Emma in Euroland

Tea, Cake and Travel: a year abroad in Germany

A tale of many, many onions.

My teachers had got all excited about this weekend. They were keen to tell me about the wonders which it would entail and how much more fun it would be than it sounded. The Zwiebelmarkt in Weimar. That’s what they were telling me about. The Onion Market. Only, as they told me, it was so much more than that. Jodie, Amy and I headed down there on Friday evening, anticipating an evening of excitement, crafts and onions. We were not disappointed either. It would seem that this weekend, for the 359th Zwiebelmarkt, Weimar was completely overrun by merriment. There were stages and stalls everywhere we went selling beautiful, handmade items, delicious food or just offering novelty. It was lovely to see so many people in traditional dress, baking bread in stone ovens or spit roasting meat over a fire. We found a whole section where it was like going back in time into the middle ages! I had potatos with apple sauce for dinner along with lots and lots and lots of chocolate covered fruit in many varieties!

These 3 called out at us every time we walked past after I had taken this picture. They were disappointed they hadn’t had a chance to pose and wanted us to take another picture!

We also tried the delicacy, onion cake. I must say, I had expected a lot more than I actually got. I didn’t like it. I had really really hoped that I would and I tried it a few more times over the weekend, determined to develop a taste for it. But there is something about a spongy texture in a cake: my head just couldn’t get around it being savoury. I had expected it to be more like onion tart, caramelised red onions over luscious pastry, maybe some cheese sprinkled in somewhere. It wasn’t. I’m talking white onions, not caramelised, just cooked. Maybe even just baked. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love onion and I must say, I would try onion cake again if it was offered to me. So far I am however, not too impressed.

Enough about cake though, it was, all in all, a fantastic weekend. We went back on Saturday and met up with a lot of the other assistants who I haven’t seen since Altenberg. Weimar was unbelievablely busy that day and negotiating crowded streets full of beautiful distractions was difficult with a group of our size. We made it work though and had a brilliant day. Jodie and I introduced Allison to our favourite chocolate fruit stall (yes, we had tried a few by then!) and she shared in our love and our empty pockets after getting her fill.

White chocolate covered raspberries, dark chocolate covered bananas, milk chocolate covered pears. What more could anyone want?

Weimar seemed small with the streets so full of people and stalls full of goodies. I came home with Christmas presents, decorations and a beautiful jar of onion marmalade which has already been opened! The traditional souvenir of the onion markets is an onion garland. Onions are tied to a stick, usually a combination of both red and white, in patterns and decorated with colourful dried flowers and ribbons. They come in a whole variety of sizes from onions as small as your thumb to onions as large as your fist and range in price too. The most expensive we saw was €50 and was absolutely huge. The thing I liked most about them was that they are practical. People hang them in their kitchen for decoration and the smell of the surprisingly fragrant flowers and surprisingly unfragrant onions. They then use them throughout the year as they need them. I think that’s wonderful and so much nicer than some of the tat you can buy in these places sometimes. For some reason, it was the dried flowers which caught my eye and I bought a bunch of those instead. I already had my eye on a beautiful jug from a pottery in Erfurt. I thought I would put daffodils in it one day. For now though, it has my dried flowers in and they both look lovely.

An Erfurter jug with Weimarer flowers. A very Thueringen affair.

Another delicacy that was tried over the weekend, not by me I must add, was Garlic Schnapps. Despite my love of garlic, I was not tempted and I must say, after seeing the look on Amy, Adam and Peter’s faces, I felt no differently to before! I am told that it was absolutely disgusting, like liquified, raw garlic. Not a spirit they will be adding to their nights out any time soon I feel! They seemed glad to have tried it though and the people selling it had clearly made it themselves. It’s nice to just get in with the spirit of things sometimes, excuse the pun. Either way, I think this was probably intended as a novelty and will probably stay that way!

Amy looks worried. Peter doesn’t look worried enough…

I left the others early on Saturday because I wanted to get back to Erfurt for a demonstration which was going on. There had been posters plastered everywhere titled “Der Frust musst raus!”. The frustration must end! I was interested in seeing how a political demonstration works over here, in former East Germany. Has this sort of thing been stifled? Quite the contrary it would seem. There were lots of people there with banners and microphones. They had speaker systems and were saying their piece, peacefully. There was a strong police presence, but no threat of anything. They seemed to just be enjoying the pretty scenery and the excitement of something different happening. Aside from this being a very interesting thing to have witnessed, I also discovered a part of Erfurt I hadn’t seen before. I feel as though I am starting to get to know the city. It is completely stunning and I have enjoyed taking a wrong turn down a street just to see what I might find. I am eager to discover. It’s empowering.

