Everything has an end, only sausages have two.

Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei. Even when they’re trying to make a poignant comment about life, the Germans talk about sausage.

So, here we are, about 39 weeks since I sat in the departure lounge at Birmingham Airport absolutely shitting myself about the terrifying situation I’d gotten myself into and wondering what the hell I’d been thinking when I chose to do a language at university. Thirty nine weeks later, I’m sat here trying to put down into words exactly what it feels like to be at the end of this adventure and having a really hard time! It sometimes feels like I’ve lived in Leipzig for 10 years, but the final few weeks have crept up really rapidly. Last week I had my last days at my schools, where I was presented with a signed picture of the Pregnant Oyster by one of my classes which almost got the waterworks going in front of an exam hall of  students and the headteacher! Despite the 5.45am starts, occasional difficult student and having to say “he, she, it, das ‘s’ muss mit” until I was blue in the face, working at the Oberschulen Portitz and Rahn has been really great fun and if you’re studying a language and are starting to think about this kind of thing, I couldn’t recommend an assistantship enough. You get paid a decent wage, you get wads of free time to spend the money in, and you get a really authentic taste of German life. Plus, if you’re thinking about teaching after your degree, you won’t get a better opportunity to find out it it’s the job for you!

Keeping it together in front of 50 people was pretty hard going!

Keeping it together in front of 50 people when they gave me this was pretty hard going!

If you’re a future year-abroader, or even just looking for a nice city break, then you certainly won’t be disappointed with Leipzig. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve moved around a lot over the past few years but Leipzig is the only place that I’ve ever truly felt at home in. It’s a fantastic city bursting with charm and character that I’m very proud to have been a part of for 9 months, and I really am absolutely gutted that my time here is over. Having said that, my family and friends at home shouldn’t think I’m dreading coming back! Having spent a grand total of 20 days in the UK since last September, a little bit of home time will go down nicely! The feeling of the week this week is “conflicted” with a capital C.

To the people from 18 countries who’ve collectively read this blog 2,900 times, thank you. I hope it hasn’t been too tiresome having me pollute your news feed on Facebook! I also hope you didn’t think that this has been too much of a self-congratulatory “look at me and what I’ve been up to” kind of thing! It’s been very difficult to put this year down into words, but I hope you think I got the balance right. I promise I won’t keep mentioning my “yah abrahd” all the time when I get back home, too!

Another thank you should go to all of the Germans I’ve met this year, particularly my flatmates. Danke, dass ihr immer sehr geduldig wart als mir 30 Sekunden oder so das deutsche Wort nicht einfiel, und dass ihr immer mit mir auf Deutsch geredet habt! Es war mir 100% ein Vergnügen, ein Teil des WG-Lebens zu sein – wenn ihr irgendwann in England seid, gebt mir Bescheid!

But it goes without saying that the people I need to thank the most are the other assistants in and around Leipzig. Whether it was a day trip somewhere, hanging out at the park or just going to the pub to offload after a day of too much German, there couldn’t have been a better bunch of people to spend the year with, and without a doubt the year wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable without you guys around. I remember reading a blog while I was in 2nd year that recommended that while abroad you should use English friends just as a springboard to getting to know Germans. Frankly, that’s a load of bollocks! Could I have made more an effort to meet Germans this year? Probably. In hindsight, would I change anything? Not a chance!

All good things must come to an end, and with that I’ll sign off. For the people at home, I’ll see you soon! For the people and the city I’m leaving behind, wir sehen uns nochmal!

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Über eine Brücke musst du gehen

One of the great things about saying yes to everything is that sometimes you find you actually enjoy things you always thought you hated. For me, karaoke has to be one of those things, mainly because it seems to have become the de facto port of call for the assistants when we go out. It’s unashamedly naff but fantastic fun, especially at 4am after a round of pfeffi. When the drunk Germans that are also there  aren’t singing badly-pronounced English stuff, or watching  Tough Guy Jack’s flawless performance of Parklife in awe, they tend to sing some absolute belters. By this I mean really naff Schlager songs, which given that the karaoke bar is so naff is a perfect fit.

Der absolute Party-Spaß: Absolute Party Fun. With a slogan that bad, it has to be good!

Der absolute Party-Spaß: Absolute Party Fun. With a slogan that bad, it has to be good!

One of my personal favourites is Über sieben Brücken musst du gehen (you must go over seven bridges), which never fails to make an appearance. Last weekend I tried to sing it, but apparently it’s reserved for the regulars with proven singing talent:

Moving on from seven bridges to one, a few weeks back I and the other assistants/Erasmus students made our final excursion to Saxon Switzerland, a mountain range near Dresden and the German/Czech border. I really can’t do it justice, but hopefully these pictures can. The view of the bridge was absolutely spectacular as you can see!

