Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas, among other things

So, it's been too long since I put one of these up, but such is life. I would claim to have been too busy, but it's mostly that I kept forgetting, or putting it off on account of some big event that was coming up, and thinking to myself, "I'll write one after that."

Lots has happened! Things are going well, and I'm feeling good. I turned 24 a little under two weeks ago, and it was a pretty good weekend, all things considered. I was in Heidelberg dancing on Friday night, and I got a birthday jam, which was great. For the non-dancers reading this: a birthday jam is where the birthday person starts dancing with someone in the middle of a circle of the other dancers, and then people come into the circle and steal the birthday person one by one, so that you dance with a bunch of different people. It's a little more complicated in Blues, since you're often in close embrace, but you don't have to be, and so long as the dancers are conscious of that fact, it works just fine. After that I spent the night at the house of two good friends of mine, Merle and Lorenz. Merle dances, and the couple have hosted me about five times, now, for which I brought them a gift that weekend. As usually happens when I stay there, we talked until far too early in the morning (I think it was around 6 or 6:30 this time), and we also watched Planet Terror, which I thought was absolutely hilarious.

That Saturday I met my friend Ozge (another dancer) in the city and we walked around for a bit, and she bought me dinner at the student Mensa, or cafeteria, which was nice of her. It was neat to get to know her a little better. I then met my friend Anette, the teacher with whom I'm traveling to Denmark in just a couple of days, and we intended to go to the movies, but discovered that the film we wanted to see had shown the previous week, and not that week. So instead she showed me one of the popular old bars in the town, where we had a drink, and then headed to an Irish pub for another round (though she was drinking soda, since she had to drive), and met a trio of Arizonans who had just moved to Heidelberg for work. They were friendly folks. Then we drove back to her place in Mannheim and had some Sekt and she gave me the tiniest birthday cake in the world (a little Lindt chocolate), which was sweet. I was not about to ask her to drive me back to Rimbach, and there were no trains, so I stayed over at her place, and took the train home in the morning. On Sunday I just met with a friend for coffee, and then had a quiet drink in my favorite pub. It was an uneventful birthday, in many ways, but a good one.

The end of school went fine, though I still have a number of Klausuren to correct (such is life), and Gluehwurst was nice. The faculty got together for Gluehwein (hot mulled wine) and wurst and Anette stuck around and we walked around Rimbach for a while because there was.....snow! We got a nice coating of snow, which I claimed to be Germany's birthday present to me, and the town looked gorgeous. Anette and I made dinner together, and then met some other teachers in Bistro, a bar in town. She had taken the train (because of Gluehwurst), and so crashed at my place before taking the train back the next morning.

I spent the 24th with my friend Jana's family, and had a lovely meal and a wonderful evening meeting her grandmother and aunt, who were really sweet. Jana and her parents sang a song together, with Bernd playing guitar and Silke playing mandolin. I ended up singing The Christmas Song with Bernd, as well. Around 10 or so we went to the Sonne, and had a couple of drinks before all going home. It was a really nice evening.

The 25th I spent with Linda Johnke, who was the second guest teacher of the new generation, about 9 years ago, and her husband Mick. We had a great day, just relaxing, eating together, playing games, and watching movies. We watched the movie Paul, which I found to be hilarious. It's about a pair of British nerds (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), who go to San Diego Comic-Con and end up meeting an alien. It was great, especially for people who caught all the geeky references, haha.

Last but not least, I just got back yesterday from the Black Forest, Rheinhaussen specifically, where my good friend Dan Hiller lives. Dan was an Rotary exchange student in Janesville more than a decade ago, and has since been back a couple of times. The last time I was in Germany, I spent more than three weeks with him and his parents and sister in Schramberg. It was great to see him, and meet his wife Silvia and their 21 month-old son Noah, and their one year-old Swiss mountain dog Samson. We went out for Thai, and went into the hills to hike in the snow a little bit, and let Samson run around (he was so excited about the snow!), and then Dan and I also went and saw the latest Mission Impossible film, which wasn't bad. Incidentally, that also has Simon Pegg in it. Alas it was dubbed, but oh well. It was still entertaining.

Now it's just packing, and then off to Mannheim for a New Year's party, and then off to Denmark a day after that! I hope all of you had lovely Christmases, and have a wonderful New Year. :-)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Of things that were, and things to come

So, it's been quite a while since I updated this, partially due at first to not much happening after Berlin, and then due to too much happening after Berlin.

I don't plan my blog posts out in advance, as you all may have figured out, so I'm attempting to recall precisely what all has gone on in the past month. A lot. After Berlin, I was correcting tests for the most part (took me longer than it should have, but now that I think I have the hang of it, the next ones won't be as bad). Then the MLS Christmas Concert took up most of the following week, what with tech rehearsals and the like. It went rather well, for the most part, though I am a little sad that the video I have of me singing "Call Me Irresponsible" with the Big Band is from the first night, since I (for some reason) had a music stand on stage, even though I didn't need the music. So I stayed more or less rooted to the spot and sang, and while I sang it all right that night, it wasn't as entertaining as I could have (and indeed, did) made it. The next two nights went progressively better, concerning my singing, and on the last night I borrowed a fedora from a sound techie, and sang in that, and made a proper show of it. It was a blast. I also sang with the choir, with the Voice Boys a capella group, and played with the orchestra. All in all it was a fun concert; the school's percussion ensemble put on an especially entertaining show. The conductor wrote a piece played on toys, and it was really neat.

That Sunday I also went to Heidelberg to finish planning out the Jukin' Blues intro I'm teaching with a dancer who lives there named Annette; she's a fabulous dancer, and I'm pumped to be teaching with her. It's fun to teach in a scene outside of MN, too. We taught our first class last Friday, and it went pretty well, though some people didn't show up. This past weekend was also a Solo Blues workshop with a dancer from France named Joyss, which was neat, and helped me in a number of ways, though some of the stuff we covered wasn't really my thing. It's really good for me to work on my solo dancing, though, and Joyss was an interesting instructor. I also DJed more than I ever had before; an hour to hour and 45 minute set Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. It was fun, and a good learning experience about DJing for dancers. I got pretty positive feedback about it, too, so that was good.

Not everything has been going well, since I was also kind of in an uncertain situation with a local girl, who was (understandably) back and forth about getting involved with me, since I would be leaving at the end of the year, though that is over now that she's interested in someone else. Still a little weird to hang out with her under the circumstances, but all things considered, I'm pretty much just over it.

Some of the things that help with that is making new friends! One of the fellows I stayed with during the Blues workshop was a Finn who lives in Amsterdam, and we had a lot of fun talking over the weekend. He also has an awesome name: Ilari. So that was cool. There is also a new teacher at the MLS (who is taking over for a teacher who is on maternity leave), with whom I have become fast friends; she's interested in theater and dancing, so it's not too far fetched. She even came out to part of the Blues dancing party on Friday night to see what it was all about. She follows well, too.

Of things to come: This coming weekend I'll be going to Frankfurt to see a friend I met in Brazil, so that should be a lot of fun.

I have another class test for my students coming up, this one being on the novel we're reading, The Giver, by Lois Lowry. It's a good book, and not too difficult to understand. I feel like I've been a little too easy on them with how much reading I've been giving them, though. Oh well. After that it's Christmas Break, which should be fun.

