where they even offer to help you pack your bags!

7. General Customer Service Culture - I'm not entirely sure whether this is the same across the whole of Germany, but it certainly seems to me that in many shops in Trier, your custom seems to be a great inconvenience to the employees. It is perfectly acceptable here to finish a personal conversation with someone for a good five minutes before even acknowledging that the next customer is even there. Having said that,  I enjoy the fact that you can pay for something that costs €5 with a €50 note without any complaint from the cashier. In England you would get a right telling off! The only time you can't do this, though, is on the buses. NEVER attempt to give a €50 note on the buses if you want to keep your life.

8. Restaurant Seating System - When you go to a restaurant in England, you often have to wait to be seated. They even have little signs saying so! But in Germany it is different. Unless you have booked a table or the restaurant is really crowded, it is completely acceptable to just sit at a table and let the waiter come to you. I quite enjoy this!

9. Queuing - I'm sticking to my guns here; I love a queue. There is nothing better than an orderly, first come, first served queue, in which everyone patiently waits their turn... Evidently I don't share this opinion with many people in Germany, though. Sometimes it's completely acceptable to push into a queue here, just because! It drives me insane!

10. Buses - I would like to take a moment to appreciate how efficient the German bus system is. None of this British style waiting around, hoping vaguely that a bus will come sometime soon. Here, they have proper timetables which the buses actually stick to! It is rather amusing to witness the tutting, foot tapping and eye-rolling that goes on if a bus is even a minute or two late here!

Next comes the language. Without blowing my own trumpet, it is safe to say that my German speaking skills have massively improved during my time here. Not only do I now find it easier to understand and respond to people, I have even managed to pick up and incorporate some stylistic things into my speech (as mentioned before in a previous post.) I am now able to have conversations that I definitely wouldn't have been able to have this time last year and although I would not yet consider myself fluent, I would say that my fluency has increased in leaps and bounds. I think that living with German housemates has helped a massive deal and if there is anyone reading this who is about to embark on a year abroad, I would strongly recommend living with others who are native speakers of your chosen language. I have been so lucky to have had Steffi to live with, as she has always been very patient and hasn't laughed too much when I've made funny mistakes!

I have also learned during my time here that a great deal of experimentation goes with language learning, which is something that you cannot really do in a classroom setting. I've often been in the situation where I've heard a phrase or an expression that I've never heard before, understood it in the context and then made a sort of bet with myself to try and slip it into conversation. Sometimes it works and the phrase fits exactly with what I'm trying to say and other times I just get blank looks, but even if I've got it wrong (and I have many times), I've really enjoyed this element of experimentation in my language learning.

German TV and films have also played a big part in my learning this year. Even just having it on in the background while I'm doing something else somehow helps my brain to tune into German. I'm not saying that I haven't watched any English TV (in fact, I have probably utilised Expat Shield way too much) and I often can't understand everything that is going on, but my ability to follow what is happening and to understand the context (e.g. comedy) has improved a lot.

At university last year, I did a module called "Language Acquisition". Although I understood the theory that language can be acquired unconsciously as oppose to consciously learnt, I never truly grasped that it could happen. Before I came here I was riddled with worries and questions such as "What if I come back and I haven't learned anything?", "What if my level of language doesn't improve as much as it should?" and "How will I even learn anything at all without poring over vocabulary books the whole time?", but now I get it. When you are completely immersed in a country's language, culture and customs, these things just start to become more natural to you and I truly believe that, although you can comprehend the theory behind it, it is something that you cannot fully understand until you have experienced it.

I apologise for sounding a little arrogant and pretentious during that last part, as my language skills are far, far, far from perfect... It's just that I am amazed how much you can actually pick up in under a year! So in an attempt to make this already mammoth post a little more light-hearted, here is a list of some of my favourite words and phrases that I have learned! (Excluding those already mentioned in previous posts!)

1. "Doppelt gemoppelt" - Describing the use of a double negative.

2. "Vom anderen Ufer" - The German equivalent of saying that somebody bats for the other team. The literal translation meaning that the person in question is from the other bank of the river.

3. "Töte Hose" - Used if something is really, really boring. Literal translation: Dead trousers.

4. "Ende gelände" - When something has reached it's end. Literal translation: End of the country.

5. "Jedem das Seine" - Each to their own.

6. "Schnurren" - To purr. (I just like the sound of this word! Onomatopoeic!)

