23.4.14

22.04.2014

LEAVING FREIBURG WITH A BANG

This is how one goes about beginning leaving a place – with a bang.

It was just an idea that popped into our heads. Perhaps it wasn’t totally legal – but my German allows me to pretend that I didn’t know that…

It was the classic rocket in the milk bottle trick – in a suburban street – not on some special day – without anyone getting too worried. Don’t try it at home, kids.

(Filming by Lotta Raap, of this blog here: http://germanydiaries.blogspot.de/)

21.4.14

20.04.2014

I did one of the “must dos” in Freiburg today – as the number of days I have left here dwindles. We took the cable car up into the Hochschwarzwald (High Black Forest), and walked back down.

The cable car is a small thing that takes you up a damned long way past the trees with new, light green leaves. It’s Spring here and the apocalyptic, naked branches are becoming harder and harder to find. The leaves have taken their grey-green tint off the sides of some hills.

At the top, on a clear day, you can see the Swiss Alps. Today, though, we had a bit of mist, and the view wasn’t as extensive as the map suggested it was going to be.

(On the subject of the map: There was the German edition and the English edition. The German edition featured quite a decent map of walks you could take back down from the top, with different gradients and time required. The English one featured a fairly pathetic map and tourism-inclined advertisements, suggesting one should head on to the Badische wine centre for a tasting afternoon. I found this a bit funny – that tourists who speak English obviously won’t like long, scenic walks, while the Germans do.)

The walk was very nice. Slow. Not rushed. Lots of stoping to look at the flowers, eating the flowers, smelling the flowers, identifying the flowers.

The down hill walk tired my legs and has made my feet a bit sore. But it was definitely worth seeing the Black Forest in Spring.

 

PARIS – WAS I TOO HARSH?

In this age of interconnectivity, I’ve already received some whispers on the Bush Telegraph – yes! now with coverage in Germany! – that perhaps I was a little harsh on Paris in my post: 14-18.04.2014. I’ll give it another go, therefore, at explaining what I think:

It’s a city that is approached with a dash of total ignorance and arrogance and preconceived idea of beauty. The most beautiful parts of Paris I saw were the grottiest bits - with light spewing out onto littered streets; of human activity in slimy Metro stations; of a living and working city. There’s beauty in grotty curtains and signs that are missing letters; in shabby restaurants, and scrawled names in hidden, dusty alcoves.

A massive brown aerial, an arch of triumph, some swish shops, famous pictures and constant turnover in trivial souvenirs sold on the pretence of the cliché does not, in and of itself, make for this “amazing” and “beautiful” city of which everyone speaks. This doesn’t take into account the people moving about, crossing the Seine, books being sold and bought and sold again, little businesses that have carried on without fuss, Metro trains running in graffiti-strewn tunnels, made political.

Paris is a city that you must open your eyes in and refuse to allow them to be shut, then you’ll see its magic. This is not a magic readily available to whistle stop tours and buses driving in and out – it’s a little bit deeper than that. It’s not so superficial, but can be overlooked as being so.

20.4.14

19.04.2014

The sound of a single trombone quietly held the group together in the market place in Vauban tonight. There’s no church in Vauban; they meet around a fire as the twilight descended for a service.

They sing self consciously. Voices speak more loudly from outside the circle – those who aren’t interested in the proceedings. It’s quiet and huddled; it isn’t a big display of belief – no agenda is being pushed on those who aren’t standing there.

The fire burns oblivious to belief. Cold, stiff fingers – people thought, perhaps, they wouldn’t need gloves now that it’s April – hold the music booklet printed on pink paper. The fumble with it as the introduction from the trombone, played by a man standing on the edge of the circle, brings them together. It looks as if their mouths are hardly moving; their shoulders are still.

“God” is the noun, and “to live” is the verb – Gott and leben. The resurrection is covered, love is mentioned. As said every year, I suppose, the message is that, “Everyone is going to be OK, really.”

It’s Easter. The coloured eggs had been prepared and the cakes had been baked before they met around the fire. The tree branches to hang the eggs on had already been found by the small creek that runs to behind the left side of Vauban if you’re looking down to the end of the tram line.

