German Youth and a Home Away from Home, Sachsen

Remember my last post (probably not as it was 6 weeks ago) when I said that I wouldn’t write long posts that span the course of weeks and that “I can 99.99% guarantee that this post [previous post on this blog] will by far be my longest”? You actually remember? Did you take bets on whether the first blog post would actually be the longest? I hope not, because from the looks of it, the second blog post may perhaps be in that .01%. Sorry.

As I am writing this, I am enjoying my Autumn break from school, listening to a decently dubbed version of Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” play in the background (on my tv that finally works!), snuggled up in my cozy sweat pants, all while finally getting the chance to really think about and reflect on the past several weeks here in Germany. I even have a Glade scented Holiday candle burning to set the mood. I’m obviously doing quite well on my own 😉 . I originally wanted my second post to be dedicated solely to my host school, the Peter-Apian-Oberschule, and the differences between American and German schools/students. This post will still go into that, however, due to my laziness, German schools/students will only be one fruit in the cornucopia of thoughts and ideas within the blog entry (just humor me with that last sentence I wrote…).

Okay. Los geht’s! Over the past few weeks, I’ve experienced something that not many others can say they will ever do in their lifetime, and that is to be completely immersed in a culture different than my own. And I do not mean German culture, but German youth culture—the mentality of the modern German tween, naturally of a different generation and upbringing than my own. Going into this school year, I did not think German 5-10th graders would be too different than American students, and in many ways they are very similar—they both watch How I Met Your Mother, laugh when someone makes a fart sound, and unfortunately, bullying or “mobbing” as it’s called here, is still an issue amongst students. However, there are a few little details that to me, as an American surrounded by this environment, were blatantly different than what I was used to in the USA:

  1. Organization and School Supplies: German kids LOVE school supplies. Pens, white out, colored pencils, erasers—you name it, they have it in a neat little pencil pouch. At first I thought it was a select few who were school supplies enthusiasts; I mean, looking back on my middle school and high school years, I was definitely the go-to “do you have an extra pencil I can ‘borrow’” person, but after looking around, I slowly noticed that every single student, whether in grade 5 or 10, boy or girl, had an immaculate display and variety of supplies. This may be because students are required to have a pencil pouch with all these supplies in it, but organization is not something you can buy at the store. Even while taking notes, students will always color code things and even if one measly word needs underlined, they will use a ruler to underline it. And don’t even suggest crossing out a mistake to a German student—that’s what whiteout and those magic eraser pens (that NEED to become a thing in the States) are for. I guess the stereotype of German order and neatness starts young.
  2. Swearing: German kids swear. A lot. If I had to guess how many times I heard a student say/whisper under his or her breath/scream “Scheiße,” I would have to estimate around 15 times within one 45 minute lesson. Not necessarily saying this is a bad thing—usually in context it makes sense (ie the student received a bad mark and said Scheiße because they were angry), but it’s just very different than what I was used to in middle and high school, where swearing could’ve landed you in trouble. Teachers in Germany (or at least at my school) normally do not think twice if they hear someone swear, because it is not something worth mentioning. They are much more concerned about other matters in the classroom. If a student wants to express their frustration in this manner, that’s their prerogative.
  3. Classroom Procedures: Five minutes before the lesson begins, there is what is called “preparation time.” During this time, students have time to put away notebooks and supplies from the previous lesson, get out books for the next lesson, and generally just take a break. But, preparation time is also for another task, which I never encountered in Canfield, Ohio: cleaning the chalkboard. Amongst the smaller kids, it is literally a race to the chalkboard when the bell rings, their trophy being a wet sponge to clean the previous lesson’s notes off the board. It’s expected from teachers that students clean the chalkboard, but students genuinely love to do this small task. No idea why, but they do. Once the chalkboard is dripping with water and all the students have settled back to their seats, the lesson can finally begin. But, not before the students greet the teacher. Once the bell rings, all the students stand up and will say in unison, “Good morning Mr./Mrs. ____!” then the teacher will tell the students to sit down. To me, this was extremely bizarre and reminded me of something that was done in the 1950s. I will say though, it was a pretty cool feeling the first time I led a lesson and my students said “Good afternoon, Layla.” The power I possessed in that moment is unprecedented! 😉

At school, the past month has been a learning experience. I’m still learning the names of students, noting the abilities of each class, and still figuring out how to make learning English as appealing as possible with my limited resources. I’ve had the chance to plan a few lessons, one being about Homecoming in the USA (because we all know I am an expert on school dances), electives in American high schools, and even a lesson about Ohio, but I think what I have enjoyed the most so far is simply being a conversation partner. There’s something about speaking a foreign language in front of the class that gets students nervous, so getting the chance to work with students in small groups, where they feel comfortable, has allowed me to really get to know students and see their true abilities. Overall, I’m really pleased with my time in Leisnig so far. The school is much smaller than my middle school—only 250 students in the entire school, as opposed to my graduating class of 275, so students were astounded and wanted to know every little detail of my school. Luckily their curiosity was a chance for them to speak in English a little more about something they were genuinely interested in. Huzzah!