7. "Der Kater" - Hangover. Literal translation: Tom cat.

8. "Die Heulsuse" - Cry baby.

9. "In den sauren Apfel beißen" - Bite the bullet. Literal translation: To bite into the sour apple.

10. "In ein Fettnäpfchen treten" - To put one's foot in it. Literal translation: To step into a greasy bowl.

11. "Backpfeifengesicht" - A face that needs to be punched. Translates literally as "knuckle sandwich face".

12. "Kummerspeck" - Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literal translation: Grief bacon.

I hope you enjoyed some of those as much as I did! I actually acquired the last two from a great article on foreign words that should be adopted into the English language, which you can find here.

Anyway, that's all for now folks! If I have time, I may write a blog post about my recent trip to Amsterdam and my impending trip to Ireland, but if not, you will have to be satisfied with my Facebook pictures!

Until next time,

Bel xxx

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Year Abroad Solutions

Hello lovely readers!

I recently had a conversation with my friend Emily (my collaborator on this post) who is also doing a year abroad in Germany this year. During this conversation, we coined the expression "Year Abroad Solution" (henceforth to be known as YAS). This got me thinking about what some of my YAS's are, which then inspired me to write a blog about them. Et Voilà! Here is the conversation that started it all:

And here are some more that Emily and I came up with from our own experiences!
  • Using words which really don't fit the scenario correctly, but might vaguely get your point across.

  • Trying to act out what you want to say, therefore causing the other conversation participants to shout out a random assortment of verbs to try and assist you.

  • Waving your hands around in the air as if you will somehow be able to catch the word and drag it painstakingly into your consciousness.

  • Using "schön" (beautiful) to describe everything good.

  • Using "schlimm" (bad) to describe anything bad.

  • Using "lustig" (funny) to describe anything remotely comical.

  • Saying "unglaublich" (unbelievable) when something bad has happened and you do not have the linguistic capability to elaborate.

  • Saying that you feel "müde" (tired) if you are feeling a bit down, ill or simply can't be bothered.

  • Saying "Auf jeden Fall" (definitely) or "Ja klar" (yes, of course) when you're not sure what someone is on about but feel you should agree anyway.

  • Saying "Naja" or "Ach sooo..." to stall for time in order to form a coherent sentence.

  • Dragging out laughter longer than normal or necessary, whilst frantically trying to remember a verb in your head.

  • Planning important conversations in your head (such as asking for a doctors appointment) and identifying various linguistic difficulties that could occur, in advance.

  • Watching a film in German that you've already seen in English to try and kid yourself that you understand the language.

  • Just saying English words in a German accent and hoping they are right.

  • Going to McDonalds because the menu is in English and the familiarity is comforting.

  • Religiously watching Germany's Next Top Model because it nearly always has English in it and you can therefore easily follow what is going on.

  • Giving up. And then suffering the awkward silence that follows.

Well Leute, there you go, those are some of my Year Abroad Solutions! A few may be a little exaggerated but I'm sure every student doing a year abroad can identify with at least some of them! And if you're not a student doing a year abroad, then I hope you had a good giggle at my incompetence. Maybe you could try a few out next time you go abroad!

Thank you, as always, for reading!

Until next time,

Bel xxx

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Flying Pineapples, Growing Bones and Goose Meat.

Hello lovely readers!

This is rather a silly little blog post, but I wanted to share it with you all the same. One of my tasks as an ELA is correcting the student's essays. As I'm sure any teacher will tell you, this is often a very dull and tedious experience, but once in a while you get something that really amuses you. Today, whilst correcting my Year 10's class tests on global warming and the environment, I came across some rather funny sentences, so I thought I'd write a mini post about them (plus some others I have experienced in the last few months) in hope that they make you smile as much as they did me!

So, here we go:

1. "Why did you decide to come on our school?"

When I first started here, I got some of the students to write me letters. This is one of the more unfortunate mistakes made by using the wrong preposition!

2. Me: "Anybody know what Po is in English?"
    (Po translates as bum or bottom)
    Innocent 10 year old girl: "ANUS!!!!!!!"

Body parts lesson are always a source of amusement but at least she knows the scientific term!

3. "Miss Forster is sadding in the classroom!"

This was during a lesson on the present progressive with the Year 6's. I was miming crying, but I think sadding sounds better, actually.

4. "When I got home, I ate someone."

This appeared in one of my Year 10's diary about her carbon footprint. I like to think that she got "someone" and "something" confused, but you never know. Some of the kids are off their rockers!

