Monday, September 24, 2007

SaarLorLux - Sonntag im Dreiländereck

One of the touristic catchwords for the region is SaarLorLux, an abbreviation of "Saarland (D), Lorraine (FR) and Luxembourg. Sunday I visited all three. Saturday night Arnaud (the boyfriend of the girl I'm renting from) happened to mention that he "had to" test drive a new BMW convertible for work and wanted to know if anyone wanted to go to Luxembourg. Since I've never been to Luxembourg, I volunteered. He picked me up just after noon on Sunday and we got on the Autobahn heading west. I won't tell you how fast we drove because certain family members might not like to hear it, but it is a really, really nice car.

To be honest, I had no idea what Luxembourg would be like. I thought it was all one big city because it is so small, but there is countryside, too. We drove through some rural areas with wind turbines and farms and vineyards along the Mosel River. Then we drove into Luxembourg City, which is the capital. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its fortifications and many of the stone walls are still remaining or were rebuilt.

French wine, bien sur. Prost! ou bien: santé! Luxembourg has three languages: French, German and Luxembourgish, which is now only spoken at home but not taught in school anymore.

After walking around Luxembourg City we continued on to France. Arnaud had to stop at his parents' house and then we visited a friend of his in Metz. I can't wait to come back here and have time to look around the city. We just had dinner and then walked to see the Cathedral, but it was pretty dark and I will have to come back for at least a whole day.

So, I think it goes without saying that I had a really, really busy weekend between biking to France and driving to I am starting my workweek pretty tired. And my French class starts tonight! So more update later...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tour de France, part deux

Yesterday I went to an Ultimate Frisbee practice with the two American guys in my town and Johannes. It was really fun, really laid back. Ultimate is just catching on in Germany so there were a lot of Germans who had never played before. I had a great time and hope to go to more practices in the future.

Then I went out to dinner with Nabiha, Johannes, Arnaud and Sebastian. After a few apératifs at our place, we went to is a really good Italian restaurant literally right next door. Then we went into town and met my American friends and some other Germans at a bar on the square. Then we went to a disco and eventually got home from all of this at 4:00 a.m. So why not get up the next morning and go biking? :)

I actually felt really good this morning and it's gorgeous, again, so Johannes and I headed southeast towards Sarreguemines, the nearest French town. We thought we then followed the Blies River, but we were still on the Saar and heading south. So eventually we figured out where we were and then took a "shortcut" home, which ended up being really, really long. To be exact, the whole trip was 77.7 km long. yes. Very far. I'm tired. We started at 11:00 a.m., took a few breaks to take pictures, drink water, but pretty much biking for 4 hours. So we went pretty deep into France.

Friday, September 21, 2007

random Germanness, Teil I

note how the Smart cars can be parked alongside the street perpendicular to the other cars. So small...
This picture above is for my sister. Wodka.
This says something about the differences between American/German culture. Could we ever have billboards with condoms in the US? No. This campaign was already going on when I was an exchange student four years ago. Clever slogans/word plays with condoms. This one says "Überlebensmittel", in German "Lebensmittel" is a word for groceries (like potatoes) and "überleben" means "to survive", so it's saying that you won't get AIDS and die if you use condoms.
I saw these dresses in a department store in Köln and just had to take a picture. I mean, really! That's just too hilarious! And note the mannequins below. I mean, granted it might be for tourists because Cologne has a lot of tourists, but in Bavaria they will wear this stuff for holidays, and Oktoberfest is right around the corner...

Sprachentag! (und die anderen Tage meiner Woche...)