A few weeks prior had seen me meeting with some friends from uni for a little tour of the area surrounding Lake Constance. This was my first time in the south of Germany and even if the locals had a bit of a weird accent (yes, I’m aware that I live in Saxony and I’m hardly one to talk), it certainly didn’t disappoint. Konstanz, one of the main cities on the German side of the lake, had a really nice Olde Worlde charm about it, and Meersburg even more so!

Even now as I approach the end of my year abroad, Germany seems to have a habit of luring me into a false sense of being completely at ease here, and then smashing that confidence apart at a moment’s notice. This trip was no different; on a trip to a flower island called Mainau, the following queuing system developed:

Give me strength!

Give me strength!

That is, to be exact, a complete lack of any system. My furious British stares which were practically burning holes in the back of the head of the guy stood in front of me went unnoticed, and the mob continued to inch forward to get their tickets. Germany, you have much to learn!

In what was a very busy week, we also took a day trip to Zürich in Switzerland. It was a common theme for the week, but it’s a fantastic city as well, if astronomically expensive. Like Konstanz, it’s on the edge of a lake which makes for some nice pictures. My only tiny complaint would be that it’s in Switzerland, which means they speak Schwyzerduutsch (Schweizerdeutsch if you speak German properly, Swiss German if you speak English). Now I’ve been studying German for just short of 10 years and I live in a part of the country notorious for its difficult accent, but despite the odd “smile and nod” situation in the staff room from time to time, I get by. In Switzerland, however, I didn’t understand a single word which was a little disconcerting! Apart from that though, a good time was had, especially given that it was maybe the first day of the year where the weather was good enough for sunbathing:

So that brings us up to the middle of May-ish, which can only mean one thing; my next post will in all likelihood be the last post of the year! I’ll save all the soppy stuff for next time, but until then mach’s gut!

Mei Leipzsch lob’sch mir!

“Mein Leipzig lob’ ich mir! Es ist ein klein Paris und bildet seine Leute”

“I praise my Leipzig! It is a small Paris and educates its people.”


Last week I mentioned that I’d rekindled my love for Berlin, but that it wasn’t the small Paris that Leipzig is; the quote above is from Goethe’s Faust, probably the most famous piece of German literature which was set and written in the city. It has become a semi-official motto of the city, especially in the Sächsisch dialect written on the poster, and it pretty neatly sums up my feelings for what has become my adopted home for the past 9 months. There won’t be very many more opportunities for me to write here, so I figured I should show you Leipzig in all its glory!

Way back in the 18th century Leipzig was a bustling place. It was one of Central Europe’s main trading cities and was home to some of the most important figures of the German-speaking world like Goethe, Schiller and JS Bach. Bach was head of the Thomanerchor or the choir of St. Thomas Church, which continues to be one of the most well-respected choirs in the world. When he died, Bach fell into obscurity and was buried in an unmarked grave. It wasn’t until the 19th century when Wagner started doing performances of his work that he became popular again that he was exhumed and buried in the church…or at least that’s what the authorities think. Having spent 100 years underground in close proximity to several other dead people, his remains weren’t exactly in tip-top condition, which means they’re not entirely sure if the remains in the church are of one of the greatest composers ever or just some guy he happened to be buried next to!

The early 19th century was a pretty turbulent time to live in. In  the first part of the 1810s, Napoleon was at the height of his power trip which took him and his army as far as Russia. However, in 1813 the tide began to turn and in the Battle of the Nations which happened just outside the city, he was comprehensively defeated and made a hasty retreat which eventually culminated in the Battle of Waterloo, where, thanks to ABBA, we all know he did surrender. After the battle an enormous monument was erected. It’s called the Völkerschlachtdenkmal (best German word ever), and is the ideal spot for some atmospheric sunset pictures! At the moment there’s a 360° picture on display nearby called the Panometer which shows the city as the French are retreating. It’s 32m high and really quite impressive – the video below does it far more justice than I can.

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The Völkerschlachtdenkmal

After World War 2 the communists took control of East Germany, and they stayed in power until 1989 when a revolution which started in Leipzig forced them into holding democratic elections and eventually reunifying with the West. After reunification a lot of Communist businesses found that they couldn’t compete with their much more efficient Western counterparts, and so Leipzig (along with the rest of the East) suffered really quite badly in the 1990s; people left the city in droves and unemployment rocketed. Despite having rebounded in the past decade or so (the local economy is growing faster than anywhere else in Germany these days!), there are still abandoned buildings on most streets which sometimes stand side by side with immaculately renovated historical ones, a reminder of the remarkable change that the city’s gone through.