5. "The police use guns to catch rubbers."

Oh, how a simple spelling mistake can alter the meaning of a sentence. This mistake is particularly poignant if you think of it from an American point of view, where "rubber" actually means "condom"!

6. "I grow bones in my back garden."

This really made me chuckle! I assume she meant beans (because beans translate as "bohnen"), but it still didn't stop me imagining a garden full of bones sticking out from the ground!

7. "We water the plants with water from our little sea."

This is so adorable and I think he meant pond, seeing as lake is "see". I think I shall call ponds "little seas" from now on.

8. "We could also buy a solar system!"

He meant solar panels, but who wouldn't want to own a solar system?

9. "Food is transported by train, plane and on chips."

Germans pronounce the "ch" sound how we would pronounce "sh", so it's understandable why she wrote this. It doesn't stop it being funny though!

10. "I don't eat much organic foot."

Nor do I.

11. "Pineapples fly from Brazil to Germany."

He was trying to say that they are transported to Germany by plane, but all I could think of was this ridiculous image of migrating pineapples...

Now, before you accuse me of being unfair and tell me that my German isn't perfect, here is a silly mistake that I made yesterday when talking to Steffi:

We were listening to the Les Miserables soundtrack and I wanted to say that when I hear Colm Wilkinson sing, it gives me goosebumps. In German, goosebumps are called "Gänsehaut" (goose skin) but instead of saying that, I said that I had "Gänsefleisch" which translates as "goose meat". Steffi just looked at me as if I was mental for a few seconds before realising what I meant. So you see, nobody is perfect!

Thank you, as ever, for taking the time to read and I hope that this made you smile!

Bis Bald,

Bel xxx

P.S. A new phrase that I have just learnt and find particularly useful: "Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof!" which literally translates as "I only understand station!" but actually means "It's all Greek to me!" I feel that I will be using this phrase a lot in future.

[A flying pineapple. Just because.]

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Fasching Fun!

Hallo meine lieben Freunden!

As promised (quite a while ago, admittedly), here is another post to bring you up to date with my Deutschland antics! Before I launch into the wonder that is is Karnevalzeit, I'm going to tell you a little bit about when my parents and Grandma came to visit!

Typical to those living abroad, I massively craved some of the comforts of home such as cheddar cheese and blackcurrant squash, so my family's arrival was slightly overshadowed by the fact that they had bought me so many English goodies! (Though I am already out of squash! Sob. It was fun showing it to the North Americans, though, as they had never heard of it and thought that when I was going to get some squash, I was in fact fetching a large root vegetable... Anyway, I digress...) After all of this initial excitement, I was able to get on with a weekend filled with family time, which was lovely. On the Saturday we went to Heidelberg for the day and then on the Sunday, my nachhilfe student Rosi invited us all for dinner. It was a traditional German feast, including sauerkraut and knödel. Yum yum! It was a great evening and was a very nice end to the weekend.

[Pork with Sauerkraut and Knödel]

[Die Familie Eberwein und die Familie Forster]

After the excitement of a family visit, the next big thing to look forward to was Karneval. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this custom, it is a period of festivity that takes place just before the beginning of Lent. In Britain we have pancake day, whereas in Germany everyone gets absolutely hammered for about a week whilst dressing up in ridiculous costumes. Now, I've never taken drugs, but getting on a bus to go to school at 7am only to be greeted by der Froschkönig (the frog prince), Pippi Langstrumpf (Pippi Longstocking) and numerous bumblebees is what I imagine being high would be like. But of course you know what they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do (more like: when in Germany, put on a costume and get slaughtered), so the other ELA's and I donned our Dirndls (except from Tylor and Beth who went as a lumberjack and a sheep) and headed off to a Weiberfastnacht party at Beth's flat. Weiberfastnacht is the day during Karneval known as "women's day", which means that women have the right to cut off the end of men's ties and to kiss them. Unfortunately, none of us plucked up the courage to adhere to this custom, but we can always come back next year! Anyway, the party was a resounding success with much consumption of alcohol, especially the miraculous inventions that are Klopfers. These little beauties are small bottles of some type of fruit schnapps and each bottle has a number on the bottom. You have to bang the bottle on the floor or wall the number of times listed on the bottom of your bottle, put the cap of the bottle on your nose and down it without using your hands. Great fun, but lethal. Let's just say that the journey home was a little hazy that night!

