Foggy mornings, the Puffbohne tour and Apolda.
I woke up this morning to fog so thick that I could barely see out of my bedroom window. All that sunshine and warmth is seemingly over. Yes, I had got up at the crack of dawn for my lecture which starts at 8am, but even so. Furthermore, at 8am, as I write this, I am sitting down in my lecture room alone. This is rather disconcerting, as you can imagine. Have I got it wrong? This is definitely the right room. Have the clocks gone back (or forward or whatever)? Am I an hour early? Could I have had an extra hour in bed?!
Panic over guys, other people are arriving. However, that only seems to beg the question: Have we all got it wrong? The lecturer still isn’t here but she was over 10 minutes late last week. If the students can turn up on time (or near enough) the least you could expect the lecturer to do is the same, surely. I frantically finished my homework last night too, so that I was prepared for the class. I even brought my huge laptop along with because I wasn’t able to print out the sheets I would need.
On a happier note, I had a rather exciting day last week. Jodie, a friend of mine from Altenberg, has got involved with a teacher’s English group. It is made up of a few teachers from her school and some from a couple of others who all get together to learn English. They decided that a good way to practice and do something a little bit different was to do a tour of Erfurt. I was invited along and it was brilliant! They had all chosen a place and prepared something to say on it. I discovered lots of things in Erfurt that I have never noticed before and have so much to show my family when they come in a couple of weeks. I love that there is still so much I don’t know about this beautiful place. I find new and exciting things every day. We were also told that aside from the main Christmas markets on Domplatz, there are ancient markets on Wenigemarkt. These, we expect to be rather like the medieval stalls we saw at the Zwiebelmarkt in Weimar a few weekends ago. It was lovely to see Erfurt from a Puffbohne’s perspective.
This weekend, I had a rather strange experience. An exhibition in Apolda had been recommended to me, “Olle DDR”. Essentially, they have collected artefacts and items from the former DDR and recreated rooms so you can see how people lived in that time. Jodie and I arrived in Apolda at about lunchtime.
Just as a side note, it is 8.15 and the teacher has only just arrived. Why am I always so worried about being late? I could have left after the start time of the lesson and still have been here before she was!
I digress. So, we got to Apolda in time for lunch. I knew the address of the museum and so knew it had to be near the station. It was on ‘Trainstationstreet’. Pretty self-explanatory I guessed. It wasn’t quite as straightforward as we had hoped though. Apolda was completely deserted. It was a Saturday lunchtime and we were in a ghost town. The plan had been to grab lunch and then head to the museum but this was easier said than done. The centre of the city was completely closed. There were no shops open, no café’s open either. We managed to stop in Müller and bought some water but when we walked past half an hour later it was already closed. I had luckily bought food with me as I am not sure I would have been able to buy anything I could eat. We eventually found a Turkish fast food place which was open. The owner was chatting with his family when he arrived as there were no customers and so quickly served Jodie some schnitzel with some very yummy chips.
Oh God, thinking about food in this lesson has made me so HUNGRY. It is silent and I can hear my tummy rumbling. Awkward much?! Plus, I had two bowls of museli for breakfast. Very expensive museli too, 4 euros a box museli. It’s not as if this isn’t good museli. Have you ever seen the word museli so many times in a paragraph?
I have gotten distracted again. Not hard in this lesson apparently. We then headed back to “Trainstationstreet” to try to find the museum. We eventually had to ask for directions in another museum, so it wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped. As we found it, the reasons for this became clear. This was not a conventional museum as one would normally imagine it. There was no grand façade or official plaque on the wall. We had ducked behind another building and found what looked like a large demountable classroom. There was a man hovering outside it dressed in breeches and a wooly jumper, rather like my grandfather. This, however, didn’t make his appearance and general statue any less ominous.
“Would you like to come inside?”
That question didn’t make us feel any better either. We all looked at each other. This is what we had come here to do, however strange it looks now that we are here.
He opened the door for us and we followed him inside. What we saw was a long corridor. There were clearly rooms on either side and there was music playing. It was old DDR radio. Not only that, but it was cold inside and for such a warm day, that felt peculiar. I felt like we had just stepped into an episode of Twin Peaks. I expected owls to come flying out of the rooms and a little man dressed in a red suit to be in the kitchen making coffee. We each paid our 3 euro entry fee and I paid an extra 1.50 to be allowed to take pictures. It was surreal. We were the only people there and we found ourselves filling the spaces with words just to attempt to cover up the music and make the place feel more normal. There was an old car, a Trabant in the first room. These cars were very prominent in East Germany and have become a symbol of that time. There was a stuffed man inside it that I didn’t notice until after I had taken the photograph.
There were rooms full of televisions and record players. There was a child’s bedroom, a kitchen and a living room. There was a classroom and a dentist’s surgery. Every room just looked old fashioned, like something from the 60s. It took us a while to realise that whilst it doesn’t seem too backwards, they were still living like this 20 years ago.
The fact is that most people who you ask over here will say that they didn’t mind the DDR. Maybe they wouldn’t go back to it, but they wouldn’t have minded it lasting. They were happy then. Everyone worked and could feed their children, even if they couldn’t feed them very much. People felt protected and sheltered. How would you feel if you were working hard at school for a job which was guaranteed, then the wall comes down and you have no prospects? The skills you have aren’t relevant in this new society which has been cast upon you and the new world is scary, you have never known anything of the time before. There is no denying that the reunification of Germany was a good thing and it is something that is still celebrated each year. However, that doesn’t dampen the ‘Ostalgie’ of certain generations who had learnt to embrace the regime or who had never known anything else.
After we went to this ‘museum’, we popped back into the museum over the road where we had asked for directions. Apolda is famous for both bells and beer and there were exhibitions on both so we thought it apt to visit. The bells were a varied mix: Some beautiful, some just practical, some both. Our favourites were the bells with hammers beside them which we could ring. Obviously. There was also a really interesting section on textiles. It would seem that Apolda has historically been a home for many textile factories and it was really interesting to see some old-fashioned garments and the machines they were made on. It made me wonder why more people don’t make their own clothes now instead of paying nothing for poor, deprived children to do it for them.
I’m really glad we went to Apolda. When we had said beforehand, people questioned our intentions and laughed at our plans. Apolda is not a place people go to visit. It is not pretty. It is not a ‘happening’ place. There are not many opportunities for people and there seems to have been little rejuvenation since the wall came down. This year isn’t about seeing the glossy, gothic veneer that the tourists see though. It’s about getting down and dirty and trying to see the real picture. It’s about understanding why Germany is the way it is and questioning why things are the way they are back home too. I would recommend a visit to Apolda for any year abroad students around here. Living in a beautiful city like Erfurt is all well and good. So is living in a refurbished DDR building with no oven. But that’s not going to tell me what it was really like. That’s not even going to give me the questions I should be asking. I shall ask the right questions though, by the end of the year at least.