I have been in Germany for over three weeks now, and have decided to follow the example of others and try to keep a regular blog (by regular, I probably mean about weekly, but we'll see how it goes). This one might be a little bit longer than future entries, due to the length of time it covers, but I hope that it will not be too dry...
New German Word/Phrase of the week: verdrießlich - morose/irksome
So, after a brief but fun-filled overnight stay with Sarah, Alex, Mike and Joe in London town, I set off by bus from Victoria Coach station at 2 in the afternoon, knowing that my arrival would not be until 06:00 on Tuesday, 16th August, the next morning. I had to change buses in Brussels at about 23:00, which went smoothly, and then settled back for as much sleep as I could get before my arrival in Bremen...
At about 02:00, however, I was woken by a Dutch border patrol officer tapping me on my shoulder and demanding my passport. In a half-asleep state I reached into my money belt and produced the document, and, having taken it back from the officer, closed my eyes with every intention of going back to sleep again. However, I could not ignore a small commotion which was beginning behind me, and turned around to observe no fewer than 8 of my fellow passengers being asked to leave the bus for travelling without passports. It turned out they were illegal immigrants from Afghanistan trying to cross the border, either into Germany, or possibly somewhere in Scandinavia (the bus' eventual destination). Having never had to produce a passport before in mainland Europe, during many family holidays and school trips, I must admit that the experience left me a little shaken: most of all, seeing the 8 men who had to leave the bus and wait at the border patrol station was an unsettling sight.
Suffice it to say that I did not sleep for the rest of the journey, and arrived in Bremen at 06:00 decidedly sleep-deprived and wanting nothing more than to arrive at my hotel in Oldenburg and catch up on some sleep before my first flat-viewings (which were to be later on that afternoon). I bought my train ticket from Bremen Hbf to Oldenburg, and had a smooth half-hour ride to my new home town. The hotel was not too difficult to find (although I did have to ask two separate people for directions - this was probably more due to my lack of sleep and general inability to navigate than to any failure on behalf of the people I asked to explain the way), and I hauled my rucksack, suitcase and briefcase (ok, man-bag) up the two flights of stairs to reception.
The hotel manager was a very friendly man, but explained that my room was not quite ready yet - I was to leave my bags with him and return within half an hour. This I did, after visiting the local Bäckerei and enjoying my first delicious German breakfast - a slice of Himbeertraum (google it, and then buy a slice yourself). Decidedly ready for sleep, I returned to the hotel, and accompanied the hotel manager to my room. The manager engaged me in conversation, which was very friendly of him, and certainly a good opportunity to put my brain into German mode, but I must admit that all I could think about was climbing into bed and catching up on some much, much needed beauty sleep. Eventually, the manager left (hopefully not because of any subconscious body language on my behalf), and I shaved off my travelling beard before climbing into bed.
A few hours later, after waking up and showering, I got dressed and made my way to my first flat-viewing. I wanted to live together with German-speakers in a shared flat, a Wohngemeinschaft (WG), and in order to do this, the inhabitants of a flat arrange a "casting", during which they show you the flat and then ask you questions, to see if you will fit in with the people who currently live there. The idea of this was making me as nervous as my Oxford interview had a couple of years previously, and so I was very relieved to find that the process was very informal and even fun.
I saw one flat in the afternoon, and then a second later on in the evening, both of which were lovely - however, one let me know that day that they had chosen somebody else, and the other was not going to let me know until the weekend whether I could move in, so I knew that I had a lot more flat-hunting to do. As the week went on, I received more and more answers along the lines of "we really enjoyed meeting you, but unfortunately, as you are only staying 9 months, we had to choose somebody else". This was a perfectly undertstandable decision, of course, yet it obviously left me with nowhere to live and feeling a little bit down in the dumps.
The Thursday of that week, I went to the University, to gather some information about how to enroll as a "Gaststudent". Completely lost, and a little down-hearted because of the as yet unsuccessful search for a home, I asked two students if they could point me in the direction of the Immatriculation office. These two angels (Sabrina and Tanja) then proceeded to spend the whole day helping me to find new flats to look around, and even drove me to some viewings that I had arranged. Needless to say, I felt much, much better after meeting them - not only had they given me some confidence and invaluable help about finding somewhere to live, they were also the first friends I had made since arriving. I have yet to properly pay them back for this, but I fully intend to soon!