The group huddled – standing for one of the last times in coats and scarves and beanies before the weather gets better – looked like a community. It was here and it was now.

There were probably other similar gatherings going on at the same time – but you don’t think about this standing there, listening. You don’t think about what’s going on externally. These gatherings are immediate, something which small scale, community-based religion does really well.

I left before it ended and dispersed into the night. It felt right to drift away from a half understood sermon, still an anonymous face.

19.4.14

14-18.04.2014

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This, theoretically, could be a post in which I fill it with the general clichés that are to be expected from the obnoxious participation of a week in Paris. The post would open with a picture of the world’s most famous antenna, it would then continue on about how I absolutely “adored” Paris and think it’s the most “amazing” city.

Personally, I’d like to cut the crap.

In my notebook I wrote this yesterday evening:

“Paris could quite happily, in light of economic disaster, descend into a state of attractive sluminess.”

It’s a city that, if you’re lost in the streets, everything does look the same on and on and on and on: it all looks vibrant, dashed with varying typography and lights on the cobble stones – especially if you’re there in the evening. It could still quite happily return to the point where it was when Orwell wrote about it in his Down and Out in Paris and London in the 1920s.

Now, of course, it’s a city that has it’s own image, rendered in plastic and metal and sold for often no more than five Euros. The number of Eiffel Towers produced in the year would be repulsive. The berets and the post cards and Toulouse-Lautrec posters and the vinyl bags and the jumpers – “I love Paris” – and the wallets and the cigarette lighters and the fridge magnets and the crystal balls and the scarves are crammed into shops, filled with people buying the stuff to take home. It’s the dumbed down image of Paris constantly spreading.

Our hotel was on Rue Ordener, a street of decent length, which the internet, in all its wisdom, describes as quaint and cafe-lined – I can testify to that. My dark room – wallpapered in green and red – looked out over the street, which saw traffic most of the time, except the very early hours of the morning.

From here, the Metro station Jules Joffrin on Line 12 was a short walk and a long flight of stairs away – whence you could really get anywhere on the densely constructed Metro network. (On average, the Metro stations are just under 500 metres apart on the line; in some cases if you lean out a bit you can see the illuminated tiles of the next station down from your own platform. Still, it beats walking.)

The Metro is where the real Parisians are. A lot less American voices are heard and the drop off rate of British and German backpackers is enormous. This is where you’ll hear French, where you won’t be subjected to conversations about how “amazing” the Eiffel Tower is, and where you’ll see the ordinary people taking their baguettes home and their dogs out. Does “real” Paris have to travel about underground to avoid the imposing force of tourism?

I think it would have been amazing to have seen Paris before it was corrupted by the jet engine and easy travel, but the opportunity for that is now long past.

Cafes are nestled in, not asking for attention with their red neon signage and round tables. The Parisians remain permanently fit as they navigate the stairs at the older Metro stations – then they brace their legs in such a way that is surely beneficial to their health to remain upright on crammed trains, trains which have been in service in some cases since the mid-60s and which have a density of four passengers per square metre.

Of the Metro stations, I wrote:

“The tracks of a metro [sic] station are littered with used needles, cigarettes, pieces of paper.

“The Paris Metro is grotty yet efficient.”

I forgot to add that forgotten chewing gums are pushed into the backs of seats, scattered and squashed into the concrete platforms, and pushed into the tiled walls. It’s not all Three Michelin Star surroundings, you know.

Vespas and motorbikes whizz down the cobbles, the homeless mind their own business, or ask for small change, from their bus stop vantage points. People are always going somewhere.

But it isn’t all just little streets, cafes and Metro station entrances. There are some other things to see – the things that everyone comes to see:

The Louvre is one heck of a big place. You enter through a glass pyramid – to see everything in the collection in a day you would have to be split like a light beam into different colours, each appreciative of the different artistic pursuits on display.

This is what I wrote at the time:

“The first thing that I would ban if I were running the Louvre is cameras. You can see this art rendered in 16 megapixel quality on a screen at home – surely you’d take the opportunity to see it properly here.

“The Mona Lisa was infuriating – there’s no hope of seeing the painting in its entirety unless you’re 6’4”. Cameras and phones are raised as pictures are constantly taken. What’s the picture per minute rate, I wonder?