I will be celebrating the start of the break with the teacher dinner group that meets here and there, which should be fun. Then Christmas Eve will be with my friend Jana's family, and Christmas day will probably be spent Skyping with some people back home. After that I think I'll be heading to the Black Forest area to visit Dan, a former exchange student from waaay back when. I stayed with him and his parents when I was here last, seven years ago, and now he has a family of his own, so I'll be visiting them. And after that....Denmark! Another two exchange students invited me to Copenhagen, and the teacher I mentioned above had mentioned something about traveling together somewhere (she called it an intensive practical English course for her, speaking with a native speaker for extended periods of time, haha), and I suggested Copenhagen, so we're currently organizing that. I can't wait!

So, things are going well, all in all. I also just got a chocolate Santa from my neighbor for St. Niklaus Abend, so that's fun ^_^

I hope you all have a wonderful December and Christmas, and New Year (though there will probably be blogs before then).

Also, I turn 24 in less than two weeks. Weird. Dunno what I'll do.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Berlin and Center Stage

Well, I have just returned from Berlin, which was a really great experience for several reasons. I was one of the chaperones sent with the first half of the 11th grade class, though I was not assigned my own particular "P group," or my own group of students to look after. Instead I sort of floated with different groups as needed, helping out whichever teacher was in charge, and going to whichever exhibits or museums they did. I had some choice in the matter, which was nice, though not always, of course. It was a really fun trip, though also busy, and a little stressful at times. it's difficult to be a good chaperone (or a good teacher/supervisor, etc) when your language skills are not up to par. Making very basic language mistakes while attempting to tell a student to be quiet, or to stay with the rest of the group, etc, tends to detract some from the weight of your authority.

Anyway, the trip was good, and I saw and heard a lot of interesting things. Berlin is a fascinating city; you can see evidence of its history, conflict, and change on almost every corner. I would love to go back there some day and just wander around for a while. I'm not a big fan of structured trips, so the schedule of the Klassenfahrt got a little irritating to me, in some ways, but we ended up having a bit more free time than I expected. Of course, that also meant that I hadn't really planned or looked into what I would like to do during that free time, so I mostly bummed along with other teachers. I did go see Blue Man Group, which was really neat, but I would not pay that ticket price to see them again. I would see them again, for a lower price, but I bought the tickets regardless of the price, in this case, because I figured I probably won't get a chance to see them again. They put on a really unique show. Music, comedy, general strangeness. I would have LOVED to have been the audience member they pulled onstage. They're a very funny group.

I came back to some bad news, as well, though. One of the students from Center Stage I had charged with finding out whether or not another student was planning on continuing to come or not emailed me and said that Julia would not, in fact, be continuing with the group. With the three members that came to me the week before Berlin (the day I had printed the scripts for The Importance of Being Earnest, a show which requires at least 8 people) and said that they would not be continuing with us, and a student who was on the Berlin trip with me as well has said she probably won't, either. So now I've gone from having a cast of 9 and a show picked out to having a cast of 4, and no show. So guess what I'll be looking for this week? -_-

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Herbst Ferien und Klausuren

So, I just returned from Herbst Ferien (Fall holidays, for the English-speaking crowd), a week of which I spent hanging out in the area of Munich, spending time with a friend I met in Brazil. She and I met on a bus tour around the Northeast of Brazil five years ago, and this is the first time we've seen each other since. It was a blast, though. She plays on a Regional League volleyball team, one step under the Bundesliga, or national level. Her team hopes to move up to the Bundesliga, and I went and watched one of their games an one of their practices. They have some hardcore drills. For example, there is a player on the team who is a specified defensive player; she doesn't have to serve, and she can come into the rotation at different times. One exercise involved her standing on a narrow beam while the other players took turns spiking balls at her, which she then tried to return. Her balance and coordination under the circumstances were very impressive. I'd have been falling all over the place.

We also went hiking in the mountains, and then went to see Schloss Linderhof, which in this case would most accurately be translated as Manor House Linderhof, since it is rather small, and shares very little with castles like Neuschwanstein. It's a beautiful area, though, and I learned some rather interesting things about Ludwig II, such as the fact that he preferred to sleep during the day and work during the night, and that on the rare occurrences where he gave audiences, he made them come to see him in the evening hours, rather than getting up for them. I'd been there once before, actually, seven years ago, but it was neat to go again, especially at a point where I appreciate such things a little more.

I also caught up with a fellow Ole in Munich, Chenoa Albertson. She's a dancer, and is working as an au pair here for a year. Another highlight was meeting my friend Franziska and her boyfriend for dinner. Franziska and I met only once, seven years ago, on almost the very last night I was in Germany. I went out to a bar with my friend Chrissy Hiller, whose family I was staying with, and Franziska was one of her friends, and we've kept in touch on and off since then. It's always wonderful to me that we can make and keep such connections, despite long absences, or not seeing each other often.

The only other major thing that has been occupying my time is correcting Klausuren, which has taken me significantly longer than I expected. Partially because of the work itself, but partially also because I'm dragging my feet a little at doing them. Some of the scores are rather lower than I'd hoped, and I feel bad giving back such grades; I like my students, and I'm anticipating some poor reactions to their grades, for some of them. :-/ But such is the role of a teacher, I suppose. I hope it will motivate them to work a little harder. Some of the mistakes I'm seeing are things they should really be past, though we have been doing some grammar and language review, of course. And most of the grades aren't bad, else I would need to seriously reexamine my test, etc. That's one thing for which I will always be grateful to my experience at Explo: the simple lesson that my teaching and my curriculum is not always good, and even when it is, it is always open for reflection and improvement.

Next week is the Berlin trip, which I'm looking forward to. You can probably expect another blog right after it, telling you all about it.

I also had my first bike-related injury in Munich. Well, in Iffeldorf, actually. I fell and scraped my up hand pretty good, though nothing to cause a fuss over. I'm lucky I didn't do anything worse, since I also hit my cheekbone on the pavement and bent my glasses a bit. They bent back easily and don't look any the worse for wear, and thankfully my cheekbone also shows no marks. It wouldn't be fun to come back and teach with a scraped up face. :-P

All the best to you all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bikexperiment, Day 2

(For those wondering, that should be pronounced "bike-speriment," with "bike" being pronounced normally.)

So, day two of riding. I rode for approximately an hour-ish today, though I don't know exactly how much. I braved the embarrassment of riding in front of others and rode around my neighborhood a bit (there's very little traffic there, so it's not a big deal), though one across the train tracks definitely pointed and evidently got a kick out of my obviously novice bike riding. Oh well. I've never minded making a fool of myself in public, so long as I knew I was doing it, and did it on purpose. I'll deal with it.

It went pretty well. I can get started/stay upright the vast majority of the time, though I'm still rather unskilled with things like turning and going uphill (though I managed uphill a couple of times, on a relatively low-incline hill), but I'm getting better all the time, that I can tell. I'm also rather sore right now, because I tense up way too much, and only start to relax when I'm going downhill, or something like that. Keeping my fingers on the brakes keeps me from squeezing the handlebars too tightly, which is also a good thing.

Hope all is well with all of you!

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm on a Bike

Props to you if you recognize the reference, but don't worry about it if you don't, because it's not a very good song anyway.

If I wanted to reference a good song, I'd have put something along the lines of "I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my biiike..." (Thank you, Queen, for writing so many songs that involve bicycles. Even if they are rather bizarre lyrics to include.)

