Next week I head off with school to the Rheinland in the valley of the Loreley, to a town that has seen both flooding (Hochwasser) and heatwave (Hitzewelle) in the last few weeks. I’m looking forward to it immensely and it’s hard to remember I have a full week’s worth of teaching to get through first.
I have always found German harder than French. Although I love the language very much, speaking German accurately and getting the ton of inflected endings anywhere near correct is a bit of a challenge. In class, when people ask me for a French phrase I can almost always do it off the top of my head, checking later in the dictionary to see if my instinct was right. In German I just don’t have anything like the range of language immediately to mind.
Part of this is just that I have not been to Germany nearly as often as France. If (and it’s a big if) you count my six months on my year abroad in Magdeburg as a single trip, you can count my trips over there more or less on the fingers of a single hand.
I was fortunate enough to do two school trips to Germany with school. (Interestingly, never did a French trip with school and as a family we only ever went once.) I was on exchange with a boy in Nürnberg in 1992 or 1993. I have only dim recollections now of most of my school years and the people in them, but can still remember my Austauschpartner’s name. I was probably rude and sullen during the trip and spent a lot of it learning my lines for the Crucible. He spent a lot of time playing on his computer. The exchange was the first time I had been on a plane, and it messed with my ears something chronic. The first stop on arrival was the loo, where I encountered for the first time German inspection platforms, continental hot/cold swivel taps, and where it took me aaaages to figure out how to turn on the water or flush the toilet, and I didn’t anything like the language skills to ask for help. The only food I can remember was a very exciting night when we all sat round some sort of table top stove called a Raclette and grilled our own cheese. On the return trip, we all went to the cinema to see Jurassic Park, newly released, and I found it more than a little scary and had to have time shortly (spoiler alert) after the lawyer got eaten.
The following year school took a drama trip to Germany. We learned a play about a disastrous mediaeval crusade of children, performed it in school, then the entire company got on a bus, drove to Germany, had a bit of a stay in a hotel somewhere and performed the play again to a German audience, whose thoughts on the show are lost in the mists of time. I don’t remember where in Germany this was, and the most memorable bit of the whole trip was the very exciting purchase of a six foot inflatable dinosaur. Somewhere in the house I still have the very simple, and now quite rusty, beer bottle opener we bought over there. Why on earth did I need that at 15? It was long before I learned to like beer.
A family friend helped us organise another semi-exchange during my sixth form years when I went, alone this time, to stay with a family with a daughter my age in the Ruhrgebiet, in response to my concern that my German was far below my French and my fear for my A Level result. Although we cast it as an exchange, it was pretty clear from the get-go that my Partnerin was not going to be unduly concerned if she didn’t get to come back to the UK.
During my university years I spent half of my year abroad at the Otto von Guericke Universität Magdeburg, where I wasted rather too much of my time doing internet stuff in English in the computer lab rather than making any real effort to improve my German. I beat Civilisation II on my laptop in my room whilst drinking home made margheritas in preference to socialising with the other foreign students on my corridor. (If Germany was a bust, my year abroad time in Paris was, however, awesome.)
Here’s a couple of photos to show what Magdeburg was like in 1999, ten years into what many appeared to consider West German occupation of the former glorious Socialist East Germany:
This is Breiter Weg (wide street) – which had been Karl Marx Allee until very recently.
This was the Hotel am Theater. I’ve no idea why it was in this state.
After 1999, I didn’t go to Germany again for nearly a decade, when an opportunity presented itself to leave P at home and go on a weekend for like-minded gentleman in the beautiful city of Munich. I stayed in a gay B&B thanks to EBAB and had a fantastic time. Photos here. This was in the period when I tweeted and when my blog archived my tweets, so my days are documented. 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8. There are also subsequent posts on Lederhosen (I tried some on in C&A, but didn’t buy, which I now regret) and travelling my sleeper train – my plans and my experience.
My final day there I spent at Dachau concentration camp, which was a really moving experience that I have never really managed to process or write about.
And really, that’s it.
I really need to spend more time in Germany.
Perhaps next summer, WWOOF Deutschland?