“It’s perverted and symbolic of the shallow appreciation of art.

“But it is a beautiful painting – it looks as if it appreciates the attention, but doesn’t understand why. … [The painting] is periodically ruined by the light of the camera’s flash on the glass. It made me unreasonably cranky.”

It was definitely worth being there. Some of the stuff they have is really top notch. However, the Musèe d’Orsay was a lot nicer, for one main reason: Photography was verboten – banned – not allowed – illegal – prevented. And[ fewer people and no artistic mosh pits, admittedly, it was a bit tricky to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhône – I wasn’t the only one there who was interested in having a look.

The Notre Dame was a lot easier to appreciate, but a bit off putting in its own way. The first note I made in Paris in my notebook was:

“In the Notre Dame in Paris you can hear the coins falling; you can see the grubby banks notes changing hands. Everything comes with a price tag. The trampling feet oblige.”

It felt shifty to me, especially watching the suited security guards wheel around boxes of coins on trolleys. Faith really is a perfect business model.

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The same could be said of the Eiffel Tower – but that felt acceptable, and it had a view to make up for it. It’s an impressive bit of kit, with a billion rivets and layers upon worn thick gloopy layer of brown paint. Our guide said there was an online survey to test the market in relation to changing the colour. How many people would go for my orange paint idea, I wonder? The Eiffel Tower is painted every seven years by hand – every part of it. “Because otherwise, if they sprayed it, the whole of Paris would be brown,” our guide said. That’s a job which doesn’t have much interest for me.

Yes, that’s me at the top reading the paper – what else did you think I was going to do up there? It was a crazy idea for a photo – my friends would say it’s a Jasper thing to do; I’d agree. At the bottom, a more sensible photograph was taken:

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With such efficient travel arrangements, nothing is really locked in about Paris. Except the bridges:

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All these people, supposedly, were in love in Paris, locking the memory of this to a bridge, thus aiding in making it look absolutely horrendous, while adding another key to the River Seine below. I’m sure before the age of the jet engine, the foot bridges in Paris looked quite attractive. Now the ones that are easily able to harbour padlocks look atrocious.

Making up for the padlocks, though, are the riverside booksellers, who operate out of identical green boxes, which fold out to reveal their wares, that sit on the wall on the bank of the River Seine. I left with the front page of the continental edition of the Daily Mirror of July 7, 1945 (original price: four francs). The headline announced that the Union Jack was flying in Berlin, the Germans having watched silently on.

Another thing quickly realised is that it appears as if everyone who goes to Paris did so on a whim and it was all rushed. They’re still reading their books about Paris when they’re there – they mustn’t have had enough forewarning to be able to finish them in time. Rick Steve’s guide book was popular and Dorling Kindersley also seemed to have the monopoly on the English language; Lonely Planet seemed popular, too.

Paris really is a big, beautiful, glorious mess; I wouldn’t write “amazing”. The streets don’t make sense, there are grotty parts and cleaner parts. Parts feel isolated within the whole, as if you could live within a few streets and never venture anywhere else. It hasn’t lost its localness. It hasn’t been extrapolated beyond recognition. It’s still human.

I left wondering what the turn over in population is. What percentage is tourists at any given time? and how long will it take for them to all leave and be replaced with new ones? You could spend years here and still not see everything. It’s been described as a mysterious city – mystery that just awaits you to get off your backside and see it, perhaps. Or is the mystery the activity of the city – so varied and absurd and plentiful that you won’t ever be able to comprehend it?

It a stationary and steady city that’s plural and constantly on the move, and it takes you with it.

14.4.14

13.04.2014

PRE TRAVEL JOTTINGS

School ended. I probably didn’t say good bye to enough people, but I shook hands and wished people luck for the future. They did the same for me. We all smiled as we rode away, to a future where I probably won’t see any of them again.

The human mind struggles with never-agains. They are constantly happening around us, though, and we need to get over ourselves. What are the chances the people I played mini-golf with yesterday will ever play another round together?