[Party Time! Weiberfastnacht]
[Beth and I with our Klopfers]

[Marianne and I once the Klopfers had kicked in!]

On the Sunday, Gunjan and I set off for Mainz where we were going to meet up with Beth, Tylor and Whitney for the Rosenmontag parade. Coincidentally we bumped into Whitney and Tylor on the train, so we enjoyed the very scenic train ride from Koblenz to Mainz with them and an old German man sitting behind us, who had a hand puppet and made us a balloon animal with a smiley face on it. We weren't sure whether he was just a bit mental or whether he was doing it for Karneval. I'd like to think it's the latter, but you never know! When the man had alighted and after we had a closer look at the balloon, we decided to name it "Onkel Adi" (short for Adolph), due to the slightly questionable moustache.

The next day was Rosenmontag and Gunjan and I made our way to Mainz to meet the others for the parade. If I thought that it was weird seeing Pippi Langstrumpf on the bus was 7am, then Mainz at Karneval is the most bizarre thing I've ever seen. In 10 minutes, I saw nine people dressed as bananas, two as carrots, one as the incredible hulk and a massive group of parrots. I can't quite describe to you what the atmosphere is like, but put it this way; people who weren't wearing a costume looked out of place. This only got more pronounced as we headed towards the place where the parade would take place. The streets were lined with people of all ages wearing every type of costume imaginable. The parade started at 11.11am and as the floats went past, everyone shouts "HELAU!" and they throw sweets. After a period of not getting any sweets thrown at us, I resorted to shouting "Helau! HELAU! OIIII!", but even that was unsuccessful. Our luck changed later on whilst we were in Tylor's friend's apartment overlooking the street and got the people on the float to try and throw sweets through the windows, though we had to be careful. Taking a chocolate bar to the head can be extremely painful!

[Whitney and I during the Rosenmontag Parade]

Not only did the floats throw sweets, but some also gave out political messages. One that stuck out in my mind was the float resisting the expansion of Frankfurt airport. We also saw one on the TV from the Dusseldorf Karneval of the Greek president drawing a Hitler moustache on Angela Merkel! Not exactly politically correct if you ask me, though having said that, they did have people who had "blacked up" in the Mainz Karneval! There were also lots of bands playing and quite a few of the people participating wore masks. Some of the masks were quite scary. Apparently this is because many years ago they used masks like this to scare the evil spirits out of the city. The scary mask wearing people also picked random people up (usually girls) and ran down the street with them. Hilarious for us, but not so much for the victims. Luckily we were able to escape this particular Karneval tradition. Speaking of Karneval traditions, they have a variety of songs that are played during Karnevalzeit, all of which are ridiculously catchy and were blasted the entire time of the parade! A few favourites of mine were the Döner Song (Ich hab 'ne Zwiebel auf dem Kopf, ich bin ein Döner/I have an onion on my head, I'm a Doner Kebab), Viva Kolonia, Schatzi schenk mir ein Foto and Allein in Amsterdam. They are all epic tunes so if you haven't heard them before, get on YouTube and blast them out!

[One of the political floats]

[Scary masks]

An extremely organised bout of German efficiency followed the parade, in which the road was swamped with street cleaners, leaf blowers and general clearer-uppers to combat the mess that had been produced during the last 4 hours. What do the Germans do after that, I hear you ask? Well here's your answer... They party some more! We headed off to the main city centre where a massive street party was happening. There were two massive stages playing music and a few fairground rides. Gunjan and I didn't stay for too long, but the others sounded like they had a great night!

Returning to Trier was a subdued affair. Karneval being over combined with tiredness was a bit of a downer, but I soon perked up when Marianne, Beth and I made pancakes in honour of the British tradition of Shrove Tuesday. We made way too many for just the three of us, but it was worth it. A perfect end to a great weekend!

[Pancakes in Trier]

Sadly, this week we are saying "Auf Wiedersehen" to two of our Language assistant chums; Marianne and Emma. They will be sorely missed. We'll have a beer in honour of you at future Schnitzelabends, girls! (Except I won't because I've given up alcohol for lent, but it's the thought that counts, right?)

I shall leave it there for now because you know what they say:

Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei. (Everything has an end, only the sausage has two.)

Bis Bald,

Bel xxx

P.S. Also, I learnt a cool new word: Muffel. - Translates as "Grump" z.B. Ich bin ein Morgensmuffel!

