Saturday, 8 October 2011

I suck at blogging....

Was it really April since I last posted? Guess I must have been having so much fun in Germany that I forgot to blog! Either that or I'm just a lazy so and so. I'm now back in Birmingham, and I can't possibly write everything that happened in Germany since April in one post, so I'll just give a short summary. In April about 15 of the Erasmus students went to Austria. The days leading up to this trip left me in a bit of a quandary (quandary? quandry? I never know how to spell that word.) because we would be spending 6 hours on trains and everyone else would be drinking copious amounts. As I knew that I would be driven completely insane very quickly if I stayed sober while everyone else was getting extremely besoffen (drunk in German), I thought I would at least need some alcohol for the journey so that I could be tipsy enough to not be driven mad, but sober enough so that I don't get completely ruined myself. Unfortunately I only really like alcopops i.e. WKD and VK, and I don't like beer. Pretty tragic that, since I was in Germany! So a couple of days before the trip I went to the local Kaufland (basically German equivalent of Carrefour - sells just about anything) which has a basement full of booze, to try and find some kind of drink that I would like. I ended up buying a bottle of Sex on the Beach and a weird grapefruit flavoured alcopop. As Balazs would say, "Das ist ein grosser Fortschritt!" - meaning that's a big step forward. Anyway, the next day we headed for Austria. 6 hours, 3 trains, a random Bavarian woman who couldn't understand a word we were saying, and vise versa, an amazing afternoon in Salzburg and a village in the middle of nowhere. As my mum sometimes reads this blog, I won't mention the name of the village here. The Erlangeners will know what I'm talking about though!

On to the lectures. Term started in May, and I chose to study two linguistics modules, a top level oral class (what was I thinking??) a module on 19th century American literature, and something called Interkulturelle Kommunikation. All very interesting. Actually that's a big fat lie, I found the linguistics stuff very boring, even though I'm usually very interested in linguistics. Meh, you can't have everything.

The next few months were peppered with another outing - this time a cheeky weekend in Munich - various nights out in bars and pizza places, and of course the ultimate event of the summer - the Bergkirchweih, or just the Berg as everyone calls it. This is a MASSIVE beer festival that runs for two weeks every year in May or June, up in the higher part of the city, hence the name Berg (German for mountain). This year it was in June. I was quite apprehensive about going to this, because as I said, I don't like beer. I thought I would be surrounded by drunkards and feel rather awkward. As it happened, I absolutely loved it! The first day of it was completely insane: Kim's boyfriend Ben was visiting, as was my friend Jenny's boyfriend Tom, so the two couples plus me and Becca went to the Berg. It was so busy! It wasn't all about the beer though, there were all sorts of fairground type games and rides, and loads of food stands selling everything from decorated gingerbread, candyfloss, pretzels, French crepes and a weird Hungarian bread thing called Langos, which Becca and Kim got totally hooked on! I still don't really understand what it is. Ben got ridiculously drunk, but Tom left early, having drunk too much. Ben was weirdly proud that he had out-drunk an American! I went to the Berg about 4 times and loved it every time.

After the Berg, things went by pretty slowly; I didn't do much of consequence apart from going to the Schlossgarten occasionally, but then the dreaded R word came around. Yes that's right: revision. Oh my DAYS. I had 4 exams and I was continually lamenting having to revise in July and August - the exams in Erlangen took place in the last week of July and the first week of August. Revising in May and June is bad enough, yeesh! I was determined not to fail or miss any exams after the debacle of the exams in Lyon. I ended up passing 3 out of 4, but I still don't know my mark for the 4th one because the stupid uni didn't release the Schein (results certificate) until the 16th of September, and me being my usual scatterbrained self, I forgot to ask for it after I left.

There was one thing which alleviated the stress of exams: at the end of July my family came to visit me. I had a lovely time with them; they stayed in a hotel round the corner from my flat and I showed them around Erlangen on the Sunday. Dad said it wasn't what he was expecting. I'm not quite sure what he was expecting, but my mum and brother seemed to like it. On the Monday we went to Bamberg. It's a gorgeous old town about an hour from Erlangen. As I had already been there twice before, I was able to tell my family about the things I had seen, although rather embarrassingly I couldn't remember much of the historical stuff that I'd been told when I went there with the orientation course. Mum and Dad really enjoyed the day in Bamberg, but my brother seemed to be bored by it. I should have seen that coming: he hates history and walking around old towns, whereas Mum, Dad and I love it. Because my brother didn't seem to like Bamberg, I felt a bit stupid for having suggested going there. I still had a great day though, and I finally managed to buy a Dirndl!!! You have no idea how exciting this is! A Dirndl is a traditional German dress, often in two colours, which is worn with a blouse and an apron. I'd been wanting one for ages, in fact I had wanted to buy one for the Berg, but they were so expensive in Erlangen that I couldn't get one. When I found one in Bamberg for €60, I could have squealed with joy! So now I have a gorgeous blue and black Dirndl. Unfortunately it's a bit tight so I want to lose weight so I can wear it! No idea when I'll actually wear it, but still. On the Tuesday I had lectures so Mum, Dad and Michael went to Nuremberg for the day. Funnily enough I met up with them in Starbucks between my two lectures because Michael had left something in the hotel, so they had to come back to Erlangen. Bonus!