After the mini-golf, I caught the tram into the city for Jamie’s birthday (he’s an exchange student here too; we know each other at home). This being Jamie’s 16th birthday, I will leave you, dear readers, to fill in the blanks. Perhaps if you know the following you’ll be able to deduce the happenings with greater accuracy: The legal drinking age in Germany is 16.

In other news, a glass of beer tastes like a cold, more fluid cup of tea, but one with 25 tea bags and a dash of pepper. It was bizarrely nice, actually. Although, I haven’t worked out how people have five in one sitting.

Jamie is in Italy now and I won’t see him until we’re all back in Australia. Back for another term and the coal face of learning and wisdom.

Today we went for a bike ride along the Dreisdam, heading out from the centre of Freiburg in the direction of the Black Forest. Very sunny, beautiful weather. Everyone lying on the grassy banks the further we got out from the city was publicly displaying affection.

Tomorrow we’re going to Paris for the week. It’s a bit crazy, I think, but it’s the done thing in Europe. It’s about four hours on the train with one change. From her tone on the telephone this morning, I think my mother’s a bit envious.

Well, we’ll see how it goes. Is it the City of Love, the City of Clichés or something else totally unexpected?

10.4.14

09.04.2014

What follows today is a collection of small mental meanderings taken from random pieces of writing I’ve been half working on in lessons that were left half understood as a result of a lack of my full attention. I suppose I’m publishing them now – all just fragments of ideas and blog posts – knowing that I won’t finish them, because I’m sort of knotting loose ends up. Knotting loose ends up is really just a euphemism for doing all the things that I said I’d do later. Now there is no later.

Most of this stuff was written about events in the classroom at the time, or just to make it look like I was working on “work”. Most of it is totally pretentious and unreadable – but “for the record” nonetheless.

 

DEMOCRACY (9.4.14)

It doesn’t provide a very rosy picture of democracy. There is bickering, arguing and little achievement in the way of actually making decisions.

This is not the European Parliament – it’s Class 9A trying to work how they are going to go on a school trip.

Oh! It looks like there has been a breakthrough – a vote, that staple of democracy, has been employed. The decision is “bus”; applause erupts. The losing parties, especially the “bicycle” force, are in denial as the desperate pour sentences out of their mouths, but they stack up, unlistened to, at the opposition’s ear holes.

Now, let’s see what they’ll do about the Ukraine situation.

 

LONG SENTENCE (4.4.14)

Those with public standing, as unfortunate as this may be for the rest of us, often believe that “kids these days” aren’t as clever as they were in their own times (these people are, of course, legends in their own lunchtimes, so they think); they believe that the problem is revealed with brightest clarity in the modern lack of capability in long sentence writing, however I don’t think this is correct in all its facets, mainly because I am able to demonstrate – as I’m doing now with a Lamy Safari fountain pen, Pelikan ink and a single sheet of lined recycled paper with holes for a binder, not to mention my brain – my own personal ability to write long sentences, which do not, therefore, have to be delegated to the annals of verbose history; they do not have to be forgotten – they may continue making writing awful.

(Written in a Russian lesson – where they were talking about sentence length – to fill exactly one lined DIN A4 page.)

 

EVERY TEACHER’S DREAM (27.3.2014)

Today every teacher’s dream was enacted: a lesson conducted in total silence; the earmuffs and earplugs probably helped.

Just how it related to human biology – it felt more like social science meets English literature (Lord of the Flies) – is easily debated, but it proved one point: silence is not golden: The earplugs and earmuffs ensured that all you could hear was your own bodily functions. Even normal breathing sound strained, swallowing and tongue movements sounded like having to manually squelch poo, and a lot of it, around  the S-bend of a toilet with your hand; scratching your head sounded like taking a piece of 80-grade across an Edwardian mahogany table top. If there was any consolation, it was that the earmuffs and plugs ensured that the person sitting next to you wouldn’t have to put up with as well.

 

BIRTHDAY REMINDERS (31.3.2014)

…the advantage of having obnoxious friends is at least they remind you of their birthdays…

 

HEAVY EYEBROWS (27.3.2014)

The heavy eyebrows and watery eyes are a combination easily achieved by staying up beyond midnight.

The rumbling stomach is a result of the apparent German aversion to morning tea; it’s not even lunch time.