P.P.S. Does having a P.S. at the end of my post mean that, like a sausage, it has two ends?!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A very, very belated Happy New Year!!!

Hello lovely readers!

Even though I am very late in saying it, Happy New Year to you all! I have been meaning to write for a very long time now, but I got swept away with Christmas related activities in December and after Christmas I was just a little bit lazy and have only just got my blog-writing-bottom into gear! So, this post is dedicated to what I was up to before, during and just after Christmas, and a second one will follow shortly that is a lot more up to date!

I'll start at the beginning of December, when my parents visited and then Hannah visited a few days later. They really did pick the best time of year to come, as the Christmas markets were in full swing. Christmas in Germany is so intoxicating (in more ways than one!!!) The lights, the markets and the food and drink are all amazing. For those of you who have never experienced the delights of a German Christmas market, it is basically a lot of little wooden cabins selling ornaments, candles and other bits and bobs. And not forgetting the food and Glühwein (mulled wine) stalls! Some of my favourites included the white Glühwein (which is a nice twist on the tradition of red), Reibekuchen mit Apfelsoße (grated potato cakes with apple sauce), chocolate covered fruit kebabs and of course, the classic German Bratwurst! When my parents visited we just went to the one in Trier, but Hannah and I travelled up to Koblenz for the Christmas market there. Maybe I'm a bit biased, but I preferred the market in Trier. I must say though, that their Glühwein list was extensive and I sampled a divine concoction of white apple cinnamon Glühwein. Yummy!

[The Parents and I]

[Hannah and I]

The other Trier ELA's and I also participated in a lot of fun Christmas related activities around this time. We went ice-skating a couple of times on the open air rink in Trier, which was great fun! They have these plastic orange seals that children can sit on and be pushed around on the rink, so obviously we took full advantage of this facility and pushed each other around on them. I'm quite proud to say that I only fell over twice and both were in connection with an orange seal and not my general clumsiness! We also had a Pot-Luck Christmas meal at my flat, which Hannah was there for. The spread was epic and included a gorgeous savoury tart that Beth had made, rice crispie cakes, cake pops, pigs in blankets and courgette fritters. This was followed by watching the Muppet Christmas Carol, which was thoroughly enjoyed and sung along to.

[Ice Skating]

[Christmas Meal]

Going home for Christmas was a bit weird. I couldn't believe how quickly my time here had been going (and I still can't!) It was lovely to be home and to celebrate Christmas and my 21st birthday with my family. It was also so nice to catch up with my friends at home and it was especially good fun to chat to those who are also abroad this year and to compare experiences.

[Catching up with friends at home]

After Christmas, my Mum and I jetted off to New York for a few days (my 21st birthday present from my parents). We stayed in the Waldorf Astoria, which was absolutely beautiful and we had such a brilliant time shopping, taking in the sights and just soaking up the general atmosphere. Some of the highlights were seeing Mary Poppins on Broadway and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. We also went to see the new Les Miseables film as it was released earlier in America. Needless to say that I cried multiple times. I can't wait for it to come out in Germany so I can go and see it again. It was such an amazing trip and each time I go to New York, it makes me want to go again!

[Times Square, NYC]

After a jam-packed couple of weeks at home, it was time for me to head back to Germany. It was sad to leave home but I was also quite excited to go back. I could tell that my level of German had already got a lot better, but strangely enough, it seemed to be even better after Christmas, after speaking only English for a couple of weeks. I think I subconsciously thought that my level of German after Christmas would be the same as when I first started and it was quite disconcerting to just have an in-depth conversation with Steffi as soon as I got back, without even thinking too much. I've also started picking up little "filler" words and phrases that I never used before such as "auf jeden fall" and "gell?". I've heard that the latter is a bit of a regional thing, so I'd better not get into a habit of saying it too much!

A week or so after getting back, I had a bit of a surprise. One Saturday evening, I was invited to Hillary and Gunjan's for a movie night. I had to work that day, which meant a 6am start, so I was shattered and looked a mess. I met Hillary in town and we headed back to her's and Gunjan's, where I asked who else was coming (the reply was: "Maybe Marianne, I don't know") and whether I could order pizza when I get there ("Mmm, yeah...") As we walked through the door, all the lights were off (I'm sure that you can see where this is going, but I didn't at the time) and as we opened the door to Gunjan's room, I head a massive "Surprise!" I still didn't quite realise what was going on at that point, as I could only see Beth, but as I walked in, everyone was there! They bought me my favourite wine, as well as "Emergency Party Cutlery" (an in-joke that refers to me never having enough cutlery when everyone comes round.) Those sneaky devils even baked a cake! It was such a lovely surprise, and made even better when we played round two of the Harry Potter game that Hillary had created for the Halloween party!