So, it's Herbst Ferien, which means I have two weeks of no school to get through. I say "get through" because the first week of that is a little tough. My social circle is not very large in Rimbach, right now, so I'm, well, a little bored. I went out to dinner and then watched a thoroughly bizarre Danish film called "Adam's Apples" with some other teachers on Friday night (a film I'm still not sure if I actually liked. Some parts were funny, but on a whole, I'm not certain that I'd bother watching it again.), but other than that I don't have much by way of plans. Hanging out with a friend tomorrow, which should be fun, and I was potentially going to go to some kind of ski-aerobics class with another friend tonight, but I may not go to that, because my tennis shoes are soaked, and I'm a little sore.

Which brings me to the title of this post (it's official, I'm needlessly verbose. It took me....what, twenty lines of text to get to the point?), which is that I have officially begun to teach myself how to ride a bike. Before you all go crazy and ask "You can't ride a bike? Can you swim?" (If I am asked that question one more time, I swear, I might explode.), yes, I can't ride a bike. I got to training wheels as a child, and refused to learn how to ride properly. Mostly it was because the continued failure to actually learn it made me furious (yes, I know that falling down a bunch is normal; didn't make me any less mad), and I was a very stubborn child. I'm pretty much just happy that I didn't break the bike in the moments I was angry enough to really want to break something.

See, I used to have a really bad temper. An irrationally bad temper. Yes, anger is usually irrational, but I would get angry at the smallest, stupidest things. For the most part it was a childhood thing, and I grew out of it. I was pretty sure in Brazil, for example, that I had nothing to worry about as far as my temper went anymore. I have discovered over time that certain things will still set me off pretty easily. One of those things is feeling incompetent or failing repeatedly at something, which usually leads to the feeling incompetent. This doesn't happen too horribly often, since I usually also tend to try not to take anything too seriously, since whatever it is I'm doing probably isn't exactly life-changing. But every once in a while, something really gets me going. Attempting to ride a bike today was one of those things.

Anyone who has spent the majority of their life unable to do something that 90% of the population does without actively thinking about, and has tried to learn said thing, knows what I'm talking about. It's even a cliche. "It's just like riding a bike." I loved when people would say that to me, so that I could calmly turn to them and say, "I can't ride a bike." And then watch their face contort as they tried to think of what to say to that. But seriously, it is ridiculously frustrating and embarrassing to have so much difficulty learning something that is essentially the poster-child of "easy."

Which is why I took my bike to an abandoned patch of grass, out of view, and practiced for two hours.

I can stay upright, at least for a while, though I probably could have chosen a better spot to practice, since the ground was uneven and the grass ridiculously long. But I'm getting it. I need a lot of practice, but the simple fact that I actually TRIED today is pretty huge. So I thought I'd share.

And no, I'm not riding on the street much yet. I don't feel like getting hit by a car anytime soon, so I'd rather have much better control before I actually try to go anywhere.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


So, I went to the Mannheim National Theater fest, and saw a number of neat previews of the season's shows, as well as a couple snippets of "Avenue Q," which will be performed at the theater sometime next year, I believe. I'm not sure exactly when. It's translated into German, which I find a little unfortunate - some of the syllabation was a bit forced in the translation - but all in all I think they did a great job of it. It'll be a good show. I also got to see a preview of former guest teacher Linda's show, Bitchfresse, which is about hip hop and the like in Germany. I went and saw that this past Sunday, and that was quite a good time. I couldn't understand everything, but I got most of it, and it was hilarious. The two actors/singers who performed it played off each other very well, and were great both musically and physically. One of them seemed a bit nervous, as I saw him visibly shaking at one point, but I've certainly been there. My intermediate acting final I was shaking like a leaf during my last monologue. Thankfully it looked at least semi-intentional.

Things are going well otherwise. My English students had to take their first Klausur (one of the two major tests during their term, for the Americans reading), and I received a few unkind glances in regards to it, but I think most teachers get that when giving a test. All in all they look pretty good, though now of course I have the joyous task of correcting them. It's a little more complex than grading homework. But I'll survive, since after this week it's fall break, during which I'll be spending a week in Munich. I can't wait; the friend I'll be staying with is a girl I met in the Amazon while in Brazil, and I haven't seen her for five years. I'll also probably stop by and see a friend I made last time I was in Germany, seven years ago, and catch up a little with her. It should be a great break.

I have decided (almost 100% certainly) that Center Stage will be performing "The Importance of Being Earnest," by Oscar Wilde. I think it's a good show, and relatively simple in meaning, though of course not all of Wilde's puns and innuendo will carry to a German audience. I think we can make it work well, though, and it should be a good experience for both me and the actors in the group. I'm excited.

That's all for now. Hope all is well with all of you.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Incredibly Small World

So last night I'm out Blues dancing, and after a group of us leave the bar where we dance, we're walking down the streets of Heidelberg, and suddenly someone calls my name from behind me. At first, I'm confused, so I turn to see if I was maybe just hearing things, but then someone calls it again. I see a tall fellow with blonde hair walking toward me, a younger guy with a beard, who doesn't really look familiar. He says, "Is your name Ian? Ian Hathway?" I say yes. "From Janesville?" I say yes, wondering who the hell this random person is who knows where I come from, and he says "I went to Craig high school. Eric; we were in Band together. I played sax."


That's right. I come to Germany, go Blues dancing in Heidelberg (admittedly a very international city), and by chance run into a person who went to high school with me. I saw him AGAIN by chance early this afternoon at the train station, and we talked a little bit more. He graduated in 2009, and after seeing him again, I clearly remember him being in Jazz Band with me my junior year, when I was in Jazz II. He's studying at the university in Heidelberg for a semester.

The world is a far smaller place than we ever realize.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Well That Was Fun

Things are collectively going well, which is the good news. I cooked dinner for five other teachers tonight, and it went pretty well, though somehow some of the rice didn't cook properly, but it was all right in any case. It's interesting trying to host anything in this apartment, though, since there really isn't a table made for more than four people, nor seating for even that many, so it's kind of an adventure. It all worked out though, and we had fun, as usual.

I'm also going Blues dancing again tomorrow, which should be great. I will have to be careful, though, which brings us to the bad news: I have somehow managed to rather heavily bruise my ribs on my left side. There is no outward sign of it, no swelling or discoloration, but the pain is definitely reminiscent of a bruise, as opposed to having pulled a muscle or something similar. I say somehow because I'm not quite sure how I did it. I did collide with another player while playing soccer on Tuesday last week, but my ribs didn't start hurting till the following Sunday, so I'm not sure if that's the sole cause. So I'm taking it easy and not moving too fast for the most part, since anything that jars my upper body hurts. Unfortunately, laughing also hurts, so I spend a fair amount of time in pain when I hang out with some of my friends here. One compassionately suggested that she could punch me whenever she made a joke, so that I wouldn't laugh, but I kindly refused her generous offer.

Things are picking up in school. I'm now singing with the a capella group, the Voice Boys (kind of an amusing name, in my opinion), as well as playing with the big band, playing soccer (though not right now), and tomorrow is the first meeting of Center Stage, the English theater group, which I am now the head of. The teacher who normally leads it is pretty swamped, and although she'll be helping me at all stages of the group, I'm the one actually in charge of it this year, so that should be fun. I'm looking forward to it, though (Dona, thank you for so many good theater exercises! I will put them to good use!), and to picking a show for us to do. I also have to write the first Klausur, or major test, for my English class. They'll take that on Wednesday.