This is turning into a very long post, so I'll just say that Mum came back to Erlangen in August to help me move out, and then the madness at home started. That's definitely for another post. Bis bald/au revoir!

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Two months in Erlangen already - OMG.

Wow, I really need to be better at this blogging business. Once again it is ages since I last posted. I have now been in Erlangen for 2 months. I can barely believe it! A week after I arrived, my orientation course began and I met some of the most awesome people ever, including a Hungarian guy called Balazs, who claims to be here to party and studying is just a thing on the side. His catchphrase in German is "Ich bin hier zu Party, studieren ist eine Nebenwirkung!" He also loves to use the word awesome. I say this word a lot but he says it in almost every sentence! Balazs created our Erasmus Erlangen group on Facebook - this earned him the nickname of "Capitano." Best nickname ever!

The orientation course was very helpful; the people who organised it helped us to set up bank accounts, register with the local authorities and organise health insurance. I can't believe how much more helpful the Germans are than the French! I had to do all of this sort of stuff myself in Lyon, it was not fun at all. Other things included in the orientation course were a tour of the university library and a session of "intercultural training." The latter was interesting, albeit a little strange. We did a quiz about Germany, and we were taught about various social norms such as how far away to stand from someone. Apparently the acceptable distance to stand from a German is 1.2 to 3.6 metres. At the intercultural training I met the second group of exchange students, who made our already awesome Erasmus group even more awesome!

The orientation course wasn't all bureaucracy and boring stuff, we also had 3 day trips. I will write about those in another post because otherwise this post will be insanely long and you will all get bored or else strain your eyes. So I will move on and talk about my intensive language course. I took a placement test which would determine the class I would go into. I found the test to be alright, it was a simple fill in the gaps type thing. The next day we were given our results and told some more about the course. When I found out that I had been placed at level C1, my heart sank because I thought this meant I was going to be in the bottom class. However I then realised that according to the European testing standards, A is the lowest level and C is the highest. You can see why I got confused! Once I realised I was in the top class, I was relieved but I also began to panic, because I was expecting to be in one of the middle classes. I was worried that I would end up feeling way out of my depth. When the course started the following day, I actually felt comfortable at the level I was at. After all I wasn't expecting this course to be child's play; I wanted a challenge. As a warm up exercise the teacher asked us to get into small groups and discuss how we felt about the course. I was in a group with Anna, a Polish girl I knew from the orientation, Balazs and two other people. Balazs instantly started complaining that there was too much homework. This frustrated me because he seemed to think that this course was going to be like primary school i.e. lots of talking and hardly any written work. He had said that he didn't care whether he made grammar mistakes or not. I wanted to scream at him! If you don't care about mistakes, then why on earth are you doing this language course?! Anyway, I digress. The language course lasted 4 weeks and it was seriously intense, but I got a lot out of it. I definitely think my German improved. Some of my friends in the lower classes didn't get nearly as much out of the course as I did. Even in the B2 class (the level right below mine) the exercises were incredibly basic; the sort of German one would have learned in second year. I felt sorry for the people in these classes, since they couldn't move to a higher class, so the course was pretty much a waste of time for them.

After the language course ended, there was an international evening - a party where everyone brought food from their own country. I made little triangular jam sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Very English picnic! I don't quite know why, but they were really popular! The variety of foods was really interesting: the Japanese people brought sushi, the Americans brought mac & cheese, one of the other Brits made bangers and mash - yummy! My friends Becca and Kim made pancakes. I had a great time, there was good music, good food and cool people. One of the funniest moments was when Balazs made an announcement over the microphone, saying "why is there no beer?" I laughed so much! Later on, the Japanese students did a traditional dance for us. It was fab! Unfortunately I had to leave this amazing party early because I was going home the next day and I still had to pack. Details about my time at home in another post. I promise I'll post sooner this time!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Escapades in Erlangen

