Emma in Euroland

Tea, Cake and Travel: a year abroad in Germany

The late nights have started.

As we approach the end of the first week of freshers, I think we are all tired. For a girl who is usually in bed at 10, working a 10pm to 3am shift is pretty hard work. My first night shift was last night and was not without a few teething problems. The hot holder for the chips wouldn’t work, we had no takings bag and no beans. I was working with Zoe though and we quickly worked out that without beans, we could just store the chips where they would have been. Only one person in the whole evening requested a topper anyway and it wasn’t beans.

It’s just a little frustrating. Yes, I was shown ‘what to do’ on Thursday night for an hour. That didn’t involve what to do with money at the end of the night, when we closed, any ongoing details, only what we sold and how we would sell it. Having worked at the union before, not only was I able to guess the answers to a lot of unanswered questions, but I knew the person to ask if not. I don’t know how comfortable I would have felt if I hadn’t had that experience and I’m not going to be there every night.

Zoe is also a great girl and we had a laugh. We were dancing and pointing out the ridiculous amount of Freshlings that were wearing shorts which left their bums hanging out the bottom. It doesn’t look good on anyone, don’t try it.

The main worry was how much we actually sold. Most people didn’t know there would be burgers. Even those who weren’t Freshers wouldn’t have known because I don’t think they sold food last year. Most people in a club don’t want burgers and chips, particularly if they can’t see anyone else eating them. Greasy food is something you get at the end of the night, on the way home, when you’ve stopped drinking and dancing, you feel peckish and the warmth and light of a fish bar is alluring. We covered our wages and were in profit, definitely, but not by much.

The easiest way to cut expenses would be to reduce it to only one person working but that wouldn’t work. You need someone to be able to keep an eye on food and someone to keep an eye on customers. They always seemed to need attention at the same time. Drunk people don’t want to wait 5 minutes for a burger or 4 minutes for chips. It all needs to be ready and that requires one person on each job. Aside from the practical side, a 5 hour shift in the middle of the night, on your own, would be absolutely dire. If you could sit there reading a book or watching iplayer, it wouldn’t be too bad but that would not be an option. In the long periods where noone showed any interest, you would just have to stand there. I didn’t feel too tired as we were working: we kept busy. We cleaned and organised and prepared for any busy moments so we could serve quickly and encourage all their friends to buy things too. On your own you would just want to sleep.

I don’t know exactly what our margins are but I know we didn’t make a lot of money. When people came in to see how we were doing, it was something we laughed about together but the smiles didn’t come so easily. We know that we need to sell stuff or it won’t work. 5 hours pay each is a massive expense when you only sell £100 of stock.

I’m working again today, in the day and in the night. I am shattered already and not looking forward to it but I’m just trying to think about the pay packet next week and the money that will be in there that I desperately need. Once term starts, the truth is that I won’t be any less busy but I’ll be busy with university and revision and assignments, things I can organise in my own time and do in my pajamas at home with as much tea as I like. These next few days will be the worst. I have the worst shifts in the highest concentration. When I get into bed on Sunday night, it will be done. Boy, I can’t wait!

Hello stranger.

When I first started my year abroad, I loved blogging. Everything was exciting and new and I seemed to have endless things to write about. There were many things that never made it to my blog because there just weren’t enough hours in the day. As the snow and cold seemed to bore into my bones, I lost my mojo. I wasn’t enjoying myself so much and I wanted to go home. I wanted my blog to be positive but true and I did write about the difficulties sometimes. It was just hard to motivate myself to find something interesting to write about when I hadn’t wanted to leave the flat for days because it was so cold.

My last post talked about the spontaneous trip home. I just couldn’t bare being away anymore and an unexpected two week break from school turned up. I booked a flight and came home the next day. It was what I needed. After I had spent two weeks at home, there were still a lot of good times. Budapest was certainly a highlight and a truly fantastic trip. The truth was though that whilst I enjoyed lots of things between March and June, my year abroad was over in my mind and I wanted to go home.

As the final days approached, I was able to look back at the good times. Erfurt is a really beautiful city and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I met some fantastic people and made some great friends both at school and outside. The snow had finally lifted and I wandered around aimlessly, just enjoying my surroundings. Just before I left, Mum arrived to help me pack and take me home. We finally visited the Wartburg and I was able to show her what a wonderful area of Germany I had ended up in.

I was homesick but that didn’t mean I didn’t love where I was. I just wanted to be at home more.

I arrived home at the start of June, many suitcases and boxes in hand. It is amazing the amount of stuff you can acquire in a year! A couple of days later, Ramsey arrived home too and we were finally reunited. The months seemed to melt away that day and it was as if we had never been apart. It took us both a while to adjust to being at home and to living in such close proximity to others, having spent so much time alone, but we got there. We had a wonderful week away in Devon in a beautiful converted barn, a weekend in Poole visiting Monkey World and two weeks in Cyprus with the Bensons. In between, we just enjoyed being at home and being together.

Now it’s September and I’m back in Cardiff. I’m living in the most luxurious accommodation I have ever seen a student living in and I’m living here with my best friend. It couldn’t be much better. I have got my job back at the union too and I love working there. Things have changed a little since I left and this year they have completely changed what we are selling. It was certainly a baptism of fire yesterday when it was decided that we wouldn’t open up. Instead, all the staff in the building were invited to a free lunch at 12.30. The idea was that it would give us a trial run of a busy period and any mistakes would be on staff, not on customers. It gave us a chance to work out the best way to deal with the lunchtime rush and make sure that we were working efficiently and ensuring that the best quality product left the kitchen. Well, as you would expect, it was total carnage. It didn’t help that we weren’t entirely sure how long things would take to cook and that we didn’t have all the ingredients we needed to sell all the products on offer, but we got there. Afterwards we had a briefing with all the staff and management to work out the best process going forward. I was quite vocal but honest and I offered solutions to problems where I could see them. After all, it’s in my interest as much as the union’s that the business works. If it doesn’t, there will be less shifts available and we could lose our jobs. I was so tired after my four hour shift that I did nothing for the rest of the day and just went to bed. It was worth it though and I’m glad I was there to see how things were going to work and be part of making things better.

