Friday, 20 December 2013

Frohe Weihnachten

What a wonderful two weeks it has been. Filled with my birthday celebrations, various Christmas parties, and copious trips to Christmas markets, I have had the best December. My only gripe is that there was not more snow, but I am hoping for some when I return from Blighty in January.

Right now I am packed and ready to begin my long train and bus ride back to England (I have absolutely no idea what i was thinking when I booked this - I could kick myself. Although if I look on the bright side, I suppose it is more environmentally friendly and I did save 80 euros). Tonight I have the lovely pleasure of taking the 12 hour night train to Cologne before catching the 10 hour Megabus to London. I did remember to borrow lots of English books from the school library though, and I am well equipped with lots of German Bakery goodies and a neck cushion (had it for years - best investment I ever made).

Apart from the journey however, I am looking forward to going home. Despite the fact I've lived here for three months now and am pretty much used to it, I still get tired very easily, and I'm putting this down to the fact that constantly listening to, speaking, and reading German still takes more energy than it would if it were in English, and I am constantly in social situations with people I still don't really know properly, without the usual respite of being able to go home to relax with family or old friends. Having to be on your best behaviour at all times really does take its toll!

But when I reflect on my first 3 months here, I have nothing to complain about. I can now watch television and understand most of it without too much conscious effort, I am able to have long and decent conversations with people, and in the last few days have  found myself accidentally mixing the two languages together (which I'm taking as a good sign as it is a new development and I'm hoping it's evidence that my brain is starting to think in German - maybe wishful thinking, but I have to have something to hold on to). I was also very pleased that I managed to go to my staff Christmas meal and interact in German for a full 6 hours with no trouble. Simple pleasures eh....

I have also realised my talents as a teacher. When I say talents, I mean I managed to take a whole lesson alone with an entire class, and no major catastrophes occurred. My task was to take a lesson with 16/17 year-olds and teach them about Christmas in England. I was terrified the day before, when I was frantically planning (and crying on the inside), had a terrible night's sleep during which I dreamt I was being chased by a bear (the bear I'm assuming is a symbol...of something), and was almost dying by the time I got to school that morning. But, I would go as far to say I enjoyed it. I didn't dry up, forget was I was going to say, have an obnoxious class, or any other such disaster. I educated the class on the joys of crackers and mince pies (neither of which they'd heard of), and also showed them a video of a pantomime. They were terribly confused why these dancing, singing, gender-confused, brightly-coloured spectacles are so popular by the crazy English, and I'm sure that if they ever did have any respect for me it has all but vanished.

But now I must be off on my merry way. Farewell Deutschland, and Frohe Weihnachten.

Friday, 6 December 2013

A Fruity Delight

Well, today it is finally snowing and at last Bautzen looks like a Winter Wonderland. As I write this I can see the branches of the trees outside my window covered in a soft dusting. It hasn't been like this all week, however. Saturday was miserably grey and rainy. Still though, I managed to go on a 5-hour walk in the Saechsische-Schwiez (Saxony's answer to the Lake District), and although I was wet through, the views were astounding. Wherever I looked I was greeted with greenery, waterfalls, and tall granite rocks telling the history of time, and was lucky enough to be accompanied by someone who knows the area like the back of her hand and so was recounting the story of the place as we meandered through it. It is a tiring, hilly walk, but is definitely worth the effort, although I would imagine that to see it on a bright day would be to see it in its best light.

The rest of the weekend was spent at Dresden's Christmas markets - they have three. Of course, the obligatory Gluehwein (mulled wine) was purchased at each and every one, and I even managed to see a children's show featuring none other than Santa himself. And after we'd squeezed the most we could possibly get out of the markets, it was time for cocktails (what else?!), and Sunday night I was introduced to Pinta's cocktail bar and was more than pleasantly surprised. They weren't your average cocktails - they were practically sorbets, and came in every fruity flavour you could imagine. Deee-lish!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Oh I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

I am almost weeping with joy. Today marks the first day of the Bautzen Christmas Market. I have been watching it gradually take shape every day on my way to and from school, and every day it became a little more magical, and I became a little more elated - and now I am a pure ball of elation, floating on a cloud of happiness, about to burst with Christmas bliss.

Bautzen being one of the smaller Christmas markets, it has a rather cute quality about it - as they say, the best things come in small, compact packages like Bautzen Weihnachtsmarkt. I fully intend to spend the run-up to Christmas making the most of the all the Gluehwein, Lebkuchen, and Currywurst that are on offer practically on my doorstep, and get most of my Christmas shopping done there. Of course, I also intend to visit the bigger one in Dresden too - one can never get enough of a German Weihnachtsmarkt!

Also getting me in the Christmas spirit was the snow we had this week. I was walking through town minding my own business and suddenly, out of nowhere, was assaulted by a flurry of little white hailstones. It was not an unwelcome moment. The mornings have been frosty and my heart has been sinking in disappointment every day upon waking up when I look out of my window and find everything is not covered in a thick white blanket. However, I am still in Germany for another three weeks until I go back to England, so there's still time. It was a bit disappointing that it rained today and washed away the only smidgens of snow, ice, and frost that there was, but I'm hoping this dreary weather won't be too frequent in the upcoming weeks.