The other note of bad news, which is something I find thoroughly infuriating, is that a student turned in homework that was quite literally a paragraph copied straight out of a National Geographic article. I cannot stand intentional plagiarism like that. When a student forgets to quote something, okay, that's an honest mistake, but cribbing a whole paragraph and turning it in as your own is lazy and insulting to your teacher, besides being illegal. Not to mention how ridiculously obvious it is. Suddenly perfect grammar and an expansive vocabulary? Hmm, whatever could this mean?
I spoke with my class about the issue of plagiarism at some length, and I believe I made enough of an impression as to not have to deal with it too much in the future, but only time will tell. I of course also spoke directly to the student in question after class was finished, and said student seemed genuinely repentant, so here's hoping the lesson sticks.

I think that's all for now. I hope life is treating everyone well.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Best Day

Yesterday I went to a theater piece at the school, called "Tannöd," and although I only understood perhaps 40% of the speech, I enjoyed it. It was an interesting, dark piece, about a family who had been murdered, and from what I understood, I believe the killer stayed in their house for a couple days, feeding the cattle, etc. Very bizarre. The play itself dealt with the after effects, interviews with other townspeople and things of the sort. It's amazing how much can be communicated through simple body language and expressions.

But the real meat of this post, though it may not be very long, is that I just had the best day. My friend Jana picked me up around 12:30, and announced "We're going to Heidelberg." I had no problem with this, and so we got into the car and drove to Heidelberg, talking about music and listening to a French group called ZAZA, who I really like, now. I joked that I was glad I'd made a friend with good taste.

In Heidelberg, we continuously joked around, and ate Japanese for lunch, and walked up to the castle in the humidity (and were sweating more than we thought we would. She griped, so I picked her up and basket-carried her up the last set of steps as a joke.), and just stood and enjoyed the view. I hadn't grabbed my camera, since I didn't realize we'd be going to Heidelberg, but I'm sure I'll go there again. We turned back when we saw you had to pay to actually go into the castle, and randomly talked with some older ladies from Alabama on the walk down the hill. We then stopped and ate what are without doubt the BEST WAFFLES IN THE WORLD. I kid you not. I had a fresh-made Belgian waffle with homemade raspberry sorbet and hot chocolate sauce on it. It was pretty much the best thing I've ever eaten. She had the same, but with maracuja sorbet. We walked back to the car and drove back to Rimbach, where I showed her some Lindy Hop videos so she had some idea of the kind of dancing I do, and then upon her protesting that she cannot dance, I taught her a little basic Blues, at which point I discovered that she follows very well. We then proceeded to dance for an hour and a half to the songs on a Blues CD I gave her last week, before she went home, instead of watching "Shawshank Redemption" like we'd planned. Best change of plans ever made.

Today was the best day. ^_^

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What Will You Do When You're Old?

So, in my conversation class today, we talked about what we're going to do, and what we all want to do in the future, and I encouraged the students to ask questions, either of me about the United States or about myself, or else of each other, as well. And one student asked about whether or not I wanted to have kids later in life, since I had mentioned that I'm not a fan of small children. I responded that I don't want to have children, or don't see any reason for me to have children (with my usual caveat that I'm not going to say "I will never have children," lest I end up with eight). And another girl promptly asked me, "But what will you do when you're old?" I knew what she meant, more or less, but for the sake of a little black humor I cocked my eyebrow and looked at her, and said simply, "Die." I laughed and said I was joking, of course, but that I would probably continue doing when I was old whatever it was I was doing the year before, and the year before that, etc. And she said, "But you'll be alone." To which I responded, "Of course I won't. I have brothers, and they'll have kids, and I have very close friends, and very tightly knit friendships. But as for dying alone, well, even if I had kids, I wouldn't force them to live in my basement till I died, so I highly doubt that they'd be in the house in any case." We all laughed and joked, and kept the conversation light, but it did spark a thought that I think is rather odd.

In the U.S., and here as well, it seems that people think that to have family means only to get married, and have kids. I think that's silly, since our families are much larger than just that small nuclear unit, but also because we oftentimes forge friendships that are at least as close as the bonds that blood makes between us. My brother Andy, for example, is neither biologically nor legally my brother, but calls my parents Mom and Dad, and is such a part of the family in so many ways that he can't really be called just a "friend." He's my brother. For my parents, for quite some time I imagine it was almost like having another son, since he was at our house so often, and would help out with things when we needed it, would go on family trips with us, or take care of things for us when we were gone on trips he didn't/couldn't go on. The concept of ever actually being alone, truly alone, is preposterous. The only way for someone to be alone is for them to be physically or socially isolated, by themselves or others, from contact with other human beings.

Coupled with this idea is the implication that a person can't have a fulfilling life without having kids. That, I definitely think ridiculous. Now, this is not to take anything whatsoever away from parents. My own, for example, are incredible people. As a matter of fact, I would argue that raising a child is by far the most difficult endeavor a human being can undertake. But to think that it is somehow the only way for a person to feel fulfilled in their life is something I just cannot credit.

So, if I end up old, lonely, and bitter at all my friends who have children, please remind me that I said this now, and say "I told you so." :-P

Best wishes to you all.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Out of Shape

I just got back a bit ago from playing soccer with some teachers from around the area, and while I did all right (though I missed a TON of shots that should have been sure things. I blame playing in tennis shoes :-p haha), it has definitely been too long since I've run that much.

I had originally written something about how I was clearly less fit than the other players, but in retrospect, I really didn't do that badly. I mean, I didn't play as well as they did, but my ball control has always been sub-par, and I've never been able to look around and be as aware of the field as I should be when I have the ball. That being said, though, I did have a couple of good plays, two assists and two goals, out of the 14 or so that we scored. The main difference that showed was in strategy; I'm not used to playing on that small a field, and I've never really learned how to, except through trial by fire. You learn a lot that way, but it helps to actually be taught, too. It was a lot of fun, though.

This year is turning into practically a St. Olaf experience: if I keep on the way I'm going, I'll have a foot in everything that happens at MLS. I've been invited to sing with the Voice Boys (the school A capella group), I play in the Big Band, I am sort of in the process of organizing two dance extracurriculars, one for students and one for teachers (though I still need to run those ideas past Frau Wilhelm, to make sure that I have the O.K. to do so), and I'm going to be starting another conversation class, possibly two. When Center Stage (the English theater company at the school) gets going, I'll have a proper full schedule. But hey, I'm an Ole; that's how I like it.

Speaking of schedules, there were some major changes made this week due to various reasons, one of them being how late the classes often go, especially for the 11th grade classes. It's not uncommon for them to be in classes till past four in the afternoon, and then if they have an extracurricular afterward, it's past six when they leave. That being said, they also don't always have every class. German schools are organized on a weekly schedule, rather than a daily one, so every day's lessons are different. Anyway, they rescheduled a bunch of things, and changed classes and people around, and the end result is that instead of my previous 24, I now have 31 students in my English class, more than half of whom I have not met before (it was 30, but a student emailed me and begged to be let back into my class; an encouraging experience for me). I still have to arrange the lesson for tomorrow, but we'll see how it goes. My dance class is slightly smaller now, which will make it easier, actually, and by suggestion of another teacher who sat in on it the other day, I'm going to try giving the whole lesson in English, and then get feedback from students on how it went, and how much they understood. It will make teaching easier, since I won't always be grasping for words, and they're an 11th grade class, so they understand English pretty well.