The headache is just an added bonus.

I really should go to bed early tonight – or very early tomorrow if it comes to that.

9.4.14

08.04.2014

The arrangements sounded suspicious: “Catch the 9.15 train to Müllheim from Freiburg. There’ll be a blonde lady waiting in a black VW van just outside of the station for you.”

This is how the band of current English-speaking exchange students from the Freie Waldorfschule St. Georgen were informed to get to Müllheim so that we could speak some English with a very eager and excited Class 7 class.

Their teacher, Ann, had assembled a mixture of English speakers for small groups to talk with and show around the school. There was also the thought of a prize: the group who made the presentation about their guest in the coming weeks will win a silver cup. I hope the group I was with wins.

The collection of English speakers was a range. One exchange student from Canada, one from New York state, one from San Francisco, me, an old fellow from New Zealand who was wearing sandals (not that it was sandals weather), and a very proper, RP-talking, BBC-listening, very Home Counties, British woman – who you would say was “of the old Empire”.

For about two hours we ate, talked, were asked questions and shown around. Verbs were misconjugated and sentence structure was in many cases ignored – but who cared? We were actually communicating – speakers of two different first languages.

They told me that they liked English, but found it tricky. I said that it was tricky, but they should keep plugging away. “You’ll get there,” I said.

I was taken to see the school’s garden, which is about a five minute walk from the school. We headed off into the streets of Müllheim without saying anything or supervision. I asked them whether this was OK; they said it was perfectly fine.

On the way I was told about dream jobs and travel plans. It was had greater depth than what I’d been told to expect: favourite colours and foods and books and films.

The school’s garden teacher, who the kids said could get a bit grumpy, was an older gentlemen who spoke fluent English. He told me to give his greetings to Australia. “Everyone you meet for a year, shake their hand and say greetings from me!” he said. We both laughed before he waved me off – “You can’t just talk to silly old men all day, you’ve got to see the garden!”

The garden was a jumble of huts and vegetable patches and a plastic glasshouse and subterranean water tanks and wood stacks and a gypsy caravan-cum-classroom.

Back at the school, the lesson finished up, the goodbyes were said. Ann then took the group of exchange students to the school kitchen for a chat for the last half an hour before the black van returned.

We talked about education, Steiner-vs.-Normal, A-Level students, O-Level students, the Arbitur (the German “I want to go to university” school exam), language learning, the principles of education, how to teach well, play in the classroom and the fact that all things aren’t either true or false – as exams might have you believe. At the end of the conversation we agreed we’d come up with the principles for a fairly utopian school. “Well, you know how to contact me when we can make this happen,” Ann said, smiling.

Very shortly the black van arrived again. We thanked Ann, said our goodbyes and climbed in. Despite the suspicious nature of a black van in a foreign country we felt OK after having seen a box set of Edith Piaf CDs. No child abductor would have such good taste, would they?

 

ON THE CURFEW

I have been asked about Germany’s curfew on the youths on the streets at night. I mentioned this in my post on April 6. Perhaps I could have explained it a little better…

It’s really very simple. At 10 o’clock at night everyone under the age 16 who is unaccompanied must be off the streets, otherwise the police, if they find you, will take you home. Those over the age of 16 but who are not yet 18 have until midnight.

In reality it isn’t such a big deal in Freiburg, I’ve been told. The Polizei aren’t really very bothered and you don’t see that many of them on the lookout. What it does do, however, is instil fear and concern into the youths who, when it’s past their “bed time”, will do whatever they can to get home as quickly as they possibly can.

The idea is a good thing, I think. People know when to go home. At this age we don’t need to be rolling around the streets this late and it gives the police a legal foundation on which they are able to spring off into action. They have the legal ability to take young people home. It might be considered “annoying” but it fits into that seemingly endless backing of “being for our own good”.

The more intellectually inclined contingent of the “youth today” might carry on about it being a reduction of civil liberties and freedom of movement and blah, blah, blah – but we’re not quite adults yet. And that’s something that, although we’d like to ignore it, justifies such a clever idea such as a curfew. Besides, if an adult is willing to accompany us, we are allowed out.