We’ve got two weeks of freshers to get through and they are likely to be busy. Well, hopefully they will be. After that things will settle down and get into a rhythm which should be less manic. I’ll be starting uni again on 30th September. It’s early this year but it means that we will break early for Christmas which is nice. It’s going to be a very hard year academically but I’m looking forward to getting back to things. One step closer to the real world eh?

Homesickness and the Spontaneous Trip Home

My year abroad was something I had been looking forward to for years. Ever since I arrived in Frankfurt, way back in 2007, I had been desperate to spend more time learning about the world and embracing a culture different from my own. The opportunity to take part in a year abroad was a massive motivation for working towards a language degree. As I got older and my year away got closer, I began to understand just how big a thing it was. I was nervous and apprehensive but ultimately excited about the challenges that this year had to offer and the opportunity to have a year learning about another country but also about myself, who I was and what I wanted to be.

A couple of weeks after I arrived, it started to snow. I didn’t have an oven or curtains and I had to get up pretty early for school. I was in Germany though. I was earning a lot of money relative to how much I had to work and my rent was cheap. First, I had my birthday to look forward to and then Ramsey and Christmas. I cannot fault Germany on it’s Christmas effort and it was a pretty magical time, living in an ancient and beautiful city with warm drinks, Christmas markets and so much to look forward to. Skype became a regular installment of my week and my life felt pretty full, in a good way. I had so much to look forward to and I was doing some pretty exciting things that I had never done before.

I went home for Christmas and it was wonderful to just be around all the people I loved again. 3 months had past since I had been home and it was great to recharge my batteries. I came back to Erfurt in January refreshed and ready to enjoy what was ahead of me.

January didn’t greet me in the way I had hoped though. Erfurt was incredibly cold, more so than I remembered, I was sure. It snowed a lot and I spent less time outside. The evening activities I had participated in before Christmas stopped as the darkness and snow were so absolute, it just seemed better to stay inside. A trip to Paris at the end of January to see my Mum was what I held in my mind and I was positive and tried to make the most of the chance to stay indoors without feeling I was missing out and work on the essay I had to submit the day I was going.

Paris didn’t have the lasting effect I had hoped though as very shortly after returning, I fell ill with bronchitis.  I missed two weeks of school and in that time, I barely got out of bed. Once recovered, I had a trip to Prague to enjoy. It was absolutely great, despite the cold and it was an opportunity I just wouldn’t have had if I had been in the UK. However, this combined with doctor’s bills left me in a financial situation which made me feel a little queasy.

I was tired. The novelty of being away had worn off and I hadn’t seen the faces of the people I love for weeks. Both emotionally and physically, I just needed a rest. This came, temporarily, in the form of a trip to Munich. Two university friends who are in Austria came up to Germany and we all spent a long weekend together in the Bavarian capital. It was a great trip and we had a lot of fun. It seemed like I had spent some time with home for a few days.

The thing about homesickness is that it creeps up on you when you least expect it. I was so busy, doing so many exciting things. Why was I wishing that I could just be in my pajamas on the sofa at home with a cup of tea and Doctor Who? Who would honestly trade what I had to just be at home doing something utterly everyday and normal? I told myself I was ridiculous, I couldn’t possibly want that. If I did, how dare I? Most people just don’t have the chance to go and experience a country like I have, to do all the things I have done, to have a year out of the rat race of university and get a chance to recharge before final year.

I was ashamed. I cried in my room for weeks. I became a true Erfurter (excuse the HIMYM reference) and I cried on the tram. I cried walking down the street and in the supermarket. Why was I too ashamed to just admit how I was feeling and accept it? Why didn’t I talk to my friends or my family?

It all seems stupid now. I thought I would be a failure if I went home, if I admitted I was finding it hard or if I said that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I thought I would be selfish if I said that actually, if I could choose I would just go home and that Germany, as great as it is, will never be Britain. Great Britain is so apt a name.

In reality though, wouldn’t it be weird if I didn’t want to go home, even just a little, or if I didn’t hold my own country in higher regard to any other? Anyone can see flaws in their own culture and the beauty of others. That doesn’t mean to say, however, that you will never feel more at home than around those flaws and that despite all the beauty you see, you will always feel a little like an outsider.

On Wednesday, I finally admitted defeat. I called my Mum, barely able to speak and asked if she would mind if I came home. What sort of a question was that? I just needed to hear someone say that it was OK, that I wasn’t a complete failure and that coming home for a couple of weeks was the right thing to do. I booked a flight and came home the next day and I slept for a solid 6 hours on Thursday night. I haven’t slept through like that in a long time.

Here I am, in the middle of the afternoon, in my pajamas in my room with a cup of tea in hand and my cat sleeping at my feet. Well, on my foot in fact, but it’s nice nonetheless. Home is where the heart is but sometimes, you just have to be there too. Am I a failure for finally accepting that? I don’t think so anymore.

I felt so lucky to have the chance to go away for a year, be able to put my life on hold and go off into the world to just discover. I didn’t know what I would find. I know now. The world is great and interesting and there is so much more I want to see and learn. Home is better though and I love my life and the people in it just the way it is. I don’t need more. I just need my family, my friends and my wonderful Rams. I would like tea and queuing too if that’s OK. A creme egg wouldn’t go a miss either ;).

In conclusion, accept homesickness when you feel it for what it is: a sign that your life and the people in it are pretty special. Most importantly, realise that those people are there for you, you are not alone and there is absolutely no need to suffer in silence. Sometimes, everyone needs to just recharge their batteries. Today, I’m recharging mine and honestly, I look forward to going back to Germany, refreshed and ready to enjoy it. I hope you read all about it ;).

Dictionaries and Defeatism.

It was a weird day in school today. My alarm went off at 6.30. It was painful. It feels like there has been no weekend at all, even though I had 3 days of it. The Easter holidays are next week and I can’t say I’m not looking forward to not having school for 2 weeks. I got to school at 8.10. At 8.25 (a little late) I went upstairs to my first lesson. The door was locked though and having struggled to open the door (why ALWAYS that one?!) I found noone to be inside. I headed to the cancellations board, waited for it to roll around to Tuesday again and found nothing. Where the hell was my class?! Ramona was not in her office and I figured she would text me if she really needed me so I headed back to my office to do some marking.