The weekend was great; I DJed a Blues dance in Heidelberg on Friday night to a positive response, so now I can say I'm big in Germany :-P haha Saturday I played games with my hosts, a wonderful couple named Merle and Lorenz, and I taught them how to play Egyptian Rat Screw (ERS for short), and they loved it. Lorenz especially did rather well. For those unaware, it's a simple card game that involves slapping the central pile of cards whenever two like cards are played on top of each other, or with only one other between them (called a sandwich). It's a lot of fun, and it really hones your attention and reflexes. Saturday night I grilled out with some other teachers, and then we went to a Kerwe, what was essentially a city fair. They had fair games, bumper cars, etc, though it was very small. There was also a very large tent/center where one could buy beer and other beverages, and there was a stage there for dancing, with a DJ (who was incredibly irritating). It was all right. I know they're rigged, and mostly a waste of money, but I do enjoy carnival games, on the rare occasions I play them. There was a shooting game there that I gave a try, and won a small prize, but I could really see where my shot was hitting, so I had difficulty figuring out if the gun shot low, or high, etc. But it's a carnival gun, so who knows?
Sunday I had breakfast with my friend Jana, and we went to listen to a band playing in a nearby town. The drummer was a regular at the pub Jana works at (the previously mentioned Sonne), and a pretty cool guy. He and I talked about the Blues for quite some time, when we met in the pub. The band was good, though some of their songs were definitely just playing what the crowd wanted to hear. They definitely have potential for more, but...a band has to make a living, too. was an adventure. I had to go to Heppenheim to have my visa and whatnot cleared, and planned on taking the bus. I was foiled, however, in that either the bus ran about seven minutes early, or at least fifteen minutes late. It didn't show up, so I had to try the train, which was kind of a roundabout way of getting there, but I got there about 13 minutes before my appointment. I discovered from a taxi driver that it took about that long to get to the Auslanderburo if you knew where you were going. I did not. So I arrived late for my appointment, much to my chagrin, and was then sent on a merry little chase trying to figure out where I was actually supposed to be. Thankfully everything worked out in the end, but it was a very frustrating morning. The return trip offered a wonderful surprise as well. I got on the bus, and two stops later, was thrilled to find that this bus was going to be the home for the next twenty or so minutes of about thirty children under the age of six. While I appreciated the irony of reading the book American Psycho while in a foreign country surrounded by my least favorite demographic, I was not particularly thrilled at their presence. In truth they were pretty well behaved, all things considered (surprisingly so), but it was still just one more little surprise to add onto the day. Oh well. Such is life.

That's about all (Oh? Is that all? He says after posting a small novel), so I'm going to end this here. I hope all is well.

Oh, on a personal note, I would like to congratulate my friends Llama and Dan, who just got married this past weekend, and my friends Tom and Megan, who are now engaged (and became so in a wonderfully nerdy, creative way). And while we're on the topic of congratulations, my parents recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary, which I think is spectacular. All my love!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Getting the Ball Rolling

Nothing terribly exciting, but some things getting moving I figured I ought to say something about. Last Thursday Romy and I met with Helmut Hartmann and Hans-Jurgen Schmidt about the Living History project we are heading together with some of the students at MLS. We talked for hours (I mean that literally) about the history of the program and the new generation of teachers, about how the program was funded, and all sorts of other things.

Romy and I (she does the lion's share, I have to admit) will be working with a class of students to create an exhibition that will be showcased at the end of the year, chronicling the history and development of the program, and how it exists today. Frau Wilhelm's hope is that it will be transportable, and that we can bring it to St. Olaf to be showcased there as well. Herr Hartmann and Herr Schmidt gave us a lot of information, and we'll be working with the students on Thursday to get things started in full.

On a thoroughly unrelated noted, I had a pretty good weekend. On Friday night two other teachers and I, Annett and Susanna, went to see Planet of the Apes. I was unsure as to how I would like it, especially seeing as it was dubbed, but I had wanted to go see it. I'm glad I did; it's rare to see a science fiction film that is moving as well as thrilling. I highly recommend it.

On Saturday I went to see a band called Soulfinger. They were playing at Rimbach's "Cool Tur" festival, a pun on the German word for culture. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but I really loved the band. They had some great vocalists, good instrumentals, and put on a great show. I also met a number of Americans at the front of the group of people dancing. They noticed my dancing, we all started dancing together, playing off each other, and at one point I asked one of them where she was from. She said she was from Alabama, and I told her I was from Wisconsin. She was a bit taken aback, and told the others, and we all sat down after the concert. Turns out they all live in Heidelberg, and the husband of one of the ladies was one of the singers in the band. So I got to meet a couple of the band members, and made some new connections in Heidelberg. This is their website, for anyone interested:
There's a handy little pair of flags in the upper left corner of the text display that you can use to toggle English or German. One of their singers toured with James Brown, as well. It was a pretty great night.

Other than that, things are going well.

Oh, and one more thing....

Friday the teachers are heading to Mannheim, I believe, for part of the day, and then afterward I'm going to take the train to Heidelberg, where I got in touch with the Blues scene. I've been in contact with some of the dancers there, and I can crash at one of the dancer's houses for the night, since the trains to Rimbach don't run very late. I'll probably stay Saturday in Heidelberg to swing bomb a park there with some of the dancers, and then there's a (Blues?) houseparty that night. Knowing Blues dancers, there will probably be at least some dancing that night. It will also be a great opportunity for me to get in touch with the dance scene in Heidelberg, and make some connections there. I can't wait. :-)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

So...I'm a Teacher...

Yesterday was my first day of teaching at MLS, and I think all in all it went pretty well. I started the day with my 8th grade dance class, which was six eighth-grade girls, some of whom already had some dance experience (Disco-Fox is a popular dance in Germany. It hasn't really spread, that I know of, but one video of it I saw looked almost like Hustle, but it's not, so I don't yet know the basics of it; I'm sure I will learn.). We will be probably about 9, next class, with the possible inclusion of a boy who is more or less auditing the class when he has time (what he's actually doing is coming to it as an AG, or extracurricular activity). So needless to say I'll be teaching everyone how to lead and follow, because otherwise it would just be silly. It went pretty well, though teaching dance in German was interesting. My technical dance vocabulary in German was pretty limited, so that's my homework for teaching dance classes. That, and make CDs so I have plenty of music to use. But I think it will go well.

My English class went well, too, I believe. A couple kids seemed a little too cool for school at the start, but I was still fairly pleased with how they responded. I want the class to discuss more, though, since right now it's very....teachy. Obviously, I am supposed to be teaching, but what I really want to accomplish with the class is making them more comfortable having a discussion in English; expressing their opinions and arguing their cause, things like that. I may end up playing Devil's Advocate a bit in class, but we'll see how things go. I may not need to. Should be interesting, regardless. I think they're a good class, though, and we'll see how the short writing assignment I gave them comes back. It was very strange, also, standing in front of a class room at the chalkboard. Kind of a surreal experience, in some ways, like I wasn't sure it was real. But it was a good experience.

The other teachers have been very helpful, both in helping me find resources to plan lessons, etc, and also just in helping me with daily functioning at the school. Everyone has been very nice, and tomorrow I'm sitting in on a 12th grade English class, because their opening unit is on the US, so we'll be having a discussion. Should be interesting, and maybe fun. Plus I'll get my name out there a little more, so that maybe my conversation classes (which I have to advertise for) will be better attended. I'm not too concerned, since small groups are good, too. I also hope to do a dance AG, since not everyone can take the classes, and that would be a little more free.