It was not until the Sunday, though, that I found my new home - a shared flat slightly to the north of town, fully furnished, and perfectly situated for my needs - quiet and almost in the countryside, yet only a 10/15 minute ride by bike into the town centre. My flatmate also turned out to be very friendly, and, when I moved in on the following Tuesday (23rd August), he took me into town for a drink and some food at one of his favourite pubs - a bavarian pub, with good bavarian beer, and even better bavarian food.
Earlier in the week, I had arranged to meet up with my contact teacher from the school I was going to be working at, and we had got to know each other over a couple of drinks in town one evening. He was (and of course still is) an absolutely wonderful man, and offered me all sorts of help should I need it in finding somewhere to live. As it turned out, it was not necessary, but the offer was very much appreciated. On top of this, we arranged for me to come into the school the following Monday (the day before I moved into my new home) to get to know the staff and pupils alike.
The school is simply perfect. There are only 450 pupils, and this results in a very friendly and close relationship between the pupils and 30 members of staff alike. Everybody welcomed me warmly, all of the staff told me to call them "du" and not "Sie" (except for the headmaster, but what can one expect?), and the pupils were simply wonderful - highlight of the day was being asked how often I had met the Queen. Perfick.
The rest of the week was spent getting settled into my new flat, and going to the Stadtfest, which fortuitously had begun the weekend after I had found my flat - meaning that I could go out all night long without having anything serious on my mind to think about, and had a bed to go back to afterwards. Through my flatmate, the people I had met at the University, and the staff at the school, I was invited out all three nights, and got seriously acquainted with all the local beers (and some not so local ones, such as Newcastle Brown!) and had a thoroughly excellent time.
Then it was off, on the 29th August, to Altenberg, for a Language Assistants Training Course. The course itself was more interesting than I had imagined it would be, yet contained of course that slightly frustrating mixture of patronising and artifical learning/training exercises, as these things always do. Still, the group leaders did the best they could with the situation, and the highlight of the whole experience was meeting the other language assistants, who were without exception open and friendly, and with whom I spent some great evenings in Altenberg, enjoying cheap beer (a theme is developping here...) and good company. Many of us promised to stay in touch, and I sincerely hope that this is the case.
The course lasted until Thursday, 1st September, and then it was off to Oldenburg again, to officially start my time as Language Assistant in my school. The school itself is about 30 km outside of Oldenburg, in a small town/village called Ramsloh, and so, due to my lack of car (and driving licence - semantics) I had to get a lift in with my contact teacher, who also lives in Oldenburg. Long story short, in order to get to his house in time, I had to wake up at 05:30, and indeed will have to every morning that I go into school. As far as I know, this is a perfectly normal time to wake up over here, but for a student who has just come from his second year at university, this was quite a shock to the system. Ah well.
My first official day at school was spent getting to know more English classes, so that I could work out a timetable with Wolfgang (my contact teacher). The timetable we agreed on suited both of us perfectly - although I was to do a few more hours than I was contractually obliged to (18 instead of 12), I was to have Mondays and Fridays off, giving me plenty of time to travel around the country, which had been one of my main wishes before leaving home.
That weekend, I was invited to a Birthday/moving in party at one of the WGs I had looked round on my first day in Oldenburg, and had a brilliant time - the party even went on until 06:00 in the morning! Needless to say, I slept most of the next day (Sunday), and only dared to venture outside again on the Monday, to get some much needed supplies for my shelves in the kitchen.
Then, on Tuesday, my first "full" working week began, with my fixed timetable. The classes are, without exception, wonderful. As I am not a fully fledged teacher, I am not responsible for discipline, and, for some reason, being from the UK (or just anywhere abroad) is fascinating for the kids - so I get all of the benefits of teaching without any of the drawbacks. The perfect job! As the week went on, I took over more and more of the lesson, and on Thursday this week (i.e. yesterday) took my first whole lesson by myself - with only 10 minutes notice! However, the lesson went surprisingly well, and the students even applauded at the end - believe it or not, it's true! Wolfgang is also a PE teacher, and he and I had agreed that I would teach one of his classes (8a, equivalent of 3rd year or Y9 in the UK) a bit of touch rugby during their double period, last thing on a Wednesday. That, too, went remarkably well, and we will be doing more rugby until the October holidays. As somebody who hated rugby when I first started (it took me about a year to really start to enjoy it), it never crossed my mind that I would ever be teaching it, but I suppose that's life for you!
That, I believe, is that, for the time being. Tune in next time for the new edition of "German word of the week", and for a particularly special feature on Oktoberfest! Can't wait!