So, it’s not such a massive problem that inhibits your nightly movements.

8.4.14

07.04.2014

SURREAL ADDITIONS,  INKY FISH & THE WEIGHT OF VERBS

“And then I thought I was an octopus.”

This was my surreal contribution to the weekly German lesson today. We were each adding saying a sentence with the general aim of putting together a coherent story. My sentence was developed so it could stand alone in any context. Besides, my abilities are limited.

Our story creation was followed by the comparison and contrasting of smartphones. Which comes equipped with the most megapixels? Which can play the music the loudest on its internal speakers? Which can be dropped from the highest point without smashing? – OK, not the last one, but Herr G. did suggest it.

Herr G. is a joy to listen to, as long as you can cope with not understanding. I think that the human brain struggles with listening to something attentively that it cannot understand; it’s frustrated and angered – the anger directed at the talker, not its own lack of understanding ability. German sentences can be ended with the dropping of a verb – an audible full stop. Herr G. uses verbs that I don’t understand, but they make his sentences sound interesting and wholly engaging. The weight of his words sound unexpected.

Music today was very gechilled – “chilled”, you might have guessed. The Cup Song, which, despite having been around since the 1930s, seems to be known by every musically inclined teenager today, was taught. I, of course, was fairly hopeless at the beginning. By the end of it I was at least not sending plastic cups flying across the room. But it’s the last week before a two week holiday – the chances of teaching complicated elements of musical theory are diminished.

The Cup Song involves manipulating a cup on a hard surface while maintaining a good sense of rhythm. It’s one of those things that can be made to look very easy. Meanwhile, if you don’t know what I’m talking about it, I suggest a short visit to YouTube; not that any visit to YouTube is short – it’s a place where five minutes becomes three hours.

It’s interesting to note, though, that most of the songs they’re singing are in English. I wonder whether this is in conjunction with the English department to assist in the teaching and learning of English. Expose the buggers to English and hopefully they’ll pick some of it up, they think here, perhaps.

 

COMPOSING ONE’S SENTENCES

They pronounce the names with more confidence and conviction. Even the crappiest newspaper here prints opera listings – it’s only natural that the Germans know how to say the composers’ names.

Tchaikovsky is spelt with a “w” instead of a “v” – this in Germany, remember – and the beginning of Beethoven doesn’t rhyme with the end of a broad sounding “debate”.

I’ve avoided talking about composers. The names are the same, but my pronunciation would ensure misunderstanding. Not that it’s hard to avoid talking about composers – it’s really no trouble.

7.4.14

06.04.2014

GERMAN HUMOUR – I’M NOT JOKING

Various hypotheses of what the German national sense of humour could actually be have been put forward.  It suggests, on the whole, that it reveals itself in a form undetectable to the rest of Western world. This is absolute nonsense. The Germans do, in fact, have a sense of humour – and it’s not very far from our own.

On Friday night we were at the Variété in der Wiehre – an all singing, all dancing, all circus-ing, all laughing spectacle of an event that nearly made it into the morning held at the Freie Waldorfschule Freiburg-Wiehre. It started at 8 o’clock, allowed us 20 minutes to purchase more drinks (needed to stay alive in the very stuffy hall) at what we thought would be the half way point and then went on until about 11.45pm. Turns out it wasn’t the half way point.

I was there on obligation with Lotta (who has also just fallen into the bottomless pit of addiction and torment of writing a blog about Germany here: http://germanydiaries.blogspot.de), to see our fellow Canberran, Jamie (of photo essay fame), kill himself on stage. Er, make that: Perform with the circus troupe.

The two gents looking after the continuity announcements dazzled in character, and peeped over the wall of the language barrier. One was the foreman, the bloke in the charge; the other was the hapless builder, who should have gone to Specsavers – his el cheapo nerd glasses weren’t doing anything to help prevent his natural clumsiness.

It was the classic comic set up. The tall, good looking, in control foreman versus the shorter, idiotic moron of a builder. They dabbled in doses of toilet humour, Abbott and Costello-esque misunderstandings and even a bit of ballet – men in tights seems to always evoke a laugh.