Things will get a bit busier after I add the two or so conversation groups, and also Center Stage, the English theater group, and possibly the dance class. Right now my teaching schedule is actually rather meager, but I know I'll be gradually busier as it goes, most likely. On a wonderful note, I have found Blues and Lindy Hop in Heidelberg. Now I just need to figure out a way to get there and back, since trains stop running to Rimbach rather early at night. So either I need a friend here with a car who wants to learn to swing dance, or else I need to find someone in the scene in Heidelberg I can crash with after dances. I'm emailing the groups' aliases to find out. :-)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Fine Weekend

So, hanging out with the internationals on Thursday was a blast, and ended up being significantly less expensive than I anticipated, too. The Russians paid for most of it, saying that was just how they do it, and we could pay next time. I of course mentioned that there probably wouldn't be a next time, it being probably my last time in Heidelberg for a while, but that didn't seem to faze them. I spent the night at a Japanese guy's apartment, who has been living here for about a year and a half. He's a cool fellow.

Friday morning it was back to Rimbach, and the opening conference for the Martin Luther Schule. Truthfully I didn't understand the vast majority of the things they went over, though Annett helped me figure out some of it. I was introduced to the faculty, though just by a sort of "By the way, this is the new guest teacher, welcome." A stand and a wave to the other teachers, that sort of thing. After the conference I sorted out my contract and whatnot, so that I now officially work for the school. Yay! Also, the loan from the school went through fine; since I don't actually get paid till after my first month, the school lent me a sort of interest-free advance on my first paycheck that has to be paid back by the end of the month. It's rather helpful.

Friday night I wanted something to do, and didn't have any plans, so I went to a bar that Annett had said she thought I would like, Die Sonne, and as soon as I ordered, the bartender says in a vaguely New Zealand/German accent "Where you from?" We get to talking, and it turns out another of the guest teachers, Devin, was something of a regular there. The bartender's name is Christoph, and he pulled up a chair and drew himself a tall beer and we talked for a while, until the bar started to get a little busier.
Turns out he's the owner, not just the bartender. He'd been to New Zealand for some time, and dated an Irishwoman for a while, and had lived in Cleveland, of all places, for something like seven weeks, and his English was great. He was hilarious, too; he and his employee, a 20 year old girl named Janna, made a couple jokes about it being a gay bar, and her being his husband, and him being her wife. We talked quite a bit, and I had a number of drinks; after the first two, I asked him what his favorite whiskey in the bar was, because he and I had talked about various liquors and the merits or failings of them, and he brought over a bottle of sixteen year old Scotch that he said was "his baby." He poured me a glass of water to wash the previous drink off my taste buds, and then poured me a bit of the Scotch in a cognac glass, and told me to take my time with it. He needn't have bothered. It was pretty potent stuff; really strong flavors, the kind of Scotch that you can feel the vapors of before the liquid actually touches your mouth. Not something one should drink quickly. Normally I'm not much for straight liquor, and a bottle of Scotch like that would probably last me a year, how strong it is, but it was good. It was a great night, just sitting and chatting with him and Janna, and for a little bit a couple of the other guys at the bar.

Christoph gave me his number, and said if I needed anything at all, I could give him a call, or stop by the bar to talk to him, and he's do his level best to help me out, and he meant it. We'd talked a lot about travel and people and the random things that happened when you were traveling. When he was in Cleveland he wasn't working, so one day he went out wandering around a bit, and ended up chatting with a construction worker (the guy was looking for a light, and Christoph had one on him), and ended up sitting around talking with the whole crew for a while, and became their regular gopher, hanging out with them and getting lunch for them while they were working, etc. And one time when he was in the McDonalds they usually sent him to, a bus broke down outside, and a woman came in saying they had about thirty kids, all cognitively disabled (I don't know if that's the correct term or not, but it's an accurate description), and he said it was the coolest thing he'd seen. No one took charge, or said "Okay, here's what we're going to do," or anything like that. Everyone just got up, walked outside, helped the kids down from the bus, and the lady working the register called up someone, presumably the manager, and said "Yeah, we have like thirty handicapped kids whose bus broke down coming in. On the house, right? Yeah, I thought you'd say something like that. Just wanted to check." And these random folks in the McDonald's sat and helped feed these kids, helped put them back on the next bus, and went about their days. The story really had nothing to do with him giving me his number and offering to help me out and show me around, etc, but it was a good story.

Saturday I went out with Annett and Timo again, and had some drinks, which was a different experience for me. Since people in Germany can drink beer, etc, at 16, and hard liquors at 18, it is not uncommon to see students in the bars in Germany. So since we were there for a former student's birthday, a number of the people there are actually still students at the school. Thankfully none of them were in my classes; they're all 12th year students, so I don't have any of them in class, because I think that would have been just too strange for me, starting out school after having been at a bar with my students. The good news was that I discovered a bit more interest in dancing, including from a couple guys, so that's helpful.

Today I watched a couple soccer games; the city of Rimbach has a couple teams, and I went to the field and watched both games. Both teams lost, today. The first, well, they didn't really seem like they wanted the game until the last twenty minutes or so, at which point it was about 3-1, though they should have gotten a second goal; there was an offsides call made that didn't seem right. But oh well. The second game Rimbach should have won; they were controlling the game for the first 70 minutes, and had a number of opportunities, whereas their keeper hardly touched the ball during that period of time. As so often happens, though, the other team stepped it up in the last quarter of the game, and ended up putting one in, and holding onto the lead. That game got pretty rough near the end, too.

School starts tomorrow, though I don't have to be there particularly early (woohoo!), and it'll mostly be getting used to the classes and things of that sort. I have dance and I have English, so we'll see how they both go! :-D I have to organize my after school conversation classes and (hopefully) another dance group myself, and advertize for them. So that will be fun. :-) Anyway. That's all for today!

P.S. My neighbor is amazing, and brought me soup the other day. She's Hungarian, and evidently just enjoys giving occasional gifts of food and the like. It was good soup ^_^

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Ourewällisch" mit US-Akzent

This article from the Odenwälder Zeitung on July 1, 2011 captures Virginia's excellent speech and my (Michael's) farewell from the school.

Click to enlarge.

Katy Perry You Ain't

Hello again! The weekend passed pretty uneventfully, though I did wander around the town a little, and saw for myself just how beautiful a town it really is. But all in all the weekend passed rather dully, mostly just catching up on sleep. I have a feeling that will not be the norm for me as the year progresses.

On Tuesday night I had a picnic with four other teachers at the MLS: Romy, Tilo, Timo, and Annett. Annett I hadn't met before, but the others I had eaten with last week. It was a great picnic; Romy brought bread and cheese and wine, though the wine actually didn't get opened. Timo brought various other drinks, and I brought strawberries and cookies and a couple fresh tomatoes to slice. Tilo brought vegetables and dip, and Annett left with presents, because it was near her birthday! It was really a great evening, and on it I made a somewhat hilarious discovery: There are Canadian geese in Germany. There were a large number of them on the pond we sat by, and Timo decided to feed some of them, so we ended up with a crowd of about seven in the water by us. Noisy geese aside, it was a great evening.