Ah, and I did mean to give a little review of 'Mein Fuehrer' - the comedy about Hitler that I mentioned I was going to watch in one of my previous blog posts. The long and short of it was - it was a disappointment, and I was not sorry to hand it back to the Bibliothek. Although it was amusing in places, it failed to keep me engaged for the whole one and a half hours. The film was repetitive, didn't seem to go anywhere, and seemed a lot longer that it actually was. I have read some reviews that claimed it was distasteful - but I would disagree with that. In my opinion, to its credit, it did not cross the line between laughing at Hitler and disrespecting his victims, but it was just unfortunately a little boring. I was quite saddened to learn that it was the last film that the excellent German actor Ulrich Muehe made before he died that year (if you've seen 'The Lives of Others' you'll know his face) as I do think that with his talents he deserved to finish on more of a high.

So, onwards and upwards - tomorrow, a walk in the Saechsische Schweiz a (apparently) beautiful National Park near Dresden, before going to the Dresden Christmas market - I can hardly contain my excitement.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Cocktails and Bongos

Well the last week has been spent discovering some more of the lovely Bautzen. It started last Friday when I had a visitor for the weekend. We spent most of the weekend eating and drinking in various restaurants and cafes, and going out for cocktails.

First surprise of the weekend was in 'Cafe Surprise', located right in the town centre (which does probably the best schnitzels I've ever tasted. Although it was a good job I was outrageously hungry - my portion could have fed the five thousand I'm sure). Aside from the great schnitzels however, the cafe has a much more exciting thing to offer. I am not sure why they are there, but just inside the doorway was a glass pane, behind which were the smallest, cutest little monkeys, who were running around having a wonderful time. I've been back a few times since - I just can't get enough of them.

Surprise number two was the Alte Wasserkunst.This beautiful stone building was built in the 16th century in order to provide the growing town with sufficient drinking water. There are a lot of steps to contend with, but the view from the top is spectacular. The interesting thing about it was though, that it is more than just a museum. Upon entering the small entrance hall we were greeted with three table-clothed tables complete with a candle on each one. The effect was cosy and homely, and after we had paid our 2,50 euros to climb the tower and then see the water pumps in the cellar, we sat down and enjoyed a nice cup of Gluehwein (mulled wine) before noticing that there was a 'Troedelmarkt' upstairs (which loosely translates as a jumble sale) - an attic of treasures! After spending a good 45 minutes looking through the old photos, postcards, magazines, and marvelling at the ancient-looking typewriters and telephones, we left with our purchases - mine consisting of an envelope with the DDR logo, a children's magazine from 1989, a postcard written in 1910, and a children's book from the 60s. And to think I had no idea this tower was even open!

Although Bautzen is a quiet town, I found out there are some quite good places for cocktails, not least 'Sam's Cocktails'. This weekend it was particularly fun there as it had a 'party' to celebrate its 18th birthday, so it was jam-packed and we were all treated to a rendition of bongo-players.

On a side note, I am very impressed with the general price of cocktails here - about £3 each. I am never spending money in England again.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Library Joy

So, I'm now a fully-fledged member of Bautzen library, which makes me feel much more as though I am a proper resident rather than merely a non-library-card-holding Bautzenite wannabe. So far I've taken out a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales and two films:

Die Faelscher
This Austrian film known in English as 'The Counterfeiters' is a depiction of the lives of the prisoners in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp who were forced to produce forgeries for the Nazis. Although the film is true to an extent, and is based on the memoirs of some of the survivors, artistic licence is responsible for the main premise of the film; that the Jews argued between themselves about the morality of the operation and there were attempts to sabotage it. A little bit of superficial research suggests that this was not mentioned in any of the publications from survivors, but it does make for an excellent, morally ambiguous film. I've watched it numerous times and I can never seem to find the solution to the ethical predicament into which the film thrusts me: which character is more scrupulous, the one who is willing to risk the lives of his fellow workers for the sake of refusing to partake in unethical activity designed to help the Nazis win the war effort, or the one who is willing to be a cog in the Nazis' wheel for the sake of the individual prisoners he is aiming to save? If you understand German or aren't someone who hates subtitles, I would say it's worth a watch.

Mein Fuehrer
I haven't watched this DVD yet but it apparently is a comedic representation of Hitler, clearly a controversial idea, but one I am very interested to see how it is done. Turning the leader of the Nazis and murderer of millions into a comic protagonist clearly requires a delicate balancing act, and I can imagine that if it is done well, it could serve as a reminder that (evil as he may have been, or mentally ill, depending on your point of view, but dangerous certainly) Hitler was just a man; and perhaps all the solemn and grave mainstream discourse that suggests he was somehow a great and fearsome anti-human monster might be over-crediting the man somewhat - him being a cocaine addict with a flatulence problem and all, and perhaps a few laughs at his expense is exactly what he deserves and is far from sullying the memories of his many innocent victims. However, it is the kind of film that, if it is not fantastic, is going to be terrible, and could easily be an embarrassing, self-conscious attempt and being controversially humorous, but I will be fair, and reserve judgment until after I've watched it.

