autumn, leaves,

Dispatch #2

In the tradition of writing about my time here from strange places, I am squeezed into a tiny corner of my apartment between Andi’s Swiss camping table (now doubling as my dining table) and a wall – the only place where the internet seems to function at any normal speed in the entire 35 square metres! Despite this, though, I really like where I live. In these first whirlwind few weeks, it’s nice to have somewhere cosy and warm to come home to. The only downside is the rather insalubrious Hausmeister (the man who oversees the smooth running of the building). I thought he was a little bit hair-raising when I met him in broad daylight, but this was nothing compared to coming across him in the early morning darkness, standing silently in the bicycle cellar, his shock of white hair illuminated, eyes glinting. He’s seriously terrifying, and keeps muttering offhand comments about how I’m only twenty but am already ‘a working girl’. I have no idea what he was doing hanging out in a dark basement at seven in the morning, but I’m taking it as further proof that he is Machiavelli personified. With the exception of this, however, I really like living here…!

I had a really wonderful time in Cologne last week. It was so lovely to spend time with Jana and her sister Julia and to see a little bit of the city. After eventually locating each other in the catastrophically busy Hauptbahnhof, we took the S-Bahn back over the Rhein to pick up Julia, who had just completed the marathon in stifling heat. (Well done again!) Jana and I decided watching a marathon is practically as tiring as running one, so we spent the rest of the evening relaxing in her lovely home and watching a good film with a silly ending. The next day we took the tram back to the centre, walked along the river for a little while, visited the cathedral (the largest Gothic structure in all of Europe!) and I learnt my new favourite German phrase (‘Schade Schokolade’!) It was so nice to see a familiar face and finally meet up with Jana in her natural habitat – thank you so much for having me.

The same day I left Jana and Julia, the teaching course in a tiny village outside Cologne began. It was entirely surreal but also honest-to-goodness fun and generally hilarious. Lovely friends were made and many interesting people met, many competitive games of table football played, a practice lesson taught (nerve-wracking but ultimately enjoyable) and I enjoyed eating meals at the self-proclaimed ‘militant’ vegetarian table. It was held in some sort of nunnery, and the part of the building where we were staying was built into the side of a huge cathedral completely out of place in the humble surroundings. Phil and I explored the church during one of the endless Pausen we seemed to be presented with, and it was even more stunning on the inside. Possibly my favourite part of the entire week was the blessing of being allowed to sit outside in the shadow of the cathedral in the evenings with newfound friends, beneath the plentiful stars. It was so nice to meet other assistants and hopefully we shall all be able to meet up to share success and horror stories in the near future!

After a perfect visit from my beloved mother this weekend, I began at both schools this week. They are as different from one another as to be barely believable and I already have a favourite. One is on the western side of the city, which means I get to ride my bike through the Stadtpark almost every day if I want to (a dream come true!), and chaotic, large and sprawling. It is split across three buildings – and a fourth, near my mother’s old haunt Gesslerheim, a twenty minute bus ride away – and is currently in the middle of a complete renovation, thus school unity is rather lacking and lessons are regularly disrupted by the sound of manoeuvring cranes or the sound of bricks falling to the ground from a great height. Nevertheless the teachers are friendly, the students are bright and funny and the St. Fidelis building is painted a gorgeous egg yellow which lifts my spirits every time I look at it.

The other school is situated right beside the Ostentor, parallel to the Danube, and working there is as if stepping into an Erich Kästner novel. It’s perfect in every way. The building is beautiful, and moreover built on a top of a Roman ruin, meaning that the city’s ancient walls protrude from the side of classrooms and run throughout the entire basement. The teachers are so helpful and friendly; I don’t think any of them besides one knew I was coming, judging from the looks of surprises on their faces when I introduced myself as the new English assistant, which means they are all the more happy to have me. I am enjoying talking with the classes and getting to know students, and especially love the ten year olds who are so cheerful and energetic, even if I have no idea how to speak to them in appropriate level English. I was allowed to sit in on their Beratungsklasse on Tuesday, in which they were asked to talk about what aids and disturbs concentration; all agreed frische Luft (fresh air) was a must for good concentration, cue every student rushing to the windows and opening them as wide as possible. They’re comically sweet. One of my mentor teachers there is possibly the happiest old man I have ever met. Every morning he bounds into first the school office and then the staffroom, exclaiming ‘Guten Morgen!’ in exuberant tones and bringing a smile to everybody’s faces. Yesterday he sat down beside me to ask how I was getting on with such heart-wrenching kindness I almost wanted to cry.

Besides school, I finally met Eloise this week. We went to the cinema with Piers, who is also an au pair here, and though the film was unnecessarily violent for my tastes, I had a really nice time anyway. The cinema was German style crazy, with a curly slide to transport one from the top floor to the ground floor which we, of course, decided we couldn’t not try! This garnered some very disapproving and confused glances from the more sensible German cinema goers. Eloise and I also went to a disastrous salsa class yesterday evening (never again, we have decided!) and today, because my lessons were cancelled, we ate lunch in the Altstadt and then went to pick up Felicitas. Felicitas’ school reminded me so much of the kindergarten in Sauerlach, and she sang so many of the songs they sang there too which made me feel very nostalgic (in a good way.) It’s nice to finally have some friends my age who live here, and we already have plans to go ice-skating and lots of other fun things!

I am still besotted with Regensburg. The cobblestones and the hanging baskets of flowers in almost every Altstadt window, the old men in argyle sweaters standing on their doorsteps watching the day pass by, the wind dancing along the surface of the river, the buildings painted in colours so bright they make even the greyest day more lively; it’s dreamlike. Today a woman flagged me down on my bicycle to ask for directions (I was mistaken for a local! Hurrah!) She was incredibly sweet and after figuring out where we were on my map and thanking me profusely, she and her two companions whipped their floral handkerchiefs out of their handbags and waved goodbye to me as I rode down the street. I also had half an hour to wait between going from one school to the other this morning, so I was sitting on a bench with my bike watching the river flow by when two tourists stopped and asked me in broken German if they could take my picture because they were so delighted to see ein typisches Regensburger Mädchen (a typical Regensburg girl) enjoying the day…! I didn’t feel like breaking their hearts by telling them I wasn’t even from Germany, let alone Regensburg, but it was just another reminder of how friendly people are here, and how willing people are to make a connection with complete strangers. It’s such a refreshing change from what I am acclimatised to.

Goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever written so much about myself. I feel absolutely self-centred! Please do tell me how you are doing too! I hope you’re well. Please come to visit! Lots of love! xx