I sat down to some incredibly frustrating essays. Learning a language is hard. I know that as well as anyone. However, I would like to think that I don’t make blatent, inexcusable mistakes all the time. These kids are allowed dictionaries in the exams! Not just English ones, but English-Deutsch! Personally, having not been allowed a dictionary in any language exam in my life, I find it completely ridiculous. I can’t take their dictionaries away from them, but I can expect that stupid mistakes would be omitted, given the presence of such a tool on their desk. Littered throughout the papers were mistakes like “activitys”, “peoples” and even “jung” meaning young, for heaven’s sake. I mean, that is just downright laziness. Over and over again, I mention these same sorts of errors. It made me angry actually. I was sitting there, in my spare time, wasting my time correcting utterly stupid mistakes. We all make them. I know I do. But it was the ubiquity of errors that astounded me. Every paper was the same. I could excuse the guy who kept talking about ‘fishes’, mainly because he made fish relevant to an essay on juvenile delinquency but even so, he could have looked it up.

I think that this reliance on dictionaries in language learning is very negative. I know that if I sit and read something in German with a dictionary next to me, there is a temptation to look up every word I don’t know. Quickly, all you see are the words you don’t understand. You loose the context of the piece and are suddenly unable to detect inferred meaning and cannot understand anything at all. If I was just given the text and asked to read it and then give a summary in English, I would probably be able to do it without thinking about it.

I realise that I am in a Berufschule and things may be different in other schools. However, I think that the idea that we are terrible at languages is utterly unfair. When I asked one of my classes to write me an essay, I wasn’t sure what the word limit should be. When I asked Ramona, I was dismayed at her answer.

120 words?! Really?!” This is just what they were used to writing. Asking them to do more would have caused uproar and frankly, would have been unproductive. They had over an hour and they had dictionaries. 120 words. Really?

GCSEs are not hard by any stretch. At age 16, you are left with no level of fluency and it is a qualification which can be achieved in a few years, starting from scratch (I did my Japanese one in only 3 years and was very satisfied with my mark). However, it does require you to write a lot more than 120 words in the written paper. That was never something that scared us, we knew we had to do it. What we wrote wasn’t complicated though.

Maybe that is just the problem here. In an effort to teach language too quickly, some of the details get lost in between. We were writing a lot at 16 and feeling confident about it, even though we didn’t really know that much. That’s because we learnt in topics and within those topics, we knew what we were doing. That was not going to make us fluent, but you have to start somewhere.

Topic learning, as I understand it, is also how they do it here but having started younger and learnt more intensively, by the time they reach the age of my students, they are taught in such a way which demands fluency across all areas, not from particular topics. I am sure my experiences would have been different in a Gymnasium (grammar school) but working towards a qualification which demands this level of understanding can be really difficult with pupils in a Berufschule. Lots of my students have taken a break from learning and haven’t used English in a long time. Some have always struggled and just really want to get some more tuition. Others (and this is most of some classes) are there to learn something practical and have no interest in or motivation to learn English. Why should they care whether they should use ‘there’, ‘their’ or ‘they’re’?

The British are not the best in the world at learning languages. Admittedly, when you can go to a country and speak English, it is often hard to think about speaking the local language. With less language graduates going through university in the generation before me, I realise that it is not always easy to find good language teachers for schools. Many schools, when the law changed and they were no longer obliged to offer them, decided against languages and got rid of the option altogether. Language learning in the UK is not without it’s faults.

We are not without our good points though and whilst I wish that more students in the UK decided to persue languages (the benefits, even just cognitively, are endless), I am proud of the fact that those who do decide to do languages, do it very well. I have studied 4 languages in my life and am keen to add a Scandanavian one to that list. I attend university with many talented people who after applying to study a language, changed their mind and decided to study two instead. There are so many opportunities out there. Evening classes, do-it-yourself books, blogs, online tutoring, tandem partnerships. Language learning really is open to everyone and the satisfaction and security you get from getting about in a language other than your own is indescribable. It really is never too late so get learning now!

 

To Malvina, for adding colour to my bland, white walls.

I said goodbye to one of my best friends yesterday. Today, she wasn’t back in time for me to say goodbye to her before I left for work.  Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s right that we haven’t really said goodbye.

It’s funny how some friendships grow. We haven’t known each other long but she arrived in my life like a train crash. When she moved into my flat back in October, I had only been here a few days. Ramsey had just left and I was just about finding my feet. There were 3 of us in the flat. We had routines, we had systems. Then someone else came in who threw me off.  Someone different.

It didn’t take long for her quirky ways to grow on me though. It started first of all with the stories. This girl always has something going on. Particularly in the beginning when things were new and she was meeting new people all the time, almost every day something amazing had happened that she needed to tell me about. My life felt settled and happy but my daily instalment in her exciting and crazy life (or so it seemed to me) was something I always looked forward to. We laughed together a lot.

Over the months, things changed a little. It was no longer just stories I was getting, but she wanted my opinion too. She wanted my advice on her problems and I felt like she was a younger sister, looking for guidance. Why she came to me, I’m not sure. Maybe just because I was there. Either way, whatever it was, it led to something pretty special.

There were arguments and conflicts (although thankfully not between us). There was despair and heartbreak, euphoria and love.  There were homemade Christmas decorations. There were paintings. Eventually there was even a trip to Dresden which, whilst not without a few hiccups, was one of my favourite, it not my favourite, of all the trips I have made on my year abroad.

While she was hurting and needed support, I opened up to her. I told her about things which had happened in my life and how I had felt about it. I told her things I hadn’t really told anyone and I found myself being entirely honest about how it had affected me, something I had struggled with before. I had a happy ending to my story and it seemed to help.

Somewhere along the way, she became my friend. At some point after that, she became one of my best friends. It’s funny, in the beginning she just seemed so different. Even though all those differences are still there, I don’t seem to notice them anymore. I feel like we are two peas out of a pod.