I have returned! It has been way too long since I posted. Things have been so crazy that I just haven't had the time. I had a lovely Christmas although it was too short, damn French and their weird holidays! When I went back to Lyon everything just exploded. I had 2 exams - Ancient History and German History. The former was 3 hours of pure torture; I had no idea what I was supposed to do and I ended up writing one pathetically vague paragraph. German History wasn't quite as bad but it was still a nightmare. When I got my results I found myself in the s*** like I have never been before - I had missed some exams and failed some others. I wanted to cry! In fact I did, while having a long and scary Skype call with my parents. I was convinced that I had blown my entire degree and I wouldn't be able to go to Germany. However I eventually discovered that the exams in France don't count towards my degree, so I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. After all that faff, Mum came to Lyon to help me move out. I thought I had managed to get my flat into a decent condition before she arrived, but when she did come to my flat, she went absolutely mental! So we embarked on an epic cleaning mission. Mum spent most of the day cleaning the hob, which was encrusted with black muck and goodness only knows what else. At the end of the day we were both shattered! Long story short, we flew home the next day and I had 3 weeks at home to look forward to. Nothing of great interest happened during those 3 weeks, except for when I went up to Birmingham to visit Sophie, Kiddy, Beth and James. I had a cuppa in their house and then went to the Soak for lunch with Beth and Kiddy. After that I met up with someone who had been begging for me to come back to England ever since I left for France: Rucksana. We met up in Joe's and chatted for ages :) Rucksana I love you so much!

While I was at home I realised that three weeks is an incredibly short amount of time when one has so much to do, and before I knew it, Mum and I were beginning the journey to Germany. We flew to Frankfurt and then the real adventure began. We had to find the train station, and Frankfurt airport is huge. While we were wandering around following signs for what seemed like forever, a faint memory surfaced of Robert Evans mentioning in one of his many off-at-a-tangent random stories that Frankfurt airport is a nightmare. Oh how I hate those crippling moments of deja vu! Eventually we found the station and waited for the train to Nuremberg. Once on it we had a comfortable 3 hour journey and then the nightmares started again. Oh F***, I thought to myself as I saw no sign of an escalator at Nuremberg station. We had to drag the luggage up and down several staircases, which was no mean feat especially with Mum's bandaged finger - she had cut it on the cheese grater during my 3 weeks at home. The train to Erlangen was somewhat grotty, but that was the least of our problems. Having looked at a list of the stops, I was convinced that we needed to get off at the second stop from Nuremberg. However, when we got off, I silently cursed myself again - I had got us off at the wrong stop. Instead of being in Erlangen, we were in some middle of nowhere place called Unterfarrnbach. I was mentally kicking myself while Mum managed to find a timetable, but she couldn't make any sense of it. Thankfully I thought to look up a timetable on my Deutsche Bahn phone app. We waited about half an hour and eventually got on a train, and this time we got off at Erlangen, where my buddy, Tabea, was waiting for us. She walked us to the outside of the station and gave me some maps before leaving, and then we got in a taxi to the hotel. I was still feeling like an idiot over the train mishap, but I was also relieved that we had made it. On Tuesday we went to my new residence and met with the Hausmeister, or caretaker for those who don't speak German, to collect my keys. He showed us to my flat and explained how everything worked. I love my new flat, it's much nicer than the one in Lyon! I have a proper wardrobe instead of just a space with some hangers, and more shelves than anyone could ever want. Unfortunately, capacity for cooking here is even less than in Lyon as I only have a hob, not even a microwave. I'm doomed!I have a lovely view though; my room overlooks a church and there are lots of trees which are bare at the moment but I imagine the view would be even better in the spring when the trees have their leaves on. Living opposite a church means I get to hear the clock tower striking, just as I did living in Victoria Halls last year. Aaah the memories of Selly Oak :) Another bonus is that the weather in Erlangen has been great, clear and sunny all day, although it's still very cold. After we unpacked one of the cases, I met up with Tabea and she showed me around. We had a walk around the town centre and Tabea took me to a huge shop called Kaufland, which appears to be Germany's answer to Carrefour. It sells just about everything! We had a look around there and then we went to a cafe in the old town.  It's hard to believe I've already been here almost a week! Yesterday I went shopping with Tabea and we went to the Schlossgarten - that's the castle garden. It's a lovely place to sit and hang out, and I am told it's even nicer in the summer. I have discovered that Fasching, a German carnival that is known in other cities as Karneval, starts in Erlangen on Monday. The Kölner Karneval (Cologne Carnival) is undoubtedly Germany's most famous, but I am excited about Fasching. Tomorrow I'm going to a Fasching parade in Nuremberg with Tabea and her friends.

Well I think this post has gone on long enough, so I'll end it here.
Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland/Best wishes from Germany!