A quick review of my week:

was absolutely gorgeous. I laid outside in the sun, read my book, went for a bike ride, met a teacher for Kuchen at her house and got ready to start a new school week.

afternoon I went to a seminar held by Dr. Wittenbrock, who worked on the French-German textbook Histoire/Geschichte. This was the first time I got to meet him, but he knew who I was right away and was excited that I came, and even introduced me to the group saying how thrilled he had been to hear that "an American was interested in our project!" It was a two-hour seminar for history teachers to learn more about the book and give feedback. It was so fascinating. I was really excited to be there. He and his French collaborator talked about working together on this project, and the seminar was also held in French and German. We got sample pages of the book to discuss, and talked about possible improvements for future revisions. The publisher was there and gave everyone present free copies of the book! They are still trying to promote its use, as each school decides individually whether or not they will use it.

Tuesday was Sprachentag, foreign language day, at the Gymnasium am Rothenbühl. I worked together with a former language assistant, Katie, with a sixth grade class. This is an elite sports school, and they are divided into classes by whether or not they're a sports class. This one was all athletes, with some of them doing over 20 hours of sports a week including their free time! So we decided to teach them sports vocabulary. We started out just doing "What do you play?" "I play..." The most popular sports being, of course, Fußball and then maybe track. Then we talked about words to describe sports and then last they had to make posters to try to get other kids to do sports. Some groups were really creative. My favorite was a drawing of a fat stick man, who morphed into a slim stick man! Or one group's slogan was "Throw away the bacon!" haha, you can see some of the examples above, and here was the winning (they voted) poster below (she's trying not to laugh):
I'm not being sexist...but the girls' posters were just so much cuter. We shouldn't have let them make their own groups, but on the other hand they're at the age where the boys don't want to work with the girls anyways. One group didn't have any pictures, just "PLAY SPORTS, Go, Go, Go". I asked them if they maybe wanted to draw a soccer ball..."We're boys. We don't do that." But in general the class was pretty well-behaved and excited about learning some English phrases. It's cute to see how excited they are, that kinda wears off with the years...

Wednesday I went back to the DFG, where I sat in on some classes and talked during one class hour. It was a more advanced English class and I told them about the differences between American high schools and German Gymnasien. They asked me if we really have cheerleaders, and I had to even admit that they sometimes wear their outfits to school (but only on game days!). They asked how long American kids are allowed to stay out on the weekend (depends on the parents and the kids, right?) and about prom. I told them we have lockers, the teachers have classrooms and they have the same schedule every day, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 or so (few American schools have block scheduling, all German schools do, they feel bad for the teachers who always have the last period when kids can't concentrate!). I told them about my schedule in high school (school, swim practice, trumpet lessons, homework starting at maybe 8:00 p.m.) and tried to explain "school spirit," which does not exist here. They don't really have school clubs and don't have school sports teams, only regional club teams. They don't volunteer like we do and aren't involved in their school any more than putting in their hours to graduate. I'm sure that I will have at least 6 more discussions like this, so we'll see what other questions come up. Above is a picture of the DFG from the back, looking across the Sportplatz where they go for recess.

Thursday I got to school and both the teachers I work with were sick, so I walked back home and finished my book, Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle. Great book, by the way. Then I went grocery shopping in preparation for my dinner party. The group of Americans in Saarbrücken is trying to get together weekly, and I hosted last night. So we had the four Americans, a young German teacher and my two roommates Nabiha and Johannes. I made Flammkuchen, a regional specialty from Alsace, France. To the left is a picture of one I ate in Koblenz. Mine looked similar: a thin dough smeared with crème fraiche, sprinkled with thinly-sliced onions and bacon. yummm... I also made pizza dough and then we all "decorated" our own half-pizza with various toppings. For dessert I made apple-quark muffins (we don't have quark in the US, which is really too bad). And we went through a lot of good wine. :) It was a really fun night and it's always fun to hear about the other students' experiences.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Every Wednesday and Sunday we have a farmer's market on the square (St. Johanner Markt). It is starting to get really beautiful with fall colors--flowers, pumpkins, zucchini and plums. Yesterday I got yogurt, goat cheese, strawberries, plums and mozzarella. They have German honey, local eggs/poultry/sausage...fruits from local orchards and vegetables from local farms. I absolutely love the atmosphere here. I hope they still have pumpkins when October rolls around...