When I had bronchitis, I didn’t get out of bed for days apart from occasionally stumbling through the kitchen on my way to the bathroom. In seeing my suffering, she stopped smoking. Not just in her room, but completely, until I was better. She said she wanted give me moral support so I wasn’t on my own with it all.

We didn’t spend that much time together. Most of our conversations happened in the kitchen as we were both passing through. We were there for each other though and we were only ever a knock away. There was something comforting in that.

Malvina was loud at all hours of the day. She left her pans on the hobs. She had new friends coming through the flat all the time. She often forgot her key. But she was kind and funny. She was generous and caring. She had the most infectious laugh and her enthusiasm for everything was fascinating. She was an ‘experimental’ cook and I enjoyed learning from her mistakes (note to self: don’t try to fry frozen burgers. They will burn.). She wore her heart on her sleeve and she made people feel special.

I am glad we didn’t say goodbye today. I hope that we had no reason too. Romania seemed like it was a lot further away before this year in Germany. The world seems like a smaller place now.

I suppose I might get used to the flat being quieter. I might get used to not hearing updates on her exciting life every day.  I might do. Or I might just start playing my music louder and pester her with emails every day instead. God only knows. What I do know though is that either way, I will miss her very much and I feel blessed that she has coloured my year abroad experience in the way that she has.

I hope I have been as good a friend to her as she has been to me.

Two peas in a pod :)

Two peas in a pod :)

The city of the little monks: Muenchen

I have been looking forward to getting home for a few weeks now. I’ve been looking forward to my bed, cuddles with my cat and a fully functioning oven. I’ve been looking forward to getting back to studying and the nerdy enjoyment I get from academics. I’ve even been looking forward to getting the good old British weather back, warts and all, in a desperate plea to get rid of this snow (which is back!).

The incredibly weird Michael Jackson memorial!

The incredibly weird Michael Jackson memorial!

I hadn’t realised just how much I had missed the companionship you get from falling asleep talking to good friends, from laughing about old times and catching up on months of missed stories. I spent this weekend with my Sophies in Munich. Having left a seemingly cold Erfurt, being blinding by sunlight on the train on the way down was a welcome change. I arrived to a sunny, warm evening and we gossiped over salads, pizza and extremely overpriced water.

On Saturday, we took a free tour of the city centre. It was a 3 hour walking tour around many of the sights within the city centre. It was a great way to get to know the city and we saw absolutely loads in that time. I suppose we must have walked a long way but the tour was interesting so we didn’t really notice. Our guide was Australian and loved Munich and his passion for the city really shone through.

Currywurst with the Sophies!

Currywurst with the Sophies!

After we had stopped for a currywurst for lunch we took a long walk back to the hostel. We took an hour or so to just sit around watching tele and relaxing after all the walking we had done. Just because we didn’t notice it at the time didn’t mean it wasn’t tiring! Then we headed out to the coolest landmark we had seen on our tour, the Hofbraeuhaus. This is the most famous (and of course, most commercial) beer hall in Munich. The place is always completely jampacked but we managed to squeeze ourselves onto the end of a couple of benches by hovering while people were leaving. We all weren’t really that hungry so we ordered a dish and some sides to share between ourselves and the girls each had the standard litre of beer each. The food was absolutely delicious and the beer was pretty tasty too! We spent the whole evening in there, watching the locals intermingled with tourists. There was a traditional Bavarian band there and the locals kept standing up and singing random songs at the top of their lungs. The band would stop, others would cheer and at the end of the spontaneous performance everybody would applaud the brave fellow. Hearty. That’s the only way to describe it really. It was just so Bavarian and cool.

Litres of beer at the Hofbraeuhaus!

Litres of beer at the Hofbraeuhaus!

My only complaint about the Hofbraeuhaus was the sheer amount of noise! Above the singing, the klinking of glasses, the cheers and the raucous laughter, it was pretty difficult to make yourself heard in there. We spent our time in there shouting at each other until we were hoarse (although Howells was already!) and then took a slow walk back to our hotel. Why is it that it’s always the nights when you are most tired that you can’t help talking for hours? We finally fell asleep late after midnight after a long and sunny day.

Sunday was the last day with my Sophies. We decided to head into the city again and go to the Alte Pinakothek. This was an absolutely beautiful gallery and it was only 1 euro to get in as it was Sunday. We saw some stunning paintings from lots of different European artists. My favourite was The Melon and Grapes Eaters by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. I loved how the snapshot image of these beggar children could be so decadent and inviting.

The Melon and the Grapes Eaters

The Melon and the Grapes Eaters

We were lucky to have saved the gallery until Sunday as it was decidedly more grey and gloomy then. We had thought we might hire bikes and cycle through Englischer Garten if the weather had been better but instead, we decided to walk back to the centre of the city, enjoyed some last views of Munich and then picked up our bags and head to the station.

After lunch there, we all had to say goodbye to each other. After such a lovely weekend together, I was quite sad to see them go. I hadn’t realised just how much I missed my friends, having not seen any of them for so long. I then started an hour long walk in search of my second hostel. As I have Mondays off, I had decided to stay over an extra night. However, the map I had been provided with by booking.com was quite frankly, terrible. I spent an hour walking around the streets and probably walked down the street paralell to my hotel 3 times. I arrived incredibly frustrated but very pleased to discover that my room was beautiful, light and deliciously cool.

I settled into the hotel and then headed out to discover more of the city. The sun was out again and I went out to the east of the city to the Isartor. From there, I took Maximillian Strasse and walked all the way down to the Bavarian Parliamentary Offices. Bavaria has such a strong identity, really unlike any other Bundesland, and it was interesting to see even more Bavarian flags floating around in the wind.

Bavarrriiiaaa.

Bavarrriiiaaa!

Monday was a rainy day. I got up and out early though and was able to leave my bags in the hostel for free which was nice. I went up to the north of the city to see the university where the Scholl siblings had committed acts against the regime which eventually led to them loosing their lives. On my way, I went into the church that had been recommended to us by our tour guide, the St Cajatan’s Theatine Church. It was built in response to the birth of son, an heir to the throne, and this jubilant atmosphere is reflected all around. I was there early in the morning and it was quiet, calm and peaceful.

