School trip(s) to Germany

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:

breiterweg

This is Breiter Weg (wide street) – which had been Karl Marx Allee until very recently.

hoteltheater

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?

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Non fic stories

Most of what I read for pleasure is fiction, and almost all of that, for almost all of the time I have been an independent reader, has been detective stories of one sort or another.

But in the last few years, I have started to branch out a bit into reading non-fiction for pleasure. And there’s a sort of new genre I have come across – or at least new to me – of a weird sort of travelogue / nonfic hybrid. Nonfic authors essentially writing stories that happen to be true, but have the readability of fiction. And maybe also footnotes.

The first I really bumped into were Mary Roach. I can’t now remember why I started reading her, but her books are brilliant, about all sorts of unsavoury subjects. There’s Stiff, about cadavers (which I also talked about for Pod Delusion here) Bonk, about sex and Spook about scientific investigations into the afterlife – one I didn’t enjoy quite so much. In all of these, Roach travels about the globe, meets people and then writes about the journey and the discussions.

I suppose the king of all of this genre is probably Bill Bryson. For some reason I have resisted reading almost anything by him, although I did dip into A short history of almost everything on honeymoon and did rather enjoy Notes from a Small Island, in which Bryson travels around Britain, meets people and then writes about the journey and the discussions.

Then the latest discovery is Jon Ronson, of whom I had previously not heard, but someone (probably Kayray) tweeted about his book The Psychopath Test, and I, being for some reason at a low resistance (ie tired, under the influence) popped over to Amazon and bought it. Most weeks there are a scary flood of parcels coming through the letter box of things I only dimly remember buying. And there are now two versions of Mt Toberead – the Kindle version and the print version…

Whilst on holiday, a brief moment of time away from our wonderful hosts while he wired his new sound system and she showed P around the garden and got him to take cuttings, left me alone in my room with my book for a few hours. So far, so good, and so I turned to Jon Ronson. And finished it in two sittings – three hours then and a few more on the return ferry from France.

It’s a book in which Jon Ronson travels around the world, meets people including psychopaths and mental health professionals, and then writes about the journey and the discussions. It’s fascinating and worrying, takes in the corporate world, Scientologists and Broadmoor. And eminently readable. So, at the end of the book, when the Kindle automatically suggested I might like also to read the Men Who Stare At Goats, I added that to the mountain.