However, on a less sombre thread, Christmas is definitely on its merry way, and there is none on this earth more excited than I! The lights have now been put up in the town, the days are freezing cold, and shop displays are adorned with Christmassy wonder. I feel so lucky that this year I can enjoy a proper German xmas market (or maybe a few), and am looking forward to a few crisp evenings filled with Lebkuchen and Gluehwein. Now waiting for the last piece in the puzzle: a bit of snow...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Language Learning Tips

One of the main complaints of trying to use a foreign language abroad (and one that drives me up the wall too) is the people switching to English at the first opportunity. I have been lucky enough to be placed in a town in which this rarely happens. In fact, out of school (where actually 90% of the time I have to speak English - to both the teachers and students) I do not experience this. Perhaps because Bautzen is a smallish town off the beaten track and the amount of people who speak English is minimal, or maybe my German is now of a standard where it's not painful to speak to me anymore (I hope beyond hope this is the case). Who knows. But that isn't to say I haven't come across it at all, just not very much. Recently I have discovered 'Itchy Feet', an online comic chronicling the trials and tribulations of travelling and language learning, and this particular post sums up the pain of having your efforts being thrown in your face:
And if you are a foreign language learner - the rest of the site is definitely worth a look too. It is hilarious and sums up the situation perfectly!

Having been here for 6 weeks I feel I have learned a lot about how to learn a language. If I had to dole out only one piece of advice, it would be: Watch as much TV in the foreign language as you can! Obviously, this has to be complemented with practising speaking to people, and going out and experiencing the culture (and not just becoming a passive couch potato) - no-one's going to learn a language solely by watching TV, but it is one of the most effective tools. Practise is great, but TV gives you the intensive input from which you can draw when you are practising. It really increases vocabulary and your mental set of everyday stock phrases (stuff you wouldn't necessarily be taught in school), teaches you how the language is spoken and used in the real world, and is a great way of exposing yourself to the language even though you might be alone, tired, or just not in the mood to go and talk to someone. It's also entertaining and things are more likely to stick than if you sit down and try and memorise a grammatical rule or a list of words. I've been watching it in the evenings before I go to bed, on quiet afternoons, and when I am eating dinner, and I have learned so much, and also discovered some great German programmes (if you find yourself in Germany I would recommend giving one or more of these a try: Sturm der Liebe, Rote Rosen, or Gute Zeiten Schlechte Zeiten).

But I do also have some other tips to try for those who are trying to learn a foreign language:

1) Read!

It doesn't have to be a lot, but getting a children's book or magazine and reading a few pages a day (while you eat your breakfast maybe) is really helpful. But the most essential thing is: Lock That Dictionary Away. As soon as you have an urge to look something up, just don't. I was the German student at school and university who would read with the book/article in one hand, and have the dictionary in the other, and IT DOESN'T WORK. Yes you end up knowing what every single word on the page means, for about 3 minutes, and you might be lucky enough to remember one or two of them, but in taking this approach the reading process becomes a chore, and the overall meaning is completely lost. I've been reading teen magazines and taking out children's books from the library and have had a revelation: the most effective way is to read the whole article or the page through once, and then do it again (and maybe a few times more until you get it or are just bored). Sometimes you might have to accept you don't know what a sentence means and move on, and sometimes you might have to work out a word from the context, or by breaking it down into its parts, but the most important thing is that you get the gist, not the literal word-for-word meaning! This way, you want to read more because it's not such a chore, and you do, and then you might come across some of the same phrases or words many many times before it clicks what it means, and this way you'll remember it forever. Look it up, and you won't. Guaranteed.

2) Find a band/singer who sings in the language and listen to their music as much as possible.

This is an easy one to integrate easily into your life. You can put the music on whilst cooking, getting dressed/doing your hair etc. in your room etc. Listening to the radio can be useful too (I've been doing this when I'm in the kitchen), as hearing the DJs speak isn't going to do anybody any harm, but the problem is, you might find a lot of the songs they play are English, which can get annoying. But it can help you discover new singers/songs. Through listening to the radio I discovered the German singer Christina Stuermer. Her music might not be to everyone's taste but she is just one example.

3) Ask what things are

When I'm watching TV with my housemates, or I'm out with someone, or it just hits me that I have never learned what something is called, a simple question "Was heisst das auf Deutsch?" is just a simple way to learn a bit more vocab as I'm going about my day. As long as you don't do it too much! But the most important thing is, stay curious - I've found that people don't mind helping you out if you show you're interested.

4) Accept that you will get things wrong.

This is the hardest one that I, and I think probably most other people, have to contend with. It's so frustrating when you've spent ages building up to say something, and you've got it all worked out in your head, and then under the pressure of the moment your word order goes awry, or the wrong preposition is used, or you seize up and your mind goes completely blank. When I first got here, my fear of sounding ungrammatical and stupid was one of the main things holding me back. But, I have trained myself a little bit to shake it off when I make an embarrassing error like using the wrong word, or wrong inflection, or some other linguistic crime. That's not to say that now I'm always feeling totally confident, but in making the mistakes, you tend not to make them so often in the future. And honestly, people are generally nice, and aren't going to judge you! I've also seen this from the other side as a language assistant - the students who try really hard to be chatty, and explain around words they don't know, or just make a guess if they are unsure, are the ones who seem to learn faster. They get a lot of things wrong, but I love that they are making the effort,  and I don't laugh at them. Therefore I figure that most Germans will feel the same about my less than perfect German (or I hope!).