Geschwister-Scholl-Platz

Geschwister-Scholl-Platz

Geschwister-Scholl-Platz

The journey back to Erfurt was long and tiring. The massive detour which is required was frustrating too. But mostly, I was just disappointed to be leaving such a beautiful city. It kind of felt like I had gone home for a weekend and it was a relief that I had been craving. I’ve been away for a long time now. I am ever grateful for the experience I am having and the opportunities that I’ve been offered that I would never have had, had I not come. I am getting tired now though. It’s weekends like this that revitalise me entirely though and remind me of all the things I have to make the most of before it’s too late and I am back in the UK. I will miss it all then, just like I miss home now. This year abroad has been about taking every chance that comes my way and I don’t intend on changing that yet :).

The Joy of Sunshine.

The beautiful sun, first thing in the morning.

The beautiful sun, first thing in the morning.

A local newspaper reported recently that this has been the darkest winter in years in Germany. I don’t find that hard to believe. In many ways, it has been utterly beautiful. All the excitement before Christmas was only made better by the snowflakes falling and the crisp air biting your cheeks. After Christmas though, that magic disappeared. I watched them pack away the Christmas market that they had spent weeks erecting. The weather became grey and darka dn incredibly cold and I rejoiced when I heard a news report that the temperature would be a positive number for once. The novelty had worn off.

Being ill kept me in bed for a few weeks and when I finally awoke from my slumber, the days were impossibly short and the beauty of the majestic German winter had gone. All I could think about was spring and the blizzard outside my window kept me inside for days and reduced me to tears more than once. I felt like I hadn’t seen the sun for weeks.

Imagine my euphoria then when on Tuesday, I passed along Binderslebener Landstrasse and saw the sun rising through the trees. It reminded me of those nervous journeys I had to school in October when it was all new and I had everything ahead of me.

All I wanted was a paintbrush.

All I wanted was a paintbrush.

The weather was absolutely glorious and I spent the afternoon in and around town, sitting outside and eating ice cream at Domplatz. I can’t describe how elated I felt. Every problem of sadness I had had in my head seemed to disappear in a moment and the happiness washed over me in waves like the rays of the sun. Was spring really here?

There is still snow around to see everywhere. The huge piles of compacted ice might take a couple of weeks yet to thaw. It all doesn’t seem to matter anymore though. I have glimpsed the golden nature of spring. The crocuses and buttercups are pushing through the grass and there are daffodils, the very epitome of spring.

All you need when things seem hopeless is a ray of light, however small or short. I enjoyed 2 days of powerful sunshine. It is darker today, colder, but that doesn’t deter me. Spring is coming. I’ve seen it. And it looks good.

And if there's no sun to be seen, you can always rely on a package from your Mum to make you feel better :)

And if there’s no sun to be seen, you can always rely on a package from your Mum to make you feel better :)

Dresden an einem Tag: my whistlestop tour of Dresden.

Or Dresden in a Day to those of my readers to don’t speak German :). Malvina, my most discussed flatmate on this blog, was only supposed to be here for the winter term. She has university commitments back in Romania that she should be getting back to but she had blissfully ignored this fact for romantic reasons. She would love to spend next year at the art school in Dresden and we had agreed to go a while ago. All of a sudden, she is going back to Romania and this was the last opportunity we would have to go. Technically, the course has already started back home and she really can’t miss any more.

So, yesterday, my alarm went off at 5am. It was painful. We both got ready and headed for the station, planning to get on the 6.28 fast train to Dresden. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise how expensive it would be without a Bahncard. Malvina went to get a Subway while I bought my ticket. When she came back, we plugged in the same information without a Bahncard and it was extortionate. We decided that she should get on the 6.45 instead and get regional trains and I would meet her at the station when she arrived.

While we were sorting this all out, someone stopped me and asked if I was a native English speaker. She then asked if I was a teacher here in Erfurt as she is trying to set up a union for the English teachers in Erfurt. I apologised as I am not going to be here for much longer but insisted that I would help while I could and that I have quite a lot of links to other Erfurt schools through the other assistants.

Having said goodbye to Malvina and explained what she needed to do train-wise, I got on my train and headed to Dresden. It was far too early and the stress of sorting out the tickets meant I was desperate for a  cup of tea. I stood up from where I was sitting and immediately saw Caroline, the lady who spoke to me. I apologised for not being the best to talk to as she had caught me at a bad moment. She offered me the seat next to her and we talked for the whole way until I got off at Leipzig to change. She is a lovely girl and apparently lived in Brentwood for a while! It was a funny coincidence and we plan to visit Leipzig together at some point before I leave.

At Leipzig, I had a wait of about 40 minutes so I went to the cafe where Anne, Dave and I had breakfast on my first morning in Leipzig back in October and finally had my cup of tea :). It was nice to remember that morning and how excited I had been to step off the train and see Dave waiting at the end of the platform with a huge smile on his face. After my cup of tea, I couldn’t resist going to the bookshop where I picked up a wonderful little book about Dresden called “Dresden an einem Tag“. It had a map at the back which I thought would be useful and described 34 of the sights and marked them on the map. I had an hour and a half to wait for Malvina to arrive and I decided I would try to see as much of the city as I could in that time, staying reasonably close to the station.

I quickly made my way to the city centre. It was breathtaking. I fell in love with the city instantly and knew that, unlike when leaving Altenburg, I would not think that this could be the last time I would see the city. Having found my way onto the map (why is that always the way?!) I navigated the city quickly and easily and found that most of the things I wanted to see were quite close together. In an hour and a half, I got between the station and the city and back and saw almost 2/3 of the sights in the book and everything, bar one thing, that I particularly wanted to see. I barely stopped to take a picture, instead just slowing my pace slightly and the shoes which have never previously given me any discomfort gave me blisters on the bottom of my feet from my exaggerated pace. No regrets, it was worth it!

I immediately met street art as I left the station. I had a good feeling about this place :).

I immediately met street art as I left the station. I had a good feeling about this place :).