The Peter-Apian_Oberschule! 😀

I also got to experience my first Sportstag (Sports Day), a day dedicated to sports and competition. It was pretty cool since there wasn’t really anything like that at my school growing up. We had “field day,” but that was nothing to the caliber of Sportstag. Basically there are different individual events, like a 50m dash, shot put, and a maze run among others, as well as team events, like football (soccer) and volleyball. Everyone had to participate, and performing less than what you’re capable of was not an option. The kids took is very seriously though, and at the end, the top three students in each class with the most points earned a certificate and little treat. My duty on this day was to record the times during the 50m dash. Fun times.

Grades 5-7 anxiously awaiting the start of Sportstag

Hmm, what else have I been up to during this absence from Well, I did some wandering (great segway, I know) to Dresden with some fellow Fulbrighters! It was so nice to be back in the city that I got to know so well back in the summer of 2012. We even got to stay in the same hostel I originally stayed in before moving into the Goethe Institut dorms, Lollis, which hasn’t changed a bit. It’s crazy how in the span of two years, all these memories were able to come back to me and flood my thoughts as if I never even left. I wanted to go to all the restaurants and pubs that I grew to love and share those places with my new friends who were experiencing the city for the first time. Although I may have forgotten where my favorite pizza place was (which we eventually found thanks to our super-sleuth work!), or in which direction Louisestraße ran, the emotions and nostalgia of being back in Dresden for only a long weekend were welcomed.

We may have stayed in Neustadt of Dresden, but our whole reason for this mini-trip was to visit the Radebeul Wein- und Theaterfest (Wine and Theater Festival). I must say, it was a fun time and the perfect way to spend a weekend! At this time, most German cities were hosting Oktoberfest, where drunken tourists wearing ill-fitted lederhosen and dirndls Prost’ed whilst simultaneously spilling half of their Hefeweizen in crammed tent. Whereas we enjoyed our Federweißer (Nectar of the gods) and watched a slightly obscure and semi-mediocre Shakespearean performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream! Honestly though, there were some great performances, in particular an acting troupe from England that put on an original ‘one act’ composed of different scenes in Shakespeare plays that highlight wine, mead, and alcohol in general. It was extremely funny and well done! There were also delicious food vendors (shout out to the crepe stand that had Kinder Schokolade crepes!) as well as artisans selling their works. Some other things worth noting were: the oddly medieval part of the festival where there were archery stands and fire pits, the 20 foot pole with pretzels at the top that children would climb, the bizarre mud dancers from Russia, an American style carnival, and of course the wonderful improv band, led by a charismatic pianist and a beautiful tenor saxist! It was a very eventful weekend to say the least, and I cannot wait to see what my next adventure in Dresden holds.

Hungry German Youth
Sax man!

It’s almost time to end this long winded blog post, but not before I get the chance to write about one of my favorite experiences so far in Leipzig: Lichtfest. On the 9th of October, Leipzig celebrated the 25-year anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution, a movement that spread across the former East that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only 25 years prior in 1989, “70,000 people took to the streets in the East German city of Leipzig, despite the threat of a command to shoot. With candles in their hands, they peacefully demanded more freedom and democracy in the GDR” (Lichtfest 2014). As a junior at Ohio State, I learned about this movement and even read part of a book authored by the Nikolaikirche priest at the time. To see a community come together to not only remember but also honor its difficult past was very inspiring, and it reminded me why I am so intrigued in East Germany and why I call Sachsen my home away from home. The entire Innenstadtring (inner city ring) was packed with more than 100,000 people, so even though I was stuck standing behind an extremely tall German man during the opening remarks, it was still awesome to be in the crowd amongst Germans, many of who participated in the Peaceful Revolution themselves 25 years ago. The opening ceremony had many guest speakers, including Germany’s Bundespräsident and many political figures from former Soviet-bloc countries that faced the same hardships as East Germany. Once the speakers finished, many people grabbed candles, which were homage to the protesters in 1989, and placed them along the Nikolaikirche. Along the entire inner city’s perimeter, there were light projections and shows that were a timeline of Leipzig’s role in the Peaceful Revolution and of course the history of the German Democratic Republic. We ended the night watching a really interesting and talented band called “Kozak System” at Richard Wagner Platz. Lichtfest was definitely a night to remember and a memory that will remain with me for a long time.

Photo cred: LTM/PUNCTUM/Schmidt

Well friends, the time has come for me to end this blog post! We clocked in at just over 2,000 words, beating the previous post by about 150. The arduous task of reading this post has ended for you, but just as one post ends, another one begins—tune in next time when I write about my autumn break traveling around POLAND! 😀



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