And now, I must go and plan a lesson on National Identity and Great Britain...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Tea and all things British

A quiet week in Bautzen. The days are getting shorter, and colder, and now after two weeks of rest, I am ready to take on school again in a couple of days.

And with the Christmas season approaching I've had to start thinking about home again, and that got  me thinking about differences between here and there and, although I love it here, I realised there are a few things I miss about England:

1) A decent cup of tea

It took me a little while to realise that, in Germany, when you are offered a cup of tea, not to expect a steaming hot milky brew. The possibilities of the kind of tea that you might be given upon answering in the affirmative are virtually limitless. I've been given everything from bright green liquids (that actually turned out to be a quite a nice apple tea) to a dandelion and burdock brew to an Earl Grey. Now, I'm not opposed to herbal and fruit teas - in fact, I rather like them, but I do like to have a say over which one I'm getting, and sometimes I just want an English Breakfast Tea. With milk! (It took me a few error-filled outings to realise that this has to be specified, and that I do have to brace myself for the looks of incredulity).

2) Heart-attack Breakfasts

Not that I have these very often, but sometimes of a weekend morning, going to a cafe and ordering the greasiest, eggiest, most bacon-filled treat just sounds like heaven. Saying that though, I cannot fault the breakfasts here. Fruit, boiled eggs, bread, jam - I do have to admit, they are delicious, and there is none of the stodgy, greasy feeling one gets after they've had a huge fry-up.

3) Baked beans!

Being this canned delight's number one fan, I am having serious bean withdrawals. They are tough to find, and some Germans don't even seem to know what they are! When trying to explain them a couple of weeks ago I was met with nothing more than a blank stare. Going from being a student who bought 10+ cans of beans at a time and storing them in the cupboard 'just in case' to having a bean-free larder has been a strange experience, and having a beautiful easy meal of beans on toast with cheese sprinkled on top will be the first thing I have when I go home for Christmas.

4) How are you?

Having been brought up on a diet of small-talk and empty conversation, I was a little perturbed when I brought my habits here and was offered not much on response. On walking into a room and seeing someone, I would immediately start off with "Hallo, wie geht's dir?" (Hello, how are you?), and at first was a little confused why I would always just get the simple response: "Hallo, gut" (Hello, good), until I brought this up in conversation with a German who enlightened me on his people's ways. "Ah yes, you British just ask everyone how they are, even when you don't care. In Germany, you would only ask that question if you genuinely cared about the answer". It's not something I can shake off easily though, if at all.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Am I in Australia?

Well, everything I thought I ever knew has been turned on its head. Having always been under the impression that in this half of the world the weather actually turns colder as we head towards December, can you imagine my surprise when day by day I am actually taking OFF layers instead of adding to them?! When I arrived four weeks ago I was greeted with cold, frosty mornings, lashings of rain, and a dollop of wind in my face to boot. I was braving the outside world with armour consisting of a cosy scarf, a jacket, and some lovely warm Handschuhe (hand shoes - I 'll leave you to work out what they might be). The days were grey, my radiators were on, and I constantly had my umbrella up. Looking out the window (wide open, no less) now on this lovely Thursday afternoon, I would be forgiven for thinking I was in the South of France in the middle of August (ok, so it's not that warm , but not far off!). Well at least its nice enough that I can can do lots of activities, and doing lots of activities I have been...

On Saturday night I was invited out by one of my housemates to join her and her friends. Having previously experienced the classic 'step-from-one-foot-to-the-other-like-an-awkward-dad-at-a-wedding' style of dancing that all clubbing Germans seem to adopt, I was not anticipating to become particularly warm. So, adorned in jeans, Ugg boots, and a polo-necked long-sleeved top, I set off with the others in the car to a pub in one of the nearby villages. Well, little did I know that it was a Sorbian folk night, and when the Sorbians say dance, they mean it with a capital D. Before long, with Vodka and Coke coursing through my veins (I still can't bring myself to drink beer, even if I am in Germany) I was merrily jumping up and down, spinning, and jigging like an Irish Leprechaun with the others. And what a Sweaty Betty I was. Nevertheless, it was a great night and I did have fun- I do like to dance.

The days afterwards have been a little more restrained and, I like to think, a bit more cultured. I've been throwing myself into being a proper tourist; I went on a guided tour of Bautzen, climbed the Reichenturm, a 56m high medieval tower that has tilted 1.4m from the centre, (highly recommended - there are a lot of steps to conquer, but the view from the top is worth the pain and anguish!), and went to an exhibition at the Rathaus (town hall) about Germans who fought against Fascism during Hitler's rule. The exhibition was interesting, but I must admit I was expecting a little more than an empty room containing nothing but informational display stands, which can look a bit daunting when you see how much there is  to read without it being broken up by anything else. However, it did make me feel humble, and very very lucky.