So there you have it, you are almost up to date. I will definitely not be this lazy again, I promise!

Thanks for reading,

Bel xxx

P.S. I forgot to mention that we did a Secret Santa, where I gave Hillary a Downton Abbey mug and Tylor gave me a New York guide book in German. So here is a photo of me in New York with said guide book!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

All Aboard the Berlin Banter Blog!

Hello my darling readers,

I'm actually writing this within a few days of me arriving back from Berlin and haven't left it for a few weeks as I usually do. I hope you are proud of me and appreciate this great display of effort!

I suppose that I should start at the very beginning, as I hear that it's a very good place to start... My journey started at 7am on Friday when I got a taxi to the station. Unluckily, my driver was one of those ridiculously chatty taxi drivers. Now, I have nothing against them and I would even go as far as to say that it's quite pleasant to have a friendly taxi driver, but there should be a law that they are not allowed to talk to you before 9am. I know this sounds very antisocial, but the last thing I want to do at that time of the morning is to make inane small talk with people that I will never see again, particularly in a language that isn't my mother-tongue! It was all the usual questions like "Where are you from?" at the beginning, but once he found out I was from London, he started telling me a story about how he went to London once for three days when he was fifteen, and asked whether I knew someone called Peter who lives in St. Albans. Funnily enough, I didn't. For all of you Non-British folk, just because we live on a small island, does not mean that we all know each other!!! Needless to say, I was relieved to get out and onto my bus to Frankfurt airport, where I could plug in my iPod and nap!

Once arriving at the airport (ridiculously early, because it was the only bus that would get me there on time) I checked in and decided to get something to eat. Now, in an English airport, it is usually wise to eat after you have checked in and gone through security as there is less stress and there are usually a better selection of restaurants. Not in Frankfurt am Main, though... (Or Berlin Tegel for that matter). There was only one restaurant after security and I ended up paying a ridiculous amount for a Flammkuchen that I didn't even eat half of because it was a bit grim. By the time I arrived in Cottbus, I was starving, so was thankful when Emily suggested that we went and got something to eat!

Emily gave me the guided tour of Cottbus as we walked from the station to the main part of town. She said that is was fairly typically East German, but it was pretty dark and misty, so I didn't really get a chance to have a look. She showed me where she worked and we went to a lovely restaurant, which is quite like Giraffe in England. Em recommended the cocktails, so we set to work deciphering the mammoth cocktail list. Finally I settled on a strawberry margarita and Emily decided on a kiwi type thing. When the waitress came to take our order, we said which cocktails we'd like and she replied in German. I didn't catch what she had said, so said "Ich weiß nicht!" (I don't know!) Emily didn't understand what she had said either, but instead of saying that she didn't know, she decided to ignore her and hope that she went away. After a few awkward seconds of her looking at us expectantly, Emily just turned round to her and said "Ja." This seemed to satisfy the waitress and off she went. We just collapsed into giggles as we really didn't have a clue what we'd just agreed to. We were soon to find out, though... As our cocktails arrived, there were four on the tray and I thought "Oh the girls on the table next to us have ordered the same! What a coincidence!" How wrong I was. By saying "Ja", we had actually agreed to double cocktails! The waitress looked ridiculously shocked when Emily and I erupted into giggles again! Thankfully though, it was a situation that could have potentially turned out badly, but actually turned out quite well!

[Our double cocktails faux pas]

[Margarita time!]

The next morning, we got up early for our day trip to Berlin. Berlin is about an hour away from Cottbus on the train, so we lugged ourselves out of bed and caught the train at 9am. On the train into the city, the East and West divide was still really noticeable, which I was quite surprised about. Our first stop on our tour was what remains of the Berlin wall, which we headed to after meeting up with Emily's friend Martha at the Hbf. The station that we got off at to see the wall was in East Berlin, and I was quite shocked to see how different it was from what I'd seen of the West. I think the term that one of us used to describe it was "bleak". I know that it's just one part of the city, but I would have thought that it would have been more developed, particularly as it is a tourist destination and due to the fact that there is an O2 arena there. The arena looks so out of place and, setting it apart from everything else, I really did feel like I had been transported back to East Berlin in the 1980's. The wall is covered in all sorts of graffiti, some sending out political messages and some purely decorative. It was so interesting to see and one my personal highlights of the day.