Rathaus = Town Hall. Unftunately the good view was covered with scaffolding and blue tarpaulin.

Rathaus = Town Hall. Unfortunately the good view was covered with scaffolding and blue tarpaulin.

Gewandhaushotel

Gewandhaushotel

Landhaus

Landhaus

The beautiful police station!

The beautiful police station!

Albertinium

Albertinium

Kurlaender Palais

Kurlaender Palais

Neue Synagoge

Neue Synagoge

Moritzmonument

Moritzmonument

The Elbe

The Elbe

Coselpalais

Coselpalais

Kunstakademie mit Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau

Kunstakademie mit Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau

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Festung Dresden

Festung Dresden

Kunstakademie

Kunstakademie

Semperoper

Semperoper

Residenzschloss

Residenzschloss

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Taschenbergpalais

Taschenbergpalais

Hausmannsturm

Hausmannsturm

Stallhof

Stallhof

Neumarkt

Neumarkt

Johanneum

Johanneum

Die Frauenkirche

Die Frauenkirche

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Kulturpalast

Kulturpalast

Altmarkt

Altmarkt

On my way back to the station, I heard cheers. They got louder and louder. I saw football scarves and fans. Where was it coming from? Was the stadium nearby? Then I saw the riot police and realised the noise was coming from the station itself. What is it about German football matches that always requires riot police? The thing is, it wasn’t all the away fans arriving that was causing the problem. I can’t tell you who Dresden were playing yesterday. All I saw was a sea of yellow and black and red, the colours of the Dresden team scarves everywhere. As I tried to get into the station, I had to wait as the police were marshalling fans out of the station in such a way that people didn’t get crushed. It was early and the fans weren’t rowdy so it was quite exciting! I’m glad we missed the fans on the way back though.

And they call the British hooligans?!

And they call the British hooligans?!

As I have already said, the main reason we were in Dresden was to see the art school so when Malvina arrived, that was the first thing we did. She had the address but no idea where that was and the road wasn’t on my map. We consulted the nearest map we could find and got on our way. We were led a while away from the city centre and it didn’t have quite so much of the charm as what I had already seen. It didn’t change how much I loved the city though and even though the building was closed when we arrived, we were able to see inside through the windows and it looked stunning.

The art school.

The art school.

The sun was up and we were pleasantly warm and toasty. We crossed the river to see what beauties held the other side, had ice cream and headed back across to the old town.

Spring views across the river.

Spring views across the river.

Goldener Reiter

Goldener Reiter

Zwinger

Zwinger

Zwinger

Zwinger

Kulturpalast

Kulturpalast

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This one’s for Ramona, to prove I’ve been to Dresden ;).

By now, we didn’t have much time left. We were rather limited for choices of trains and as the regional option took 4 hours, in order to not get back in the middle of the night, we unfortunately had to leave sooner rather than later. On our way back to the station though, we went into the Kreuzkirche. It was absolutely beautiful. It had been almost completely destroyed during the war but had been rebuilt simply and beautifully, retaining as much of the original building as possible. What struck me particularly was the modern cross which hung over the altar. It was unlike anything I had seen before and was breaktaking.

Kreuzkirche

Kreuzkirche

It was a whistle-stop of Dresden. We didn’t really do anything, just wandered around and looked at the city, trying to soak up as much of the atmosphere as we could. I am so glad that we found the time to go before she leaves, despite the fact that I’m going to Munich on Friday. She is one of the people I have got on with the most during my time here. She is a great girl but the truth is, our time together has largely been spent chatting in the kitchen. Our kitchen is just a corridor with no table or chairs so conversations never last long there, with most of us avoiding spending time in there as much as possible. I am so glad that we had the chance to spend some proper time together. It was a lot of fun and I hope we get the chance to do it again :).

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Making the most of things while you can!

When I first arrived here in Erfurt at the start of October last year, I had a hell of a lot of admin to get sorted. One of the things that got sorted before I was even registered as a citizen or had a bank account was my ‘Studentenausweis‘ or my Student ID. I enrolled at the University of Erfurt for the winter term at a cost of 179 euros. That might sound like a lot of money but actually, it saved me loads. This ID covers me for travel wherever I like within the whole Bundesland of Thueringen. Even if I never used it for that, it gets me to school each day and I paid for it such a long time ago that it feels like I travel for free.

The term is coming to an end though and I have until 31st March to use it the best I can. After that, I have two months left here in Germany. I need to take the tram each day for school and that will cost me just over 100 euros. I have to pay that. Unfortunately I just don’t have the funds to make up the extra 80 euros to allow me to explore until I leave. For this reason, I am determined to tick off as many places on my list as I can before then! I am away in both Munich and Budapest in that time too so this is going to be a pretty busy month!

On Wednesday mornings, I only have one lesson and that finishes at 9.10 so I decided I would go and visit Gera. This is a big city to the east of Erfurt which has lots of beautiful things to see and is only about an hour away. However, I got to the train station earlier than I thought and the train I ended up getting on was going all the way to Altenburg. This is a city very close to the border of Thueringen with Sachsen. It boasts a large palace and it is (so they claim) the home of the German card game Skat. I checked my guidebook and decided that this was a great opportunity. As it stood, I would be in Altenburg by lunchtime. That seemed perfectly reasonable considering it is a 2 hour journey so I decided to just stay on the train and enjoy the time looking out of the window and the endless snow across the fields.

The Lindenau Museum

The Lindenau Museum

It would seem that I’ve not had much luck with maps recently. Although I did have a map in my guidebook, the train station was just off it and the lack of signage anywhere was not helpful either! I ended up walking all the way round the station, crossing perilous roads and getting lots of weird looks before deciding to make an educated guess at ‘somewhere that way’. Luckily, I quickly found my way onto the map and was on my way :).