At some point I am definitely going to go to a puppet show at the Bautzen Puppentheater (Puppet Theatre), but tomorrow's outing: The Bautzen Museum.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Water Boilers and Lazy Animals

Today is the first day of my half term. Two weeks off school, and with everyone in my Studentenwohnheim scurrying off home for the holidays I face the question - how to fill my two weeks living alone and without spending money. Well I suppose I could watch lots of German telly, rent some German films from the library, take strolls around town, and get through the pile of books I brought with me. All of this I intend to do, although I do know that I should be using this time to travel the country and visit people, go to Prague, and do all sorts of exciting things I don't have time for in my regular working week. However, all that will have to wait until next month, when I've been paid and am a little richer.

Anyway, this week I have managed to attend a German Biology lesson, a German Geography lesson about the landscapes of North and South America, and a German Maths lesson (I managed to get 3 out of 4 of the sums correct - a little embarrassing considering the pupils in the class were 12 years old, but I was nevertheless pleased to discover that I could remember at least something of my Maths lessons that finished 6 years ago). This was thanks to one of the English teachers not being able to come into school and so, as I am obliged to fill up my allotted 12 lessons a week productively, I decided that attending these lessons would be an interesting use of my time.

The rest of the time I've been learning to think on my feet and improvise. Having not been told what I've got to do before I actually get to some of my lessons, I've been given groups of kids and a topic, and been told to go and fill 45/20/15 minutes. At first it was a pretty scary experience - having to make it up as I go along, and thinking 'AAAAAH! I'VE GOT NOTHING PREPARED! WHAT DO I DO!?' but after a couple of times, it's not so bad - I suppose at least I should be grateful that I haven't had to spend every evening planning 2 or 3 full lessons like some of the other language assistants have.

Teaching your own language really does make you realise how much you actually don't know. Well obviously you know it, but you can't explain why. For example, doing some group-work with five 13-year-olds this week, and having to correct mistakes such as 'I have known him since 5 years' and 'I've been there for yesterday', the pressure was on as five beady eyes were on me looking for an explanation of when to use 'since' and 'for' correctly, and more importantly, why. So, with chalk in hand and a blackboard behind me (yes they still use blackboards and chalk in Germany) I tried to be every inch the knowledgeable and wise guide to the ins and outs of the English language they expected me to be. So, after stumbling through an explanation that even I wasn't sure was 100% correct, I wearily sat down and hoped that I'd at least been able to shed some light on this problem for them, and vowed silently that later on I would find out the answer once and for all.

It is a pretty strange experience being on the other side of a school environment. I am now a teacher/member of staff/adult in the children's eyes. They walk past me in the corridor and say "Hallo Frau Cropper" (I'm still not sure how comfortable I am being called Frau Cropper - it makes me feel a bit like an elderly spinster) and some look as though they're being led to the gallows when they come out to talk to me. On one occasion this week I got to a lesson before the teacher and as I walked into the noisy classroom, the students, who had all been chatting and laughing with eachother, promptly all went back to their seats, stopped talking, and looked at me. An awkward moment ensued, after which I panicked and assured them that they could carry on chatting until the teacher got there. 

Aside from my school pressures, I've really been appreciating the joys of the logical German language. After discovering mid-week that the kettle had started leaking and faced with the terrible prospect of maybe not being able to make tea, I realised that I did not know how to tell my Hausmeisterin (the woman who looks after the house and all the student residents) of this circumstance as I did not know the German word for 'kettle'. So, I approached a fellow housemate and asked (in German): "What is the that thing in the kitchen called that kocht (boils) Wasser (water)?". To which I received the reply: "A Wasserkocher". A 'water-boiler'? Really? Why didn't I think of that? Maybe because my language has stupid words like 'kettle' instead of just saying it how it is. I was further amused yesterday when I discovered that a sloth was called a 'Faultier' -quite literally a 'lazy animal'. 

So I continue to pursue my goal of being a German-speaker, and last night watched four 'How I Met Your Mother' episodes auf Deutsch. Although I probably got the jokes because I am a huge How I Met Your Mother geek and have seen them a hundred times before, I nevertheless allowed myself to wallow in the pride, happiness, and contentment that came from telling myself that I can now even understand humour in German.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Living Rooms and Melting Pork

Having now spent a month here in Germany, time is passing by a lot more quickly.

Friday afternoon I was a lady who lunched. And lunched in the most fantastic Sorbian restaurant. With Bautzen being a highly Sorbian area, it was only a matter of time before I visited 'Sorbisches Restaurant Wjelbik' in Kornstrasse (please, if you ever find yourself in Bautzen, do not pass this place by!), and it was possibly the nicest food I have ever had the pleasure to eat (and I have eaten a lot of nice food in my time). Part of its charm is the picturesque medieval brick walls and ceiling, and another is definitely the traditional Sorbian dress worn by the staff. Then the icing on the cake (for me) was the perfect portion sizes and melt-in-the-mouth pork covered with a delicious crispy coating. I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it.