[Berlin Wall]

[Half East, Half West]

The next stop was Checkpoint Charlie in Friedrichstraße. Friedrichstraße is quite clearly the shopping district of Berlin and it felt quite similar to London. I didn't know what I was expecting Checkpoint Charlie to be like, but I certainly didn't picture it the way it is! The best way to describe it, is that that it's  just chilling in the middle of a road full of shops. It's actually situated right next to one of the biggest capitalist brands that you can think of; McDonalds. (Some irony there, I feel.) Seeing as it was my first time in Berlin, I completely sold out to the tourism industry and paid €2 to have my photo taken with a soldier in front of the Checkpoint. As Emily took the photo, the soldier said to me in a strong Russian accent: "You have boyfriend?" I was a bit shocked as I told him "No". As I said it, Emily told us that she'd taken the photo but the soldier told her to take another one. He then held out his arm for me to take and as I did so, he said "You have boyfriend now." It took all of my concentration not to laugh in the middle of the photo being taken!

[My new "boyfriend" and I at Checkpoint Charlie]

After lunch in the German version of Wagamama, we headed down to the Brandenburg gate. When we got there, we suddenly realised that none of us knew what the Brandenburg gate was. Such bad German students! Thankfully, we found an information board that told us everything that we needed to know. In case you were wondering, it's a former city gate. You learn something new every day! We then walked down to the Reichstag, which is a really impressive building. Unfortunately you have to book tickets in advance, so we couldn't go in, but I suppose that it just gives me an excuse to go back to Berlin, doesn't it? At that point, Martha left us and Emily took me to see the holocaust memorial. I have quite mixed feelings towards the memorial. It is basically a series of large concrete blocks in the middle of a square. I didn't like it too much as there was nothing telling you what it was and if nobody told you, then you wouldn't think anything of it. I suppose that's where the problem lies for me, it was too easy to overlook. Having said that, as you walked deeper into the labyrinth of stone, it did have a sense of atmosphere to it that is appropriate for what it symbolises. I have heard a lot of different opinions about it and if you haven't been before, I would definitely encourage you to go and see what you make of it.

[Brandenburg Gate]

[Emily and I infront of the Reichstag]

[Holocaust memorial]

[Walking through the memorial]

Later on, Emily and I headed towards Potsdamer Platz, where there was a little Christmas market going on. None of the others were open yet and in some ways, it's a shame that I didn't visit a few weeks later when they would be open! We then decided to get something to eat before heading back to Cottbus. We ended up in Alexanderplatz, where the iconic TV tower is located. Unfortunately, we weren't able to see the top, as it was so misty! I caught a glimpse of it on my way back into the city on my way home the next day, though!

[Em and I being silly while waiting for the train]

So there you have it, my weekend in Berlin in a nutshell! I had an amazing time and would definitely like to go back again.

Thanks, as ever, for reading,

Bel xxx

P.S. In other news, after being inspired by Emily riding her bike this weekend, I finally got my saddle lowered today so that I can actually ride mine now! I christened it by riding down to the Mosel river and back up through town. As you may know, I'm not the most coordinated person in the world, and I received a few amused looks as I wobbled my way through town. Oh well, practice makes perfect!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Harry Potter, a Tea Party and a Little Bit Of Luxembourg!

Hello lovely readers,

I have exceeded my usual standards of laziness and haven't written in three whole weeks! I therefore won't promise to write every week anymore, just as and when something interesting occurs! I warn you, this post is going to be a long one, so brace yourselves!

I suppose I had better start where I left off last time! At the end of October, Eleanor (an old school friend) came from Bonn to visit me in Trier. After meeting her at the station, I gave her a small tour of the town and some of the main sights. That evening was the much anticipated Harry Potter party at Hillary and Gunjan's place, so we both donned fancy dress and made our way to Ehrang carrying the "very haggard Hagrid cake" that the other assistants and I had made the day before in honour of Hillary's birthday. El looked fairly inconspicuous, but unfortunately the same couldn't be said for me. I was dressed as Hedwig, so attracted many a curious stare as people clocked the feathers sticking out of my coat on the bus. Once arriving at the party, we were all divided into the four houses (Eleanor and I were Ravenclaw) and the game commenced. It was a brilliant effort on Hillary and Gunjan's part, I must say. We had different categories such as Divination (His and Her's type questions), Charms (Charades) and Quidditch (Beer Pong). Naturally, Ravenclaw won (though, those pesky Gryffindors may claim otherwise), and by the end of the night, some people were absolutely Harry Pottered!