They even had a video. As we were at a Waldorf School production the eurythmy jokes were inevitable. The one they pulled was the best I’ve seen. Using a video from their “friends in China”, they showed as the new eurythmy tower that was being built. But there were some problems, construction hadn’t started yet and they needed the audience to help when they got a phone call. They needed to make it sound like there was movement at the station.

We gloriously participated, interspersed with laughter, in creating phony construction site noises. And then they brought the house down. The top of the tower, a million or so metres in the air, would house the French room – “because from up there you can see France!”

The next comic gem – at which we were all laughing – came from too chaps in Class 11 at the Freie Waldorfschule St. Georgen (the best one – because that’s where I am), and then a “surprise” visit from a French friend.

Their musical song revolved around the line, Ich trau mich nicht – “I don’t trust myself.” That’s how the singer, the other chap played the piano, would back out of situations. The song was good – with stabs at public transport, people you meet and the usual dilemmas for 17- or 18-year-old boys. The Germans laughed heartily at this, too.

Then, when the act appeared to be finished, the “French girl” was invited up to sing a song in French. The chap was going to provide translations line for line. The song began and, obvious to anyone who has a brain, despite it being devoid of French, was about love – particularly the love for the chap doing translations. We would stop and the translations would be shaky and nervous. Then the song got complicated, the girl lent in closer. The translation, in a loud, passable, singing tenor voice, was, “The weather is beautiful!” The piano cut, the girl looked pissed off. But continued to lean in. It was getting serious now. The audience was all thinking, Here we go; she’s gone in for the kiss.

Suddenly the piano changed from its serious minor chord to a light-hearted major one. The chap pulled away looked out to the audience and sang jovially, but a little forlornly, Ich trau mich nicht.

All of this stuff would work in English translation, minus the joke about putting your French room where you can see France. So, discuss farts, reveal the insecurities of a teenage boy with up beat piano backing and keep your audience with you, and you’ll go OK in Germany.

Afterwards, because the thing went for so long, we had to walk home. We’d missed the last tram. I wasn’t breaking any laws – I am 16 and I had 2 minutes to get home before the Polizei would be interested in my movements, thanks to Germany’s very clever youth curfew. Others, though, weren’t quite so comfortable within the law. However, if the police were to arrive we would have at least got a ride home – they’re obligated, whereas the tram was not.

Oh, and Jamie survived.

 

THE BEGINNING OF THE END1

(1The title, if you’ll excuse me, is the blatant use of a cliché.)

This week is my last full week in Freiburg. I suppose the tone of this blogging flight of fancy has turned from, “Oh, I’m Germany – look how much time I;m going to have”, to the, “Bugger-bugger-poo, it’s nearly over.” It’s a shift in thought process, physically reflected in the changing calendar pictures on the walls. Days falling like strips of freshly grated cheese onto a bowl of warm pasta, being absorbed in the sauce and losing their form, but leaving a good taste.

One more week of school: Five more morning bike rides down Vaubanallee at speed because we running just on time – never late; five more bouts of anger directed at my phone masquerading as an alarm clock; five more times my coat will be hung on a hook on the wooden row in the hallway outside Class 9B as the electronic three tones of the bell ring out, signalling last second movements; five more times I will pour milk blearily eyed over muesli while thinking to myself, Look, you should have got up earlier; five more times I will sit through lessons and wonder what the hell they are talking about – or wishing I could ask questions; five more times I will be part of the rush out of the school for lunch – part of the scramble of bikes in search of food.

6.4.14

05.04.2014

The line for the bastards takes longer than the ride itself. And they really are bastards – the engineering love child of psychological torment and pure insanity. Why anyone “likes” rollercoasters is beyond me, but perhaps some people like the idea of experiencing the feeling of having every internal organ come up through the body and attempt to push out through the tear ducts in your eyelids.

The worst part about rollercoasters is the line. It’s not the waiting – it the where you have to wait. You wait as you can hear and see the people on the tracks. There is screaming and the visuals give you the sense that violent motion sickness is imminent. I was thinking to myself today on more than one occasion, “What are you doing, Jasper?”

By the time you’re sitting in the carriage – a word that makes it sound too nice – you realise there was no point going to the toilet before hand; you need to go again anyway. And then you’re off, accelerating stupidly.