After this I spent the weekend in Dresden (again), but this time looked around the Altstadt, the main tourist area, which is absolutely beautiful, but beware: also very expensive. I saw the very impressive Frauenkirche, which was in the middle of a gorgeous town square, and right next to the 'Fuerstenzug', the largest porcelain artwork in the world. Amidst all this sightseeing, my friend and I decided that this might be a lovely place to stop for a drink. So we sat down at a lovely-looking restaurant, but almost ran away with fright when we saw that the price of a 500ml bottle of water was 5, 30 euros (about £4.50). It was decided then and there that our thirst would be better quenched in the far more affordable Neustadt area. Here we found ourselves in the most adorable little cafe called 'Wohnzimmer', which lived up to its name as it looked, quite literally, like a living room. The cosy, homely place was decked out with mismatching sofas, armchairs, and coffee tables. And their hot chocolate was to die for!

The only downside to my trip was my bad experience with (which, up until now, I have always found a very reliable, and cheap, way of travelling around) on the way home. The site works by typing in which town you wish to travel from and to, and then a list of people making that journey in their cars is provided. Booking with one of these people means that they will take you to (insert desired town here) for a minimal fee. Everyone I have travelled with so far has been the epitome of friendliness and reliability, except the last guy I booked with. After hanging up on me on the phone twice, and then not replying to my email, he also thought it might be fun to just not turn up at the arranged place without letting me know. So, after half an hour of waiting at Neustadt train station I finally had to accept my fate and buy a train ticket, which was three times the price of what I was expecting to pay with Mitfahrgelegenheit. Ah such is life. At least I managed to get home.

My bad luck did not turn around yesterday either. Got to school and was working away in my first lesson, and got so carried away I forgot to leave when I should and go to my next one. The result was that I arrived at my second lesson as all the students were filing out of the room. Apologising to the teacher (who was thankfully very understanding and lovely about it, but I nevertheless felt terrible) then made me late to my third lesson. So all-in-all I was quite glad to get back home. Today, however, was a lot more successful, and I managed not to be an idiot. So hopefully my moment of madness will be soon forgotten by all.

On a completely different note, I watched this inspiring 11 minute speech by Tim Minchin yesterday: Enjoy :)

Friday, 11 October 2013

Living like a Victorian

So, it's been nearly two weeks since The Big Move, and a lot has happened. My new place is great except there is one problem; there is no Wi-Fi. But I wasn't too worried - they have two computers downstairs in the computer room. No problem, I thought, I'll just do my blogging/emailing/banking from there. But nothing's ever as simple as you think it's going to be is it? Turns out that the software loaded onto those computers dates back to about 1993, the Internet Explorer is so old that it no longer supports most of the sites I was trying to access (and is painfully slow), and to top it all there is (for some reason) a child block, meaning I was unable to access my blog or my bank accounts. The Stone Age machines could just about cope with Facebook and my Hotmail account, but even they had to be viewed in 'Basic Format' (which is very annoying, believe me!). It did make me realise though, how much I do rely on this modern technology. It was horrible not being able to Skype my friends and family, and banking is a slow and painful process when you can't be sitting in the comfort of your own home sorting it all out. On the bright side though, it meant that I was a lot more productive without the annoying temptation of being able to log in to Facebook at my leisure. I appreciate it is a wonderful way of staying in contact with lots of people all at once, especially at times like this when I am away, and being able to share photos so easily is fantastic. However, the inexplicable compulsion I feel to log on immediately I go online drives me crazy. Sometimes I even find myself stalking pictures of a primary school acquaintance's aunty's husband's cat (or some other such pointless activity) and then I think "JESSICA! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" and have to instantly cease such past-times. So it has been nice to avoid all that. The answer to my problems though has been to buy a dongle, so now I have a pay-as-you-go internet, meaning I am now very frugal with the time I spend online, and only use it for Skyping, blogging, and banking. It takes me back to the dear old days of dial-up.

First World problems aside however, I have been busying myself these last couple of weeks with getting acquainted with all my new housemates (who are all very nice from what I know of them so far) going to school, and visiting other Language Assistants in Goerlitz and Dresden.

School is great - I'm really enjoying being there. I've been there three weeks now and more or less know my way around. I've got used to the early starts and have been given a lot more responsibility in the classrooms than during my first week. The hardest thing has been adjusting the speed at which I speak and getting to understand the huge spectrum of ability and having to alter my behaviour and speech accordingly. If you are thinking of spending a year abroad teaching, then be prepared to have to speak very, very slowly at times. Also, you have to get used to dealing with some incredibly shy students. I have been doing a lot of one-to-one speaking practice with students outside the classroom during the last couple of weeks, and not all of them are very forthcoming with information, with some of them being unwilling to look at you and tending to answer with just yesses and nos. Of course it's very understandable for them to feel like this, but I guess I just have to keep trying to find new ways to get them to feel more comfortable and to open up. However, I am finding one-to-one a lot easier than dealing with groups; naturally with every group you have the students who don't want to stop talking, and those who will do anything to avoid starting. Encouraging the quieter ones to contribute without feeling like I am picking on them and grilling them against their will is very difficult, as is trying to get the more talkative ones to hold back a little to give the others a chance without subsequently making them feel awkward about contributing further. I'm hoping that this will be something I'll get better at with time.

