It’s strange that I never really considered Winter to continue until the end of February, but with the Indian Summer that we had in Großkorbetha, soon followed by the arrival of lots of snow and bitter-cold winds, I naïvely assumed that Winter would be over. Clearly I was wrong. There’ve been even more days of bitter-cold winds and yet more snow. It must be that the English Winter was so temperate that I allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security with regards to just how long a Winter can last (I’m sure there’s a Game of Thrones reference in there somewhere).
These days, I’m not to be seen without my heavy and toasty-warm duffel coat and sturdy boots astride my adorable purple bike heading around the village either to and from school or from the supermarket. Failing that, you’ll find me in my garishly bright fluorescent green running jacket with matching gloves and Lycra leggings running along the bike trails which follow the lazy meanders of the Saale river. I hasten to write the last sentence for I would not want to wish such imagery on even my worst of acquaintances.
Großkorbetha is a delight to see in the snow, especially at just after four o’clock on lighter days. The sun is trying to break through the clouds and even though the wind is bullying you and trying to make you want to head to anywhere that is inside and contains central heating, there is something strangely comforting and homely about the trees without their leaves and the satisfying crunch of fresh powder snow underfoot.
Last weekend, I was in Cologne (I realised earlier that “Eau de Cologne” could easily be the local beer: Kölsch, but egal). It was the birthday of an assistant from New Zealand and I’d missed Cologne an awful lot, which made me want to go even more than I already did. It was a long weekend. On Saturday, I had an open morning at school and they’re desperate to show off their Language Assistant whenever they can, so I turned up and promptly realised that parents are parents no matter where you go. There’s no escaping them (Love you Mummy and Daddy). I got the train and spent the best part of seven hours on it from Halle to Cologne. I managed to make a friend on the way, however. Some toddler was getting pretty restless and annoyed at being cooped up for so long, so I cracked out the iPad and we played Angry Birds and Bad Piggies together for a good hour and a half. I kept stealing glances at her mum who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the break from a small child, which kept me going for so long. When it came to the point where I was all Angry Birds-ed out and didn’t want to try and explain the complicated thought process behind BluePrint 3D and Triple Town, I went to put the iPad away and she pushed at my hand in order to stop me from moving it and got stroppy. Naturally, this didn’t make me want to keep on playing games with her any more, so I told her sternly that it was time for us to stop and that I was going to have a nap. It ended up with me leaving her and her mum to their journey and finding another carriage. With the sound of “tschuuusss” (“byeeee”) in my ears, to which I didn’t respond, only to be met with “TSCHUUUUUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!” shortly thereafter, I realised that I hadn’t quite dodged a bullet, but had merely been grazed by shrapnel.
Today, I somehow managed to be the second-in-command on an English class trip to Halle, a city to the North-West of Großkorbetha. A selection of students from the 8th and 9th Grades (Years 9 and 10 for all you Engländer) were invited to ‘show off’, as it were, their prowess in modern foreign languages at one of Halle’s many well-respected schools. The novelty of being not only in charge of a group of students but also strangeness of being on the other side of a school trip lasted all day and thankfully was enough to keep me going from the very early start of half past seven this morning. We left our school at about quarter to eight and we were at the other school for half past nine after a much needed coffee break at Halle main station. The trip went well, we only missed the French examinations due to poor communication on the part of the host school. My mentor teacher, and the other member of staff on the trip, was adamant that nowhere on any of the correspondence that she had received was it written that the French exams were at nine. She was under the impression, and by default so was I, that the French part of the day was to start after the English exams. The students found it difficult, from the feedback they gave us, but deep down I expected it. When we arrived at the school, it had a very pretentious atmosphere which I found rather off-putting. The school buildings were lovely and were steeped in history, much like a small portion of the buildings in Halle itself.
Halle is a charming place, but has its downsides. It’s clearly a very affluent area and some of the architecture reflects this. However, you cannot help but be confronted by the Eastern Bloc high-rise tower blocks of flats that seemingly climb from nowhere and remove everything else from view. The cathedral, however, is most definitely a must-see. The mural hanging over the altar is exquisite, showing famous characters from the city’s history as well as St. Alexander vanquishing some form of evil from the land.
After waiting around a lot, we headed back to our school with frozen toes and the slogan of one of the market stalls specialising in Currywurst: “Don’t worry, be curry”. However, before we could board the train back to Großkorbetha, one of the students lost his bag in the station during another wait for the train to arrive. This resulted in lots of questions including: “Are we going to miss the train?”, “Do we all need to get off and get on the next one?”, “How long can you hold the train for?”; but, thankfully, his bag had been handed in at the information centre, so all was not lost. I joked about it with him afterwards and he was fine. Luckily the Germans have the ability to recognise my attempt at finding a sense of humour.
The Germans have strange ways of telling the time. For instance, no German child is aware of the concept of twenty-five minutes to the hour. Instead, they say “five minutes past half to”. In English, when we say “half seven”, we mean “half past seven” i.e. seven thirty. In German, when you say “halb sieben” (a literal translation of “half seven”), it means half past six or “half to seven”. These strange methods were brought to a light even brighter than normal yesterday. Johannes (the mayor of the village, with whom I live – don’t know if I’ve mentioned that before…) asked me on Monday night if I would like to have breakfast with him. I don’t see him all that often as he now works night shifts or shifts that are first thing in the morning, moving the trains around the yards, cleaning the wagons and doing the general upkeep that one often takes for granted when travelling by rail, and I see his wife, Elke, even more rarely; so, naturally, I agreed. He said that it would be ready at “Viertel 9”. With “Viertel” meaning quarter, and the strange way of telling the time that the Germans have, I assumed that he meant at “quarter to nine”. I set plenty of alarms and tried to get a decent night’s sleep as I didn’t want to miss our breakfast. It turns out that “Viertel 9” means quarter past eight. How the Germans arrived at this conclusion, I will never know. He even called me from upstairs five minutes before my alarm was due to go off (halb 9, for those of you who are interested), even though I was already awake for fear of missing it, asking where I was. I was shocked and slightly distraught. I confronted him on this issue and he looked at me as if I were thick as something thick that isn’t a profanity.
If you managed to read this far, pat yourself all over your back; I would’ve given up hours ago.
Ich hab euch Lieb