Yesterday afternoon I was invited to an English teacher's house. I arrived around 4:00 and there were already some colleagues there. We started out with Kaffee und Kuchen, a typical German afternoon pastime. The coffee was great and there were atleast five different kinds of cake: plum cake, strawberry torte, some kind of nut cake, chocolate cake, and a regional specialty of Picardie (France). So delicious...

Then we played boules, or bocce ball. It was so much fun. They have this big sand box in their backyard for playing. Some of these guys were really, really good. For me it is mostly luck still, but some of them could stand at the edge of the box and throw their ball and exactly knock someone else's ball away, maybe 5 meters away. Wow.

By the way, this was pretty much all in French. The teachers are all from the German-French Gymnasium, and I think there were two to three native Germans and then four to six native French. It was so much fun...after boules I played "badminton" with this little girl for a while, who has a French and a German parent. We counted as we hit back and forth, first German and then French and then English...and then we played where you said a word every time you hit the birdie and the other person had to translate French-German or German-French. Man, that was hard to do so fast. I really enjoyed having a chance to practice my French speaking with all the other teachers.

After a few rounds of boules and ping-pong (yup, same word) we moved on to round two of the meal, which was very saarländisch. They have this kind of grill in the Saarland called a "Schwenker", which you place over a fire and the grill hangs on a tripod and swings over the flames to cook the meat. I actually just looked at Wikipedia and there's a picture if you want to see it:

We sat outside on an outdoor terrace, where they had a kind of heater on the table. It was just warm enough to be able to sit outside comfortably. For dinner we had Schwenkbraten, and of course two kinds of Wurst, a French specialty and a normal lighter-colored Wurst. With that there was a potato salad, melon, bread, green salad, red wine from Alsace...and then came the cheese course with five (!) kinds of cheeses. I love it. I love it. America needs to import some more food culture from France. Again the French language dominated the dinner table conversation, with occasional side-conversations in German about soccer between the two men at one end. It was such a great evening. Good to get to know some other teachers a bit outside of the teachers' lounge, and good to experience some local culture at a bilingual, bicultural home. I just feel so lucky to be in the Saarland where French and German come together and to have experiences like this one last night.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Achtung Schulweg!

I thought this sign with the funny-looking child was just great. For the first day of school they had extra such signs put up to warn drivers that there would be more children around. On the first day of school (first grade) the kids get large cones filled with sweets. They carry these things around (which are bigger than they are), go to school and meet the teacher and walk around a bit and then go home. It's a cute tradition.

I am not teaching cute little children. I am working at two Gymnasien, the Gymnasium am Rothenbühl, which specializes in sports and English, and the Deutsch-Französisches Gymnasium, which is a bilingual German/French school. Mondays and Tuesdays I will be at the GAM, and Wednesdays and Thursdays I will be at the DFG.

Monday I went and met some English colleagues and just floated around, visiting a lesson here and a lesson there. I am spending the first week or two just trying to get a feeling for the kids' language abilities and student-teacher relations in Germany. Then I will start giving my own lessons. There are some younger teachers at the GAM and some student teachers, so it was fun to talk to them. We all had a free hour on Tuesday and went out for coffee. I went into one sixth grade class (second year English) and they asked me all kinds of questions I couldn't answer, like "What's your favorite football [soccer] team?" and "Who's your favorite athlete?" Then there were some easier ones, like "What's your favorite color?" "What's your sister's name?" So basic English questions. That was kinda fun. At that age, you ask for volunteers to read and they all want to read. You go into the seventh grade class and no one wants to volunteer anymore. So school is basically the same as in the US. :)

I met with the other Americans Wednesday night for "breakfast for dinner". We made blueberry pancakes with maple syrup...mmm...But it was interesting to hear from them, and what their classroom experiences have been like. Michaela, after saying they could ask her anything... was asked if after-prom was really like in American Pie. And someone asked Ben how much marijuana costs in the US! Oh man. Those high-school kids. I haven't really talked much in classes yet. I just sit in the back and observe. Probably next week I'll start doing lessons. And we will start by extinguishing all those stereotypes!