Yesterday I was in Benshammer, a nearby town, for a music festival called Vogel in der Nacht, or Bird in the Night. Annett had called me and asked if I wanted to go with, and then Timo and Tilo both said they couldn't, so it ended up being just the two of us, but was still great fun. We chatted quite a bit, and had a great time. I was rather surprised to hear the first band start up playing and recognized the melody immediately. I didn't know what it was at first, as it was a sort of folk-rock ish band, and with a bearded man singing, and so it wasn't until I heard the first line that I started laughing at their choice of song. The first line goes a little something like this...."Wake up in the morning feeling like P.Diddy...."

That's right. Picture that. A rather nondescript German man singing Katy Perry, and not for karaoke. They later followed up that one with Poker Face, among others. It was amusing. They weren't all that great a band, and the singer didn't exactly exercise his vocal range any more than was strictly necessary (and sometimes not even that much...), but it was a fun night. The next band was better, a three-person group with a female lead, and they did a little bit more interesting things, musically. There was a comedy singer, who I literally understood absolutely nothing of, and then a rather odd last combination with a guy who played the flute and insisted on singing, though he really should have stuck to the flute. He sounded pretty good on it, actually. They were the last act we stayed for, and we didn't actually stay for the whole thing, but it was late, and I, for one, had to get up at 6:30 for school. But Annett and I did dance a little bit, though she didn't have much experience. She followed pretty well, though. Mostly I'm feeling a little dance-deprived, but Annett told me there's a dance school in Mörlenbach (a very nearby town), which I didn't know about, so hopefully that will change.

Today I'm staying the night in Heidelberg with some friends from the F+U Language Akademie, and then tomorrow we have the teacher conference for MLS, and school starts on Monday! Saturday it sounds like Annett and Timo and perhaps some of the others will also be going to another music event, perhaps the same festival (it goes on for a week, almost).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Müll löschen

Hello everyone,

One last post on this blog about my wonderful year in Rimbach.

In July I went to a wine festival in Heppenheim with some friends. We got to sample some wonderful drinks, but also many different kinds of food.

At one booth, they were making potato chips. We got to see them slicing the potatoes and frying the chips. I didn't try them, but I did buy some food from an Indian booth, though I have forgotten its name. It was also deep fried, some kind of vegetables and sauce, but I had no idea that the portions would be so large. My friends had had enough to eat, and so I had to throw some of it away.

I said to them, "Ich muss es löschen" which of course would translate to "I have to delete it."

These are the words you learn when you set your e-mail interface to German.

I have now been back in Minnesota for the last few weeks and am looking forward to another job teaching English, this time at a university in China.

Viele Grüße,

Texan German

Here is a really interesting article about Texans who grew up speaking German. I really want to go speak German with these people!

Michael Lenz

Friday, July 29, 2011


I have just returned from a wonderful evening in which I was taken out for traditional Odenwälder supper (the Odenwald is the region in which I'm living), and I had to write something about it, and about yesterday.

Yesterday I was in Mannheim, at the National Theater, because I had spoken with Linda Johnke, and she invited me to see a show there, since she works at the theater. The show was called Standbild Mannheim, where people from the city were invited on stage for one minute, to do whatever it was they pleased. It was an interesting concept, and although most of the acts were pretty monotone, there were some really unique and neat things, as well. It was also free, which is always appreciated. :-D But the most interesting part of the evening was the two minutes during which I was under the impression that I was going to be one of these citizens on stage. I had nothing prepared, of course, and didn't know what I could do to fill a minute (singing "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today" from Avenue Q actually only filled about 18 seconds, and I don't know many songs longer than that which don't last well over a minute). However, while I was eating dinner in a little canteen with Linda, the dramaturg came in and started talking with Linda, and asked if she knew anyone who would want to get up on stage. Linda naturally pointed to me, and I said sure (but of course), and she said, "Then you have to come with me. Now." And so we walked rather quickly to the theater, to find out that the sound checks, etc, had just finished, and that we kinda had to book it, only to then see the person whose place I was supposed to fill. Someone had been missing, and so they were looking for another act, but she showed up, in the end, so I didn't get to go on stage in my first week in Germany. Sad :-( The show was fun, though, and it was a blast getting to know Linda.

Tonight both Linda and Jutta Meyer, a wonderful lady who also teaches at the Martin-Luther Schule, wanted to take me out to eat "ein typisches Oden
wälder Abendessen," and so we just combined, and all went out together: Linda and her husband Mick, and Jutta and her husband Bernd, and me. It was fabulous. We went to Linda and Mick's favorite place, where Jutta and Bernd had not been before, and Mick ordered for me, though I pretty much already knew what I was getting. I had already heard of kochkäse, though I really had no idea what it would be like when I got it. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it was a dish of more or less half-solid cheese when I got it, with a plate of schnitzel and potatoes and sweet onions, and melted rather nicely over the schnitzel, and I suddenly discovered that whatever it actually was, it tasted heavenly. I loved it. It was one of those meals where even though you know that if you keep eating you'll be over-full, you can't resist the siren-song of those delicious last few bites.

With the meal, Linda and Mick and I drank about two pitchers of apple wine (and I think Jutta had a glass), another tradition from the Odenwald, and mixed it with a little bit of carbonated water, or just a tiny bit of limonade (very lightly sweetened lemon carbonated water), or just drank it straight. And of course, we couldn't leave my first traditional Odenwald meal without a little schnapps, so the four of us who weren't driving had a shot, three of us drinking Odenw
älder Bub, an herbal schnapps, and I'm not sure exactly what the other one was called, but it was made from plums and tasted a bit like umeshu (Japanese plum liquor), only less sweet than the last umeshu I had. It was, all in all, an extremely delicious meal, with wonderful company, and lots of laughter and warmth. I cannot think of a better way to end my first week in Germany. Thank you, so much, to Linda and Mick, and to Jutta and Bernd. :-)

And now, to sleep.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Arrival and First Days

Well, I arrived Sunday evening after a trip from Chicago to Frankfurt, via Dublin, and am glad to be on the ground. Romy Schuster picked me up at the airport and brought me back to Rimbach, due to the lateness of my arrival; the trains to Rimbach don't run very late.

The first day was pretty busy, arranging all the things I needed to get started here; Romy was once again a great help, driving me around and helping me register with the government, make arrangements for my health insurance when my job starts, sign the contract for the apartment and get me a bank account. It was slightly overwhelming, all the information coming my way. We also signed for my keys to the school, and had a quick tour through parts of the school. The rest of the day I mostly spent getting used to my apartment, and also the town. I cooked my first meal here, and thankfully it was successful. This is my first time living completely on my own, so I was a little anxious as to how I was going to do with such things. But there's a supermarket very near my apartment, and my neighbors are very nice, so I think all will be well.