My original plan, having looked at the map, was to follow the road from the station and then follow the main ring road round the city to the castle. However, at the end of the road was a stunning building which housed a museum. What got me much more excited though was the sign which stood outside showing the direction of all the landmarks. I was planning on turning right but the sign pointed towards the museum. I consulted my map once more and noted the winding paths going through the gardens of the museum. Actually, this seemed to be a more direct route than what I had planned so I decided to go with it. Well, the gardens were beautiful and were scattered with pieces of art which I thought were fascinating. What a guidebook map doesn’t have though are contour lines and let me tell you, this was quite a substantial hill I had to climb, made all the more difficult by the snow which came up to the top of my boots most of the time! It was quite fun to get my heart going though and I was more worried about being hot from all my layers than cold from the horrible weather which was a nice change :).

Artwork in the gardens.

Artwork in the gardens.

Although I took the city route on the way back to the station (going downhill in the snow is much more perilous than going up), I’m really glad I went through the park on the way there because it eventually led me to a small, cobbled path around the castle/palace complex and I entered through the gatehouse. It was beautiful and I can only imagine what it looks like in the summer!

A beautiful way to discover the castle :)

A beautiful way to discover the castle :)

The palace itself is pretty interesting to look at as it the complex has developed slowly over hundreds of years with each new resisdent adding something new as it changed hands. I found my way around to the entrance and was quickly greeted by a very helpful lady who opened the door for me and told me where to go. It cost me only 2,50 euros to get it in which was (as always) a total bargain as there were 3 floors of stuff to see. The lady explained that the top floor was a history exhibition about the palace and the city. The first floor was an exhibition about the kidnapping of the Prince and the ground floor was the playing cards exhibtion. The lady recommended that I go to the top and work back down, leaving the best until last :).

This is emergency money that was released in Altenburg during times of high levels of inflation. Can you see the hearts?!

This is emergency money that was released in Altenburg during times of high levels of inflation. Can you see the hearts?!

The playing cards were what I really wanted to see but I decided to follow her advice as it seemed silly to not look at all the palace had to offer. Everything about the palace semeed to have something to do with cards. The history exhibit largely consisted of Altenburg artefacts, almost all stamped with cards or some other symbol to indicate the same thing. It was really cool and I can only imagine all the card games and tournaments which have been held here over the years :).

Having recently finished reading Game of Thrones, sights like this were quite exciting :).

Having recently finished reading Game of Thrones, sights like this were quite exciting :).

As I took this picture, am member of staff came over to speak to me.

I have something to show you,” he said with a cheeky grin on his face. He took a key out of his pockets and walked over to the door you can see in the picture. Hidden behind this locked door was a room full of clocks. They were precious, that much was clear and this must be the reason why they were hidden behind a locked door. They were beautifully displayed nonetheless, my particular favourites being the oil clock and the grandfather clocks, all in a row :).

I love burning oil, who would have thought you could tell the time with it?!

I love burning oil, who would have thought you could tell the time with it?!

Grandfathers all in a row...

Grandfathers all in a row…

The first floor was not so interesting. Some very confusing graphics only sought to make the exhibition harder to navigate and I moved through it quickly and without much notice. What I did enjoy looking at though were the many maps around of the area and being able to see exactly where I had I travelled.

The card exhibition was brilliant though. They had some really old stuff that had been used for printing and producing the cards but also had lots of original drawings and handpainted items. They had even set up a workshop to show how the cards were originally produced in Altenburg.

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Stamps used to create the beautiful designs.

Stamps used to create the beautiful designs.

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A mock workshop to see how they were made.

A mock workshop to see how they were made.

IMG_3021 IMG_3023

Special edition cards for an important poker tournament.

Special edition cards for an important poker tournament.

It was interesting to see the development of how they were made.

It was interesting to see the development of how they were made.

IMG_3037

There was even a little cafe at the end where you were inviting to take a seat and play some cards :).

There was even a little cafe at the end where you were inviting to take a seat and play some cards :).

The only thing I didn’t like were the endless packs of cards which were shown with different designs. Whilst the old ones are very interesting, I felt that all the modern ones were surplus to requirements and that the space required to show every single card was a little wasted. Even so, I really enjoyed the exhibition and ended up spending quite a long time in there too.

At the end, I asked for information about the Palace Church. Unfortunately, I was told that it was not open apart from for tours and I had just missed one. For the next one, I would have had to wait for nearly 2 hours and it was cold and I didn’t plan on waiting around for that long.

Der Skatbrunnen.

Der Skatbrunnen.

Instead, I decided to head towards the city centre to see the Skatbrunnen or the Skat Fountain. I found it quite easily (by following signs and ignoring my map ;) ) and having seen it, decided to head further into town down to the main central square. There, I warmed up with a cup of tea and got a chance to see the Rathaus too. Unfortunately, it was market day so I didn’t get to see the square in its full glory. Even so, it was a magical part of the city.

The Marktplatz with the Rathaus on the left hand side.

The Marktplatz with the Rathaus on the left hand side.

All in all, I had a really nice day in Altenburg. It is a lovely, if somewhat run-down city in some areas. Once I got to the centre, it was stunning but the journey between there and the station on the way back was not so pretty. It was just like many other ancient Eastern cities I have visited and I would definitely recommend it.

On my way back to the station, I realised that I might never come to Altenburg again. This might be the last time in my life I see it. It feels strange to know that my year abroad is coming to an end and that I have limited opportunities now to visit all the jewels and gems of Thueringen all around me. I have had a wonderful time this year and I am sure that I will look back on it as a very special time. Next stop, Dresden! Tomorrow! :)

Braving the cold… finally!

As I’m sure many of you can imagine, following all the walking and travelling which Prague involved, I was left pretty exhausted. I had tutoring sessions on both Wednesday and Thursday and spent a lovely day with a friend in Naumburg on Friday.

Come Saturday, I woke up to a glowing white sky. I could barely see out my window for the blizzard outside of it. That was it, I was not leaving the house that day and my potential trip to Weimar was cancelled. I shall never get used to this cold weather! Unfortunately, on Sunday morning, the view outside my window was the same, if not worse and it was Sunday. Enough said. I didn’t leave the flat again.

I lay in bed awake on Sunday night, wondering how much longer I could last without any fresh air and decided that I would go out, whatever the weather, the next day. Shortly after I arrived in Erfurt, I bought a beautiful book called ‘111 Orte in Erfurt die man gesehen haben muss‘ or ’111 places in Erfurt you have to see’. It is an absolutely stunning book and unlike a normal guidebook, it picks out the quirky places that ‘puffbohnes‘ should know about. Each place has a double page spread with a photograph on the right and a page of information or anecdotes on the left.