Goerlitz and Dresden
Goerlitz is an interesting town right on the border of Poland. In fact, you can see Poland across the street. Whilst I was there I crossed the street and was having lunch in Poland (fortunately they were accepting Euros as I had no Zloty to offer). The town has some beautiful buildings, but it's easy to get lost if you are a newcomer. There's probably no more there than any other middling sized town, but it is very spread out and so seems like it's huge. When I compared it to Bautzen I realised how tight and compact it is compared to sprawling Goerlitz. One thing I found particularly interesting about the town is that it has not quite recovered from being in the clutches of the GDR, but is being done up slowly but surely. Walking down the street I would see one brand spanking newly done up establishment and then right next to it a derelict, disused shambles of a place that obviously hasn't been touched for a good few decades. It's an absolutely fascinating place which I would say is highly worth a visit. Bars and pubs are few and far between though, so if you want somewhere for a crazy night out this probably shouldn't be your first port of call.

Now Dresden Neustadt is more geared towards students and does offer a good night out, and the clubs stay open until very late. I have not yet had a chance to look around the more touristy Altstadt, but I am planning to go again to have a good sightseeing day out.

So for now, Tschuess, and Schoenes Wochenende.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Language Learning and Bureaucracy

A week at school and I'm finally getting used to its ridiculously early starts. Spent the week sitting in on lessons with students from the ages of 10 - 17, all in an effort to understand the very different levels I will eventually be working with.

It is quite astounding to actually see how far these students come with regards to their English in only five years; much much further than English students come with most of their foreign languages (from my own experience), but from what I can see, most of the Year 11s (16-17 year-olds) in this school speak English almost fluently and can talk about and understand a range of topical subjects, whereas in England you can pretty much guarantee that unless you are extremely naturally talented at learning languages, or your parents come from another country, a language learned in school will be forgotten soon after leaving. And the reason for this: WE ARE ALWAYS TAUGHT IN ENGLISH. Even the 10-year-olds in Germany are immersed in English throughout their English lessons. They are constantly being spoken to by the teacher in the target language, and consequently pick it up much faster. My German lessons up until A-Level mostly consisted of being spoken to by my teacher in English, having German grammar explained in English, doing written exercises, and occasionally listening to a cassette tape of someone saying, "Hallo. Ich heisse Juergen". And I was not even exposed to a foreign language at school until I was 12. Terrible, some might say. Well, I would. Languages are essential, and our education system needs to start recognising that, before the whole of England succumbs to this terrible affliction that is monolingualism.

Aside from my school-life, I have been having a busy 'getting sorted' week; getting ready to move into my new Studentenwohnheim next week, opening a German bank account, and registering myself as a Bautzen resident. A word of warning to anybody wanting to live in Germany for over a month: make sure you go to the local Einwohnermeldeamt and REGISTER (abmelden). I never realised that in Germany every single person who moves to a new town has to register at the local office. Consequently got a serious ticking off from the (very grumpy) woman at the office because I made the mistake of telling her I lived in Bremen for three months in 2010. "Where are your papers", she asks. "Oh, I didn't know then that I had to register", I reply. Cue a stern talk and then half an hour of waiting around while she phones various people trying to find out what she should do. My advice would have been to accept that I have no papers for something I never did three years ago and move on, but I guess that's classic German bureaucracy for you. 

So now, I must pack. It's the big move on Monday.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

September 22nd 2013

So today was spent taking a casual trip to Poland for lunch. And I am now fluent in Polish (i.e. I spent my time pointing and repeating the following words like a demented parrot):

Tak - Yes
Nie - No
Dzien dobry - Hello
Prosze - Please
Dziekuje - Thankyou

My first impression was the ease with which you can travel from Germany to Poland and vice versa - no passports needed. After being totally baffled by this, my host family went on to inform me that this is now the same all over the EU, and the passport control at that part of the border had been taken down three years ago. So it was pretty odd to see German German German written everywhere, when the next moment there is not an 'Achtung' or 'Vorsicht' in sight and instead I am bombarded with masses of Polish.

So that was my first experience of Poland. Next, I was driven to Legnica, which is a little further in and on the way became less and less ignorant to the Polish culture, thanks to my hosts. For example, I didn't know that Poland is the fastest-growing economy in Europe at the moment (I had thought that was Germany - oops!), or that the eastern part of Poland that I was visiting actually used to be part of Germany.

Upon arrival at Legnica, I was struck by how quiet the town was, and then all was made clear when I saw that most of the population was in one or other of the church services going on at the time. Being a highly religious Roman Catholic country, the town was almost littered with fantastically gorgeous churches, but despite this, there were still people standing outside the doors because they couldn't get a seat. I was keen to look around the inside of one of these impressive buildings but would have to wait, so in the meantime I tried some traditional Polish cuisine, Zurek (an absolutely delicious soup), and had a mini-tour of part of Lednica, discovering that it is a town famous for its copper. There is even a copper museum there, but I didn't pay it a visit.