But enough about history and eerie derelict buildings; Leipzig is a bustling city with a vibrant nightlife, mainly concentrated on Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, whose nickname is the Kneipenmeile or pub mile. If pubbing it it isn’t your thing (although you should go at least once and have a shot of Pfeffi, which is a mint-flavoured shot that’s as disgusting as it sounds), the flawless public transport network can have you in the suburbs in minutes. In the communist days there used to be a lot of mines surrounding the city, which have mostly been turned into lakes, one of which even has a wild water canoeing course!

It makes sense then that sport is a big part of Leipzig life, too. RB Leipzig, the most successful football team in the city, has just been promoted to the Zweite Bundesliga, roughly equivalent to the Championship in England. It was at the Red Bull Stadium that I found myself along with a record 4o,ooo Leipzigers on Saturday, where we watched them power to a 5-1 victory over 1.FC Saarbrücken (and their 30 fans). The atmosphere was electric and you really got the sense of pride that the people here have in their city. It’s a fantastic place to live with tonnes of character which I’ve been proud to call my home for the past 9 months, and hopefully I’ve done it justice here!

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Coming up soon: ridiculous German songs, a trip to Lake Constance, and Saxony’s answer to the Alps. Mach’s gut!

Pregnant Oyster, Pale Skin and Spilled Water

A really curious thing has happened in Germany. Spring has sprung (or should that be sprang? These days I just make up past tenses and hope for the best), with temperatures regularly reaching 20°C for the past few weeks. Given that less than 2 months ago, it was up to 40° colder, it’s come as a really pleasant change, made all the more pleasant that there isn’t a single pale, pigeon-breasted, topless chav to be seen strutting about.

Thankfully not a German phenomenon. Image source: The Guardian

If anything, the complete opposite is true here (except of course for nudist beaches – when the Germans do something, they do it properly, being naked included). I went for a walk this afternoon, and despite just having a t-shirt on, I passed person after person dressed in jumpers, coats and scarves. I even saw one man wearing gloves!

The (mostly) good weather has coincided nicely with a pretty packed schedule over the last few weeks, which kicked off with 2 sets of visits to Leipzig, one from Tom and Marie from uni, and the other my mum, dad and Sean. At the moment Leipzig is looking pretty spectacular with all this great weather, so it’s been very satisfying to show it off in all its glory! While my family were here we arranged to meet with Carola, my mentor teacher. I can’t believe I’ve not really written about her up until now, but she’s been an absolute bedrock this year. At the beginning, she was pretty much the only friendly face in the entire city and helped keep me sane during those difficult first few weeks. Apart from that, her expert knowledge of Leipzig (including where to eat) has been invaluable. She’s also been incredibly supportive at school, giving me the chance to teach whole lessons and then giving constructive feedback which could come in very useful next year in the event I decide to do teacher training. In short, I owe her a lot this year, so it was great for my parents to meet her. She also volunteered to look after the family while I was running the Leipzig 10k, which I ran with Athletic Jack (couldn’t find a synonym beginning with j, sorry). After being spurred on by some stellar puns from our loyal supporters Sophie, Ruth and Charlotte, I finished in 58:44, not bad for my first attempt! I did, however, give myself away as a newbie when I got to the water station halfway through. I lunged for a cup, necked it, and then decided it would be a good idea to try and put it back on the table whilst still running, wiping out most of the (full) water cups standing there in the process. Apparently all of the people just throwing their empties on the floor wasn’t enough of a hint! Jack and I have tentatively agreed to come back next year for the half marathon, so watch this space!

The masterful puns that helped us to victory. Thanks to Ruth Gray for the picture!

The masterful puns that helped us to victory. Thanks to Ruth Gray for the picture!

So my parents headed back to the UK and I, slightly sore from the marathon 2 days prior, headed for Berlin for an Abschlussfahrt (trip for students about to leave school) with my year 10s. Having been there the previous weekend with my parents I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about it, but it did turn out to be a decent week. The one exception was probably a disco that was organised in one of Berlin’s most (in)famous clubs, Matrix. The students and teachers were allowed to drink, and all of the teachers joined in with the dancing. Being used to the slightly more professionally-distant student/teacher relationship we have in the UK, to say I felt awkward being pestered to dance by the kids I have to stand up in front of and teach would be an enormous understatement. Think back to your school days and imagine the poor teachers landed with the unfortunate supervision duty at the school Christmas disco, and you get an idea of how enjoyable the evening was!