I got out of bed and picked up the post-its and pens on my bedside table. Always keep stationery close at hand, you never know when you might need it! I then grabbed the book and some stickers and went through it, sticking a sticker next to all the ones I have seen. There were surprisingly fewer than I had thought and I was rather excited about what was left to discover in the city. Considering I think I know the city pretty well, the truth is, I usually travel to and from the same places and haven’t found too many new places in a while. There are some handy (if not always particularly detailed) maps at the back and I quickly was able to go through and plan a route. I had 7 places planned and I went to sleep soundly in the knowledge that I was going to do something productive the next day.

I left the next day with lots and lots of layers and my waterproof over the top as it was snowing a lot outside. This time, I didn’t let the snow and cold phase me and decided that instead of waiting for the warm tram in the cold, walking into town would both keep me warm and make it easier to navigate. I had a map of the whole area of erfurt, (on which I had stick tiny, numbered, post-its :D) and I had the book in hand. I had a planned route. What could go wrong? Well, aside from some perilous steps covered with snow and a few confusions with the maps, nothing did. I found whole new routes right next to where I live and I loved getting lost down streets I hadn’t seen before.

1) Die Treppenstraße – This is a street in Erfurt which is a street of steps. My pictures look rather different to the one in the book as you can’t see the steps so much for all the snow! Still it was pretty cool and was worth the funny looks from the postman :).

It's been here a pretty long time it would seem...

It’s been here a pretty long time it would seem…

Doesn't it seem like the road to narnia or something?!

Doesn’t it seem like the road to narnia or something?!

2) Bonusort: Die Auenstraße – This is a bonus place because I stumbled upon it. It was not in the well structured plan! I didn’t even recognise it as the sight I had was so different from the picture in my book but the description was nonetheless the same. It was described as a moment of quiet in the middle of a busy city, a traffic-free zone unlike all the crazy streets of the one-way system. This description was perfect. At the time, I was concentrating on not tripping over the piles of snow everywhere and it wasn’t until later when I was looking over the map that I realised! :)

A moment of quiet amid chaos.

A moment of quiet amid chaos.

3) Das Venedig – Or, Venice! Erfurt is blessed with water running through it. Now, I wouldn’t really say that it’s a river, personally. More like a number of shallow streams. Between here and the city, going down towards the Kraemerbruecke, is a little haven where a number of these streams come together among trees and ducks and benches. Its always peaceful and one of the first places I discovered in Erfurt as I ate the best ice cream EVER. It looked a little different yesterday though ;).

Frozen slush tops the water.

Frozen slush tops the water.

After leaving my very own Venice, I stopped for lunch at one of my favourite cafes at Benediktsplatz. I chose a delicious vegetable thai green curry, a peppermint tea and the most luxurious gluten-free chocolate cake which I couldn’t finish! I even got chatting to some speedskaters who were apparently here for the World Championships, cool eh?!

4) Der Keller am Benediktsplatz – Unfortunately, I was told that this is not a public place. The picture in the book is lovely but I am told that it is only opening on special days like Volkstrauertag which is not coming up while I’m still here. Still, the lady at information who I spoke to didn’t really seem to know anything about it so I’m going to do some more digging myself :).

5) Die Kurvensteine – There are lots of these little stones around the city. They remain from former times in Erfurt and make you wonder about the stories that they have seen.

What have you seen little stone?

What have you seen little stone?

6) Die Magdalenenkapelle – This lovely little chapel proved rather elusive. Even with two maps, I couldn’t be sure I was on the right street. Still, I decided to persist and eventually it came up right in front of me. It seems huge in a tiny little street and I only wish I had been able to go inside.

Die Magdalenenkapelle

Die Magdalenenkapelle

7) Bonusort: Der Gustav-Adolf Brunnen – This was also not on my list but having looked through the book more over lunch, it would seem that I needed to walk past it on my route so it seemed silly to miss it out! As it turns out, I didn’t walk past it and it took some finding but having got out my proper map and used a bit of common sense, I got there eventually :).

Der Gustav-Adolf-Brunnen

Der Gustav-Adolf-Brunnen

On my way to my next destination I walked past this house. Erfurt is one of the only cities in Germany (or even Europe maybe, but I don’t know!) to retain all of its old house names. Before people could read street names, houses were given names illustrated by pictures. I think they’re wonderful and I’m forever finding new favourites. This is my favourite at the moment!

The House of the Big and Small Lions :)

The House of the Big and Small Lions :)

8) Der Minervabrunnen – This beautiful statue, topped with shining gold, is something I am sure I have walked past a 100 times and I go past it on the tram twice a day, 4 days a week, on my way to school. Why had I not noticed this wonderful structure in the middle of Domplatz before? Even looking at the picture in the book and it’s place on the map, I could not imagine or picture it. Well, now I will notice it every day.

Der Minervabrunnen

Der Minervabrunnen

I'll never just walk past you again!

I’ll never just walk past you again!

9) Das schmalste Haus – This ended my tour of Erfurt and unfortunately it was a little bit of an anti-climax. At first, I just couldn’t find it. Well, I couldn’t find the picture in the book anyway. This book was published shortly after or shortly before I got here I think. Could the fronts of the houses have changed that much? The book listed the address and this is the house. It does look pretty thin, don’t you think?

Das schmalste Haus

Das schmalste Haus

The truth is, I really enjoyed myself, despite the cold. I loved going through the city I thought I knew and having a new adventure. In fact, I spent the rest of the day (whilst warming up, of course!) going through the book, adding stickers to the new things I had seen and post-its to the things I wanted to see next. I feel like I’ve gained a whole new wave of energy. I haven’t slept soundly for about 2 weeks so that’s not what I mean. I just want to spend every day doing something. I want to make the most of the time I have left and see all the places I might never have the chance to see again. I’m going to look back on this year as being an overindulgent year of travel but this is my year abroad, so what is wrong with that ;).

 

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