Eventually managed to have a look around one of the churches, and it was indeed incredibly ornate (as you might imagine). My one lasting memory of that church though will be my realisation of exactly how ingrained religion is into Polish society as opposed to the secular-slash-slightly-religious-slash-sort-of-Christian-when-it-suits-us mentality that seems to prevail in England; I went in right at the end of one of the services, just as people were getting up and leaving, and as people got up a lot of them bowed in the direction of the altar before they left. The last people to get up and do this before the church was completely empty was a man in his seventies dressed in a suit and a smart middle-aged woman. No surprises there I thought - just the kind of demographic I would expect to do such a thing. Then, someone came running out from a door at the side of the altar (I have no idea where he came from or what he was doing), and it was a teenage boy with a Grade 1 haircut, wearing a tracksuit, and chewing gum. But even though he was obviously in a hurry, he remembered to stop for a second, turn around, and briefly bow to the altar before quickly making his way out of the church.

After this, we made our way to Jawor, about 10 miles south, and I was taken to see the Protestant Church of Peace (Kosciol Pokoju), which was surprisingly ornate for what I would think of as a Protestant church. The walls are adorned with paintings, and the altar is decorated in gold. And it's very big - to put it into perspective, it can house 6,000 people.

So with my mind filled with new knowledge and a little bit of Polish, we drive back to Bautzen, and I feel that little bit more cultured. Now to get ready for the week ahead teaching English...

Friday, 20 September 2013

Willkommen in Bautzen

As a 22-year-old graduate I was faced with the age old question of how best to fill my time now I no longer had the pressure of essays, lectures, and awkward landlords. So I set about applying for anything and everything, and praying for divine intervention to land me with a great job, ultimately leading to the perfect future (said envisaged perfect future entails both being fluent in German and money being no object. Simple dreams huh). My prayers were answered (sort of) eventually this summer when I found out I'd been offered a place as an English language assistant for a year in a Gymnasium (Grammar School) in Bautzen, which is a town in Saxony not far from Dresden. Ok, so my 800 euros a month isn't going to make me the millionaire I'd always hoped I'd be, but at least it did mean that the Fluency in German Dream was at least slightly in reach.

So, touching down at Cologne airport for my 3-day language assistant training course, I suddenly come to the realisation that this is where the real work begins. Suddenly filled with dread at the thought of having to deal with gobby teenagers, I consider using the few euros I have actually managed to bring to buy a flight back to London. But having got up at 3am to catch my horrendously early flight and also dealing with an unbearably heavy suitcase that does not have a proper handle, I decide I wanted to make that pain worth it. Fears quickly put aside though when I saw all the other mentally harassed, tired, and equally anxious language assistants, and I happily jumped onto the coach that arrived to take us to our destination about 45 minutes away from our city of arrival.

Having always travelled to cities and built up areas in Germany, I was not prepared for the absolutely gorgeous scenery I was confronted with. Steep valleys adorned with trees, green fields for miles, and not a building in sight. I think my previous encounters with especially Bremen and Berlin had got it into my head that Germany was one big bustling city. So seeing this side of it was lovely.

The hotel (Maria in der Aue in Wermelskirchen) was in the middle of nowhere, and as we got off the coach and I walked up to the building, it smacked of a medieval princess castle, what with its archway and round turret, and I was expecting the inside to look just as cosy. It wasn't. But it was certainly impressive. Its modern, business-like interior and rural, out-of-the-way setting are almost paradoxical. It was the kind of conference centre I'd expect to see in the middle of a city.

We were plied with vast amounts of absolutely delicious food morning, afternoon, and evening, with a mid-afternoon cake supply for good measure. As the course comprised intensity from 8 in the morning until about 8 at night, there was little time to burn off this food. Now, I am a keen eater and a not-so-keen exerciser, but even I was feeling so stodgy I wanted to go out for a run by the third day.

The train journey from Cologne to Bautzen was very, very long, and took up my whole Thursday. It also involved changing at Frankfurt and again at Dresden, but nevertheless, in true German-style, everything ran on time and it was a pretty smooth transition. I have been looking into cheaper and faster ways to travel around the country whilst I'm here and think I might try using the online hitch-hiking scheme Mitfahrgelegenheit next time I want to visit a large city. I've been told it's very cheap, and sometimes faster than travelling somewhere by train.

The journey here was definitely worth it though. The panoramic views of this old medieval town took my breath away, and I am excited to start exploring it properly. That hasn't been possible today though as it was my first day at the Philipp-Melanchthon-Gymnasium. A bit of a shock to the system as the school day starts at 7:30am here, meaning I was up at half past 5, but it is a lovely and welcoming school. Sat in on a few lessons and yearned for the German fluency of the 11-year-old students. Also realised that they actually all seemed like quite nice kids, so maybe my fears were a little bit off the mark.

Actually looking forward to starting properly now, and excited for this weekend as going to Poland for the day (another reason I like Bautzen - I am so close to the Czech and Polish borders). But for this afternoon I'm taking it easy. Will definitely be sleeping well tonight.