 [The Famous Hagrid Cake]

[Those sneaky Gryffindors]

[Eleanor and I in front of the Porta Nigra]

Later that week, Germany had a Feiertag (bank holiday), so a group of us decided to go to Luxembourg for the day. To be honest, we didn't really think it through because everything was shut because of the bank holiday, so we spent most of the day wandering through Luxembourg in the rain. It's a nice city with some nice buildings, but I'm not sure that I would go there again as you can pretty much do the city in one day! Despite this, we had a laugh. We sampled the local cuisine.... Ok, I lie, we went to a Mexican restaurant and drank Margaritas... And I used my rubbish school-girl French! Quite successful, I'd say!

 [Us gathered around a random flame on our very rainy day trip to Luxembourg]


[Later on in the day and it was still raining!]

Last week I was invited to one of the other English teacher's houses for a little get together for her birthday. A few of the other teachers I knew from school were there (including my supervisor teacher), plus a few more who had retired a couple of years before. For those of you who were in my Year 7-9 German class with Mrs Schofield and know about her German cake obsession, you will understand what I mean when I say that she would have had a foodgasm. There were only ten of us there, yet there were about eight massive German cakes. There was a cheesecake, a kiwi cake and an apple cake, just to name a few! (In case you were wondering, I went for the apple cake.) It was a really nice afternoon and a good opportunity to socialise with my colleagues outside of school. Plus, I got to practice my German a lot!

Later that evening, I cooked a typically English meal for my housemate Steffi; Bangers and Mash with Onion Gravy (made from the gravy that my Mum sent me!) We had no masher to mash the potatoes with, so we improvised and used a hand blender. I wouldn't recommend this method. The potatoes adopted the consistency of glue and with the gravy it turned a bit soupy! Nevertheless, it tasted OK and we washed it down with some wine. I don't know whether it was because I'd spent most of the afternoon making conversation in German and was in the zone, but I was able to speak fairly eloquently about loads of things. At one point, we were talking about World War II and, without blowing my own trumpet, I was really proud of the way in which I was able to speak, as I wouldn't have been able to speak like that when I first arrived. Even Steffi commented that she thought that I had improved. I must say, it's good to hear, as the last few weeks I have felt like I've been in a bit of a rut when it came to my language skills. Having said that, I have had conversations and even straight after, I  can't remember whether I had the conversation in English or German. That has never happened to me before!

Last weekend, Gunjan (who is Hindu) held a party to celebrate Diwali. On the Saturday, we all went to her house and she drew beautiful patterns on our hands in Henna and we watched a Bollywood film about cricket. Those of you who know my Dad will understand why I am fairly knowledgeable about cricket (though I'm sure that he will deign to disagree, as I spend most matches shouting nonsense like "LBW" at random times, just to wind him up), and so I spent the last hour or so of the film explaining some cricket rules to those who didn't know. It was a great film, but ridiculously long! I swear it lasted over three hours!! The next day, we commenced the second part of the party. All of us dressed up nicely and most of us cooked something yummy for the evening! Later on, we set off some fireworks (because Diwali is the festival of lights). It was great fun!

That brings me nearly up to date! Just one more thing, though! After our weekly Schnitzelabend, a few of us went to see the new James Bond film this week. We saw it in English and it was absolutely amazing! It was also quite funny to read the German subtitles and see how it had been translated. I definitely think that quite a few of the jokes would not have worked in German, but that's just me! Having said that, there were hearty chuckles from most of the Germans in the cinema, so it must have been funny to them!

Tomorrow I'm off to Berlin to visit Emily who is living in Cottbus. I actually cannot wait, as I've never been to Berlin before!

Stay tuned for our adventures aboard the Berlin banter bus! I'll try and get them up as soon as possible after I get back!

Thank you for reading,

Bel xxx

P.S. Sorry that this post is a quite bitty, but I left it for so long that it was hard to get a continuous writing style going!

P.P.S. We found this when we went on a shopping trip to Saarbrücken (there's a Primark there!)
Oh dear, Germany! Is there something you're not telling us?