I felt like an even bigger prat than the these two combined!

On the flipside, I did manage to get a picture with the class in front of the pregnant oyster, or the House of World Cultures to give it its proper name. My German teacher (who having just returned from South Sudan is now off to Papua New Guinea with his wife to carry on their charitable work - his blog is an absolute must read!) started the tradition of having a picture taken outside of it while he was a student, and I’ve tried my best to carry it on. I also got one with my family, so the collection now stands at 8 pictures. Before Christmas I wrote about how Berlin had lost a bit of its charm for me since discovering Leipzig, but I have to admit that it seems to have won me back again. I had a bit of free time when we weren’t doing stuff on our school trip so I had a chance to do a little bit of a pilgrimage and go to the places where I stayed during my trips in the 6th form. Berlin was what made me fall in love with the German people, history and language, and I was in Berlin when I decided to study German at university. It may not be the klein Paris that Leipzig is*, but I guess it’ll always have a special significance for me.

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My family get in on the act

10a, the 3rd generation of students to have their picture taken in front of the Pregnant Oyster.

10a, the 3rd generation of students to have their picture taken in front of the Pregnant Oyster.

Apologies if that’s a bit soppy; I’ve only got 42 days left in Germany and it’s starting to get to me! Coming up soon is my first ever trip to southern Germany, plus a day trip to Switzerland. Bis dann!

*also stay tuned for a blog post about Leipzig, which should clarify what that means.

Colliding worlds

Picture the scene. You have more than a decade of learning a foreign language behind you, you’ve lived for an extended period of time in a country where it’s spoken and survived without any major hitches, and now you’re in need of a bit of cash. Feeling lucky, you decide to apply to your chosen country’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and hey presto, you’re accepted! It’s a foolproof method; at home you always manage to get the questions right up to about £50,000, and besides you’ll have the 3 lifelines to help you along the way. Deep breath, here we go. First question for €100:

What would go through the head of an English groundskeeper if a flare got set off in the stands once again?

A: Zewa  |  B: o.b  |  C: Kleenex  |  D: Always Ultras

Err…OK, back to the drawing board.

Fear not, I haven’t gone bust and humiliated myself on German TV, this was a question posed to us 2 weeks ago at Schloss Dhaun, the famous meeting of all of the Warwick University German students currently abroad. While all of the other Leizpig assistants who go to other universities had begun stressing out about dissertation deadlines, I wandered off to a castle in Rheinland Pfalz for the weekend to do translation, literary analysis and discussion by day, and have a good time with all my old uni friends and lecturers by night. A unique feature of Warwick’s German degree, it’s often slated as the highlight of our time at university and I have to admit that that’s probably true. The castle was in a beautiful location, we all had the chance to catch up with the people we haven’t seen for the best part of the year, and thanks to some pretty challenging work (which, to my surprise, was quite enjoyable) it got us in gear for final year, which is looming ever closer! A word of advice for those wanting to study German but not sure where to apply: go for Warwick auf jeden Fall! It really is the best department ever and it feels much more like a family than a bunch of people who just happen to study the same subject. Where else could you spend an all-expenses paid weekend catching up with old friends and dancing with lecturers into the small hours?

The reason we were asked the question above was to highlight a slightly depressing fact: despite the fact that we can at the very least survive here, we will never truly fit in in Germany. Coming on a year abroad is like two worlds – our British one and the unfamiliar German one – colliding, and although we can do our best to understand it, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever become integrated enough to be able to answer the easy questions on Who Wants to be a Millionaire that rely on you having a lifetime of cultural knowledge. Having said that, a really strange thing happened on the way back from Dhaun – as I got off the train in Leipzig and emerged to a beautifully sunny day with the trams thundering past, the city centre towering in the distance and Saxony accents everywhere, I felt as if I was coming home! I might not be able to master it completely, but this strange little world for all its quirks has become very comfortable. And of course, the German kids at my schools can benefit from this collision of cultures, too:

This will probably only make sense to readers from Corby, but you have no idea how long I'd been waiting for an opportunity to teach this!

This will probably only make sense to readers from Corby, but you have no idea how long I’d been waiting for an opportunity to teach this!

There have been some other very welcome reminders of home lately; these include a trip to Amsterdam with Jess from university, a visit from my coursemates, Tom and Marie, last weekend and in 2 weeks time, a long-awaited visit from my parents.

Further off into the future, I’ve got some more trips coming up including Konstanz on the Swiss border, a school trip to Berlin and possibly a mini-excursion into Poland. Lots to write about then! Bis zum nächsten Mal.