A peaceful protest.

In other news, I had my first university lecture yesterday! It was about German literature and is a class designed for students learning German as a foreign language. Although I felt just as able as the other students, my vocabulary was nowhere near as advanced as some others. If anything, it made me angry. I have realised since arriving here that in my experience of learning German in the UK, I have been exposed to very little German. Why do I find it so difficult to persist with a German book? Because I have never been made to read one as part of my learning and felt the satisfaction of finally getting to the end. I have watched one German film in my German learning career. Das Leben der Anderen. It was very good, I enjoyed it and we studied it in quite a great level of depth. We did it though so that they could avoid teaching us literature for our A Level exam. The focus with language learning should not be about exams and marks, working in line with a syllabus so that students only ever learn about ‘the environment’ or write debates for and against ‘abortion’ or ‘the death penalty’. They need to learn something practical. I suppose that’s what my year abroad is supposed to offer me but I have been learning German for 9 years. I am embarrassed at my level of understanding when you put it in those terms. I am determined to expose myself to the German I have missed out on for those 9 years. I have bought books and magazines and I am reading them. I have bought German movies and I’m going to watch them. I have been watching (terrible) German television too. I’m talking to people and speaking German with people who I know speak English. I’m going to go to plays and the cinema and book readings. I am going to take control of my own learning because there comes a point where you have to. Being away is hard. I have added an extra year to my degree and anyone who knows me well knows that although I love the academics of it all, I cannot wait to for uni to be done and dusted and never have to go there again. I have taken this on for a reason. I want to learn German and I do love the country. I will not waste this year. I shan’t waste the opportunities to learn and better my language ability. I shan’t waste the chance to learn about myself and experience a different culture. I shan’t waste the freedom I’ve got this year to go out and have my eyes opened, the time I have that I wouldn’t have at home. I shan’t waste a moment of anything. Not one.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Emma,
    I can totally relate to your frustration with the way German is taught. In my classes over here in Melbourne, I find the memorising of endless vocabulary lists and grammar rules very overwhelming, and wish that we would spend more time reading and analysing texts rather than being assessed on material that will soon be forgotten, because it’s not being put to practical use. So I applaud you for going out and immersing yourself in the language. I hope to do the same when I get a break from my study in a couple of weeks.

    Since you’ve written about visiting Weimar, I thought I’d share something that I came across recently. The British writer George Eliot (The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, Adam Bede) also visited Weimar way back in 1855. She wrote about her impressions of the place in a short essay called “Three months in Weimar”. If you’re interested, you can read it online at http://webscript.princeton.edu/~geliot/eliot-texts/eliot-threemonthsinweimar.html

    Gruß,
    Broderick

    • Grammar is important. It is what a language is built on and when you learn a language as an adult, you must learn it from scratch. I understand that. But language is so much more than that! Has grammar honestly ever motivated anyone to pursue the difficult but highly rewarding pursuit of learning a language? I think not.

      I would definitely be interested in reading that. Thank you, I shall save it for reading this weekend :).

      Mit besten Gruessen,
      Emma

  2. Yes! I am thrilled to see you ranting in your last paragraph, and as a result have found some passionate motivation! (I am appalled that after nine years of language instruction you feel as if you are just beginning, though.)
    Luckily, you have youth, a fine mind and enthusiasm on your side. Don’t give up. When you find it hard to read that novel, just start reading aloud to yourself for a while until you get interested again. Experiment with not looking up any words for a couple of pages. (You can always go back and read it a second time,and look up essential vocabulary later!) Progress comes in fits and starts. Don’t give up!
    Eating chocolate at an onion market. Way to go, Emma!

    • Thank you for your encouragement :). People’s reaction to my German suggests that I am not just beginning, but I certainly feel like a fish out of water. This doesn’t really scare me and so I haven’t hidden away from this scary foreign language. If anything, it is exciting. But, for example, I don’t feel like I can answer any of those job advertisements which are floating around the city which could have been a great way to improve my language. I don’t really have the time to have a second job but it might have been nice to feel I could have done! Maybe come next year, I’ll get a job over the summer and feel that I have enough German to do so :). I’ll update you on my progress on the ‘novel-reading’ front!

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