After the internal-organs-through-tear-ducts effect you’re back, ready to go again.

If there was a way to get on a rollercoaster without the psychological build-up of having to get on the bastard, it wouldn’t be so bad.

Europa Park – the –est theme park in a variety of categories in Europe – provided this new experience today. Despite what you might think, I did have a lot of fun.

 

A REPUTATION

“You’ve got quite a reputation,” she said.

“I hope it’s a good one,” I thought out loud.

The woman talking was one of the other English teachers here. She had news: I had been invited along with the other English-speaking exchange students here to Müllheim for the purposes of assisting with English.

Perhaps I was onto something in my blog post from April 1, 2014.

Now, if all goes to plan, I’ll head off on Tuesday and miss out on something wholly worthwhile: a day out of a week’s worth of maths main lessons. At least it’s the last week of school, although I’m even a little bit sad about that.

2.4.14

01.04.2014

And so begins my last month in Germany, and it won’t even be a whole month.

Today I had the pleasure of being involved with a couple of Class 7 English lessons. Eurythmy was joyously cancelled and a free period enabled me to “hang about” and talk some English.

They told me that they found the lessons very boring. Their relationship with their teacher isn’t very good and they all feel like they’re not getting anywhere. They think their English is awful but they’re all eager to learn more. Talking to them, I could see that they understood a lot.

Together we laughed and carried on and generally ignored the official parameters of the exercise. I think they should be shown how to have more fun with English. Language can be fun – it doesn’t have to be all doom, gloom and grammar. Say, Look, you can do this, but if you shut up for a bit and let me teach you something else, you’ll be able to do so much more.

Language learning, it appears, is built around the constant reminding of the lack of ability. No one actually needs to say to someone at school in a language lesson at the age of 12 or 13 that they can’t do much with the language – they know it for themselves.

Suggest that they can do more than they think, but make it clear that there’s more to learn and that it can be done, and I think you won’t concrete in the once hungry stomach for new words and more understanding.

Another English teacher who was listening in on our outside conversation group – she was “keeping an eye on Class 10 – you never know what they get up to” – was shocked at the approach she’d overheard. She said this to me. “But it was so informal? They need to learn to talk properly first.” “Perhaps,” I said, “but don’t children learn to talk informally first – the formal stuff comes later as it’s often more complex. Why shouldn’t they learn to speak informally and have fun first and then go on to study the ins and outs of formalities and social requirements?” I could sense she wanted to argue, but the bell went – thank a deity of your choice.

 

On Sunday I was in Basel again (this time without a fellow Australian to create a somewhat derogatory photo essay of my efforts) for a type-in – the gathering of more than one typewriter nerd for some serious typewriter fun. Find out all of the details here, at my typewriter blog: http://dhiatensor.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/from-type-in-in-basel-world-exclusive.html.

 

Today was April Fool’s Day – or, as it is referred to here, “April, April”. Planning began yesterday with concepts of claiming Obama was dead and that it didn’t make the papers because of time zone differences. None of it happened at the school today, though, and it was left to the Badische Zeitung to run a little something on its 19th page.

The 19th page article, entitled “New Attraction: Galaxy swimming world [to be] built on the Ganter site in Freiburg”, suggested that a new swimming complex would be built on the site of the Ganter brewery – which looks like a fairly historic sort of a building. Perhaps not quite to the calibre of The Guardian’s 1977 supplement on the isle of Sans Seriffe: a new discovery and must see travel destination! – which looked like a semicolon.

 

Now, because today was April Fool’s Day it means yesterday was my birthday. As this is my own personal blog with an extremely exclusive (think: limited) readership, I can go ahead self-centred-like and mention it.

So, it was my birthday – the word got out here and I spent the day shaking hands and accepting good wishes, auf Deutsch. Everyone was very nice; a wonderful cake was consumed; and I had a nice day – placebo effect, perhaps?

Although, the soundtrack for the morning was the Easybeats’ Friday On My Mind. Monday is a bummer of a day to have your birthday on – but at least eurythmy was cancelled.

(Thank you, too, to everyone who sent me emails and Skype messages, too,  saying “Happy Birthday!!!”)