Ah, Sunday. A fine day for reflection and calm, quiet contemplation. In Germany a brief respite from consumerism (also perhaps an inconvenience). Additionally, and purely coincidentally, you understand, optimal for the garnering of likes as the weekend’s accomplishments tie together and the anxious limbo between convalescence and the working week ahead begins to seep into the unoccupied psyche.
This Sunday, however, is unlike most in that it represents a threshold; a liminal phase as much as a stagnant in-between. It’s the last of Sundays I’ll be spending in Hamburg for the foreseeable. This one has been graced with that fluffy whiteness so prevalent this icy February and just as the sheets were beginning to break up and the burns to bubble afresh after their temperature induced stasis.
At present I’m getting another load of laundry in – a luxurious second of the week, owing to the fact I’m not going directly home in the couple of weeks’ gap I’ve got between my contract with the British council coming to an end and the beginning of the “summer” semester at the University of Leipzig. No, I’m off to Denmark, you see – Copenhagen to be precise, although I’ll be visiting other places too; hoping over the Øresund bridge to Sweden and doing a bit of a Hamlet pilgrimage to Elsinore (Helsingør). Ok, it’s a bit of an indulgence but it’s relatively easy on the Deutsche Bahn and I’d like to see something of Scandinavia in person, seeing as I heap on such praises in the abstract.
It’s busy in here (the laundrette I mean), and I’ve had to spend an idle half hour in a Turkish bakery because it seems an entire sports team’s strip was occupying all six drums! That reminds me, I must learn Turkish. No. Really, I’ve got to stop this dabbling and actually commit to mastery of one or two languages! Then again… It does seem like Turkish is a bridge between the European and Middle Eastern languages with its Latinate script and “logical” (or so I’m told) phonetics. It’s also even more agglutinative than German, meaning whole sentences can be condensed into one long word! How exciting. Anyway, I think it might be worth just having a look at seeing as the Turks are the largest minority in Germany (hmm…by that logic I should be learning Polish in Scotland).
Where was I? Yes. End of the British Council contract. Right. Reflection.
Looking back I’d have to say it’s been far from plain sailing. After a terrible start where I got defrauded (what a lovely word for such a horrible thing) on account of a flat that didn’t exist and was sent on a frantic and highly stressful Wohnungssuche, I managed to find a place that was technically over the Niedersachsen border. Transport times and removal from the city centre have, I would say, undoubtedly adversely affected my social life, but at least it came with the advantage of being close to my school – a mere 20-minute bike ride. Moreover, at least I was within an hour of the muckle toon, so on that score I was able to take advantage of the bigger and lesser acts visiting the Hansestadt from time to time.
Of course, having my bike stolen after two months was not much fun at all and I had to forgo seeing King Krule and Gurr on because of that, but at least I’ve had the experience of reporting a crime in German now!
On the subject of bands, on Wednesday night I attended probably the best gig I’ve been to since Mac Demarco in November; this being Jen Cloher at Nochtwache. In order to reach the venue I had to walk through on of the most obviously dodgy areas of the city I’d ever been in – poorly lit and with so many open drug exchanges going on and police clearly actively investigating things on my exit. However, it was totally worth it. The support act Hachiku spent her childhood in Germany and subsequently moved to Australia, so she was able to warm up the crowd in their native language. She played completely solo, but used looping to create an impressively full, yet delicate and subtle sound. When the band took to the stage I couldn’t help but stare at the guitarist, who looked suspiciously like Courtney Barnett. Maybe Melbourne just breeds loads of women who look like that? Surely not. But right enough it was her, whose new single I’d just written about on the Monday! Amazing and completely unexpected.
Stay on topic. Stay on topic. Ok.
As for school life itself, I never really quite felt fully integrated into the staff team, but I suspect that is partly due to my own nature and a willing ignorance of certain group events i.e. the Christmas meal. That said, I did develop some good individual relationships with certain English teachers and indeed the Music teacher in whose lessons I had great fun during the second half of my placement. I particularly enjoyed teaching the younger kids about Burns Night on the 25 of January, which almost made up for the lack of haggis and irn bru. We sang ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’, which also happens to have a German version (‘Trotz Alledem’) that was used as an egalitarian anthem of the Völkerfrühling in 1848.
I think it did take me a long time to get into my stride though. Once things did fall into place, however, it led to some moments of real joy. Among the highlights have been: one of the pupils trying to read a verse of To A Mouse with a Scottish accent and rrreally rrrolling those Rs and then the subsequent realisation that my own accent had become something of an inside joke (they found my pronunciation of the word “frequent” hilarious when I was trying to explain the difference between it and regularly); the sarcastic banter I have with the older pupils; the paranoia I managed to induce with my 1984 Thought Police vs Party Members game and of course my beloved 6. Klasse who never fail to greet me in the corridor or Schulhof with an enthusiastic, “Hallo Mistah Flett!”
Outwith my compulsory work, I also set up an after school group through the UK-German Connection and ran a project facilitating contact with Orcadian pupils. This has honestly at times been the one thing that’s kept me going throughout my time here. Briefly, it was about cultural heritage at the regional level and how that can expand out beyond homogenous nation states, reaching across Europe – this idea being filtered through the lens of local language. If that at all piques your interest than please read more here.
Taking all in all, I think the experience has been beneficial; there has been a net gain. This has not come without frustration and struggle, however. The highs have been immense, but there’s certainly been a lot of drudgery to wade through in order to reach them. Overall, it’s confirmed that if I ever was to become a teacher, I’d put it off for a bit yet.
One of the main things I’ve had to grapple with during my time as a language assistant has been the need for respect. It is impossible to teach pupils anything if they do not first have respect for you. This can be quite a soul-destroying thing to learn from experience, but it is actually a very useful lesson. Those of you who know me can probably vouch for me when I say I’m not a particularly foreboding person to encounter. For me, I think this means I need put on a display of assuredness and expertise fairly early on when I start working with a class, otherwise they will just view me as another pupil who’s just as clueless as them.
Upwards and onwards, as they say though. I’m very much looking forward to becoming a student again next month and of course to experience a new part of the country. A visit to Wittenberg is far from “retrograde to [my] desire” after seeing the court of the Danish prince.