This picture to the right is in the DFG, the staircase leading upstairs to the teachers' lounge and the secretary. This is my "main" school, and there is a teacher here who is kinda assigned to my well-being. He met with me last Friday, showed me the school and took me out to lunch. I came on Wednesday and visited some of his classes with him. He also teaches French. In Germany teachers always have two subjects that they teach. For the foreign language teachers it's often French and English, but sometimes history and English or get the idea. His wife is French and they speak French at home. Almost every teacher at this school seems to have a similar story. The school is so unique, I just love it. You walk through the halls and there are students speaking French to one another, and German. Some of the teachers stop and greet each other with bisous, the way the French kiss the cheeks as they greet. I have been addressed in French and English, and I don't always know right away if a teacher or student is native German or French. But then again, it doesn't really matter because for the most part they're all bilingual and if I speak in Germany they understand, too. Some of the classes are filled with students who speak mostly German at home, some with French students, and some are mixed. The classes all have two numbers because the Germans count like we do (you start with first grade and end with twelfth) and the French count backwards (ending with terminale, 11th grade is first grade, tenth grade is second grade). So Wednesdays I have class 3bi (bilingual), 1L/11L (specializing in languages/literatures) then later 2L/10L. I work six hours a week at each school, but I often have free hours between classes so I am there from 8:00 to around 1:00.

To the left is the main hallway at the DFG.

In Germany the teachers switch classrooms instead of the students, so there's always a big hustle and bustle at the end of a class hour. They usually have five minutes passing time, but after the second and the fourth hours they have "große Pause" and all the kids have to go outside for 15 minutes. German kids bring some snacks with but they don't have a cafeteria and there's no set "lunchtime." Most kids bike or walk to school, but especially at the DFG a lot of kids take the train, tram or bus, since some of them are coming from France. Some of the teachers also live in France, and some of the French teachers live in Germany. When you live in a border region it's easy.

To the right, a typical, bare German classroom. As I said, the teachers move around so they don't really decorate rooms. Sometimes there will be a poster or two up from some project, but nothing like American classrooms. They are super clean, and students are in charge of wiping down the boards and sweeping the floor at the end of the day. But lacking character... Again, this is a Gymnasium (grades 5-12/13) so for younger kids they do put up a bit more, but not really past elementary school.

This is the room where I tutor. On Wednesdays and Thursdays I participate in an after-school program where kids can stay later and get help with homework. They get a meal, get help with homework and play together outside. I do this from 2:00 to 4:00. I don't really know why I'm there the whole time, since from 3:30 to 4:00 they have to be outside playing. But who knows. I'm still trying to figure it all out, too. :) I helped one girl on Thursday who needs lots of extra English help. I went over her homework for her (she has to learn how to spell, which is especially hard with vowels because the Germans say "a" for "e", for example). We worked together maybe 10 minutes and then all of a sudden she looked at me, "You're English, aren't you?" And me, "No, American." Ha, I love it when the kids just assume I'm German until I make some mistake. A woman at the market thought I was French...a woman at the bank looked at my ID and then said, "But you must have German ancestors, right?" But "Sederberg" is Swedish, and most Germans recognize that, too. Anyways, the after-school program. I need some good games now, because sometimes I have kids of different levels and they just want to practice speaking and it's hard to find activities they call all do.

And I always have Fridays off. Which is nice. I have a long list of things to do by the end of the week. Yesterday I got my visa, with minor complications because I have already had a German visa and for some reason was never un-registered from Schleswig-Holstein. But whatever. I had coffee with the girl whose room I am renting. She is in Nantes, France for the year. We would have gotten along really well, so I'm glad I got to meet her and who knows if I'll see her again this year. She left up lots of pictures of Paris, which is fine by me. :) Yesterday I also went for a run along the Saar, registered for a "refresher" French class, baked marzipan-plum muffins and took care of some organizational things. I have a library card and hope to start educating myself soon. :) The last few days we've had really beautiful weather, so it's hard to concentrate. Before that it was really cold and I really want summer/fall as long as possible so I am going to take advantage.