Today was a little bit more of an adventure. I had skipped the first day of my language course yesterday, and unfortunate necessity so that Romy and I could get everything done that first day, and so today was my first time taking the trains to Heidelberg. It was interesting, to say the least.
When I first went to buy my ticket this morning, the machine told me that I couldn't buy the ticket I wanted, because the trains didn't run to that location, so by the time I had figured out the ticket I actually wanted, the train I needed to take was just starting to pull away from the station. That was rather frustrating, but thankfully my neighbor saw me and stopped by on her way out, and we talked briefly, and she explained that I could use my ticket on the next train. I thanked her, and waited, and got on. I had to switch trains in Weinheim, and there I discovered, much to my chagrin, that the train I needed to switch to was 35 minutes late. Keep in mind, I was already late to begin with.
So the train finally arrived, and while there was some little confusion at the Academy, I managed to get into my class with little enough trouble. It went very well, and my teacher complimented me on my German, which was a little surprising, since it feels like I've forgotten so much. I got plenty of opportunity to practice later, though. The class itself is mostly teens, though evidently one guy is about 22, and we have one woman who I think is in her fifties, maybe even older. Some are from Switzerland, which I find a little amusing, and some from Slovakia, Russia, Spain, and Georgia. It's an interesting group.
The trip home was more trying than the first. While approaching Weinheim, our train stopped as usual at Heddesheim, but there we were told the train wouldn't go any further, and that we were to disembark and take a bus. We got off, but the bus never came, at least any bus bound for a location near Weinheim. We waited for about two hours, some people getting taxis or calling friends, until finally another train came by; evidently things had cleared up in Weinheim. I don't know exactly what happened, just that there was some kind of accident. One person said someone had jumped in front of a train, but I don't know. While we were waiting, it started to rain lightly, and thankfully I had my umbrella with me (For those of you who haven't seen it, it has a sword-handle instead of a normal umbrella handle; my class got a kick out of it). I was standing next to a girl who had none, so I moved a bit to let her shelter under my umbrella somewhat, and introduced myself after a few minutes. Turns out she graduated from Martin-Luther Schule in 2009, and had Kate Olson as a teacher, and had also met Devin Horne; I can only assume she also knew Laura Schaefer, as well. We chatted a little bit, which gave me a much needed opportunity to brush up on German small talk, and parted ways two hours later in Weinheim.

I am told by many that the German trains are usually not so bad, and I have faith that they aren't, but it has been a crazy introduction to the Deutsche Bahn.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Annals of Teaching English

Last Monday my project week class went to an English language library in Heidelberg. While exploring the library, I saw some of my students holding a book and snickering with each other. One of them said, grinning like the schoolboy he is, "Mr. Lenz, what does this mean?" I then got to explain to them what The Annals of America means, and no, it isn't funny.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Verabschiedung und Geschichte

What a busy week this has been! I am now officially done with my job as an assistant English teacher. Not only have we had end of the year celebrations, but I have also gotten to spend time with some former Guest Teachers as well.

On Monday, we had a staff meeting and then party. Six teachers were retiring and we were celebrating their work at the school, but Principal Wilhelm also said some words about me and I received a wonderful book about Germany's history over the last six decades. Later during the unofficial after party, the English faculty also gave me a book on the cultural landscape (with lots of photos) of the Odenwald and Bergstraße regions.

Also attending the celebrations were four other Ole guest teachers, Linda from Fürth (2003-4), Lawrence from Wolfsburg (1963-4), Lois from Helmstedt (1967-8), and Virginia from Austin, Minnesota (1959-60). It was really fun to get to speak with them about their times at the school. We also discussed hopeful plans for the future.

American Guest Teachers and their classes, 1960 & 2011
Me with my eighth graders
Speaking at the farewell party
Five Ole guest teachers with former principal Hans-Jürgen Schmidt

Sunday, June 5, 2011


We were learning about California in my 8th grade class and I asked if anyone knew the capital of California. Many students thought they knew. I heard Los Angeles, San Francisco, and even Las Vegas, but they had never heard of Sacramento.
Not unreasonably, they thought the governor was still Arnold Schwarzenegger and had never heard of Jerry Brown.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Private grades?

One of the differences between American and German schools is whether a student's grades are regarded as private or not.

Here at the MLS, I've seen teachers reporting grades to their students by reading them out loud in front of the whole class; whereas in America, grades are generally seen as something private, between the teacher and student (and perhaps parents).

The rationale for grades to be public (as it was briefly explained to me by one teacher) is that it allows the students to compare how they're doing against their peers and to check that the teacher is giving them a fair grade in relation to the rest of the class. My students do not seem to be shy about their grades and willingly share them with the whole class.

In America, I remember grade sheets being posted with students given ID numbers so that no one else would know who had which grade. Also, my fellow students would try and hide their returned tests so that no one else could see how they did.

Because their grades have always been public, these students are accustomed to them not being especially private. And also, if someone isn't doing well and will be repeating a year*, everyone will find out about that anyway. Partly, I think this is a result of the students knowing each other better at the MLS. There are fewer students per grade than I had in high school, and students often stick together in the same classes for years on end.

So the big question is: Which leads to a better school environment? I think the teachers should feel the freedom to give grades individually and personalize the learning experience for each unique student, but at the same time, it helps students know where they stand when they see how their classmates are doing. And even if the grades are given in secret, classes usually know in general how their peers are performing. So, I think I'll still hand out grades in private, will continue to ensure that the class knows how they are doing as a group (providing grade tables (Notenspiegel), and the like, which is also quite common at the MLS). And the class should have some sense of how the whole class is doing.

*Repeating a year at the MLS is much more common than I've seen in the U.S.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hathway Vorstellen

Eine kurze Notiz von Virginia (MLS '59-'60):
Guten Tag, allerseits! Es ist schon wieder Zeit, einen neuen Gastlehrer vorzustellen. Nummer 10 sogar! Wir haben Dr. Karl Fink zu verdanken, dass der Rimbach-Teacher-Award jedes Jahr weiter verliehen wird. Thank you, Karl, for your hours and hours of work to advertise the Award, solicit applications, meet with the selection committee and then orient the award-winner about what is in store at the Martin-Luther-Schule in Rimbach.

Der nächste Gastlehrer, d.h. der Nachfolger von Michael Lenz, heißt Ian Edward Hathway (siehe Foto unten), aus Janesville, Wisconsin (unweit von Madison). Hauptfach: Englisch. Nebenberufliche Leidenschaft: Tanzen. Er schreibt:

"I lived for a year in Brazil on a Rotary Exchange, and that experience has had an incredible impact on my life. I started dancing swing and ballroom as soon as I entered St. Olaf, and dancing has since become one of the most important facets of my life. I teach and compete in swing dancing and am a Teaching Assistant for both Ballroom I and Ballroom II here at St. Olaf."

Ian has been involved in several theater productions at St. Olaf, most recently in an Interim production of "As You Like It" and currently as the Vizier in "Arabian Nights." In addition, he is an aspiring novelist!

"My interest in teaching English was sparked when I lived in Brazil. The English teacher there didn't speak any English; she taught solely written grammar and spelling and asked me if I would teach a short supplementary course in spoken English. The course started well but it ended prematurely when the teachers went on strike!"

Ian spent six weeks in Germany as a high school student. Er freut sich sehr auf eine Wiederkehr and bedankt sich bei uns allen fuer unsere Teilnahme an dieser Gelegenheit, ein Jahr an der M-L-S als Gastlehrer zu verbringen. Man erwartet schon, dass er neben seinem Englischunterricht einen Tanzkursus bieten wird.

Herzlich Willkommen, Ian! Wir wünschen Dir viel Glück und viel Erfolg!

Monday, March 14, 2011

What did you think about Germany?

This is a question I was asked this weekend: "What did you think about Germany before you arrived?"

I had no answer. What did I think last July before I arrived? What surprised me once I got here? I knew enough to know I didn't know a lot, so that allowed everything to "surprise" me in an expected way. Can you be surprised