This picture is of the St. Johanner Markt, the main square. The street is only open to pedestrians and bikers, so there are lots of street cafés and this is where the farmer's market takes place. I love having coffee in the sun here...Everyone is out and about enjoying the good weather. Which is what I should be doing right now! So off I go.

P.S. It would be helpful if you post questions about the schools. You can ask anonymous questions, too!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

die Saarschleife!

The Saarschleife (Saarschleife is best translated as a loop or a kink in the Saar River) is the most famous place in Saarland. If you are standing up on the cliff you can see how the river flows in two directions in this one spot. The picture to the right is from the internet, we were down alongside the river.

I biked here with Johannes yesterday (65 km west of Saarbrücken). We took the train back home, as we decided 130 km would be a bit much. :) We biked along the inner part, maybe you can see that there is a path along the outer side. Where we live in the Saarland it is very developed and industrial, and to be honest I didn't think we had such beautiful forests. But we rode through some really really gorgeous countryside, you just have to get out of the city. The valley became much more defined and the hills alongside the river much steeper.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Viva Colonia!

Okay, so Cologne, like all German cities, really enjoys its soccer team. But really. And they definitely have city-pride. While in the train to Köln a group of rowdy passengers was actually singing this song (typisch deutsch):

VIVA COLONIA! Wir lieben das Leben, die Liebe und die Lust Wir glauben an den lieben Gott und hab'n noch immer Durst.

[Long live Cologne! We love life, love and joy, we believe in dear God and still are thirsty!]

The most famous thing in Cologne is the cathedral, which you can't miss because it towers over EVERYTHING from the moment you walk out of the train station!
I also climbed up all the stairs and looked out over the city and the Rhine (unfortunately cloudy).

Another thing, almost as famous as the Kölner Dom (cathedral), is Kölsch, Cologne's beer. Which I, of course, had to sample from various local breweries.

Of course I did other culturally stimulating things besides drink beer! I went to two of Cologne's museums and walked along the Rhine and throughout the city. I went to some Karaoke bars (which the Germans are waaaay too good at) and also attended a puppet show. Which was in the local dialect, so I didn't get a lot out of the actual dialogue. But the fact that I was sitting amongst a large group of adult Germans who were all laughing hysterically at puppets was good enough.

The actual reason for being in Cologne was that I was to meet all the other American students who will be doing the same thing as me through Fulbright for a four-day orientation. Which was pretty boring and repetitive, but still somewhat informative and very, very fun. And I now know that there are some other Americans in my city and region, so we can celebrate Thanksgiving together and whatever else we may decide to do.

Koblenz: wo die Mosel den Rhein trifft!

Last Friday I took the train to Koblenz, a city where the Mosel River flows into the Rhine. It was a beautiful train ride. First it went along the Saar River, then along the Mosel into Koblenz. The river valley was surrounded by vineyards, which you can see in the pictures. Really cute little German towns right on the water, boats, castles on some of the was really gorgeous!

I got into Koblenz, had dinner and then trekked up to my hostel. I stayed at a place called "Festung Ehrenbreitstein", an old fort up on the cliff above the city. I took a bus and then had to walk up a very steep path 20 minutes. Here was the view: You can see where the two rivers meet, which is called "Deutsches Eck". Today there is a memorial/monument there symbolizing German unity.

Koblenz itself had a really beautiful Innenstadt, downtown. It rained off and on, so I took refuge in a cafe and had some Pflaumenkuchen, as plum cake is now in season. :) While it rained I also visited the art museum, which had an exhibit of Keith Haring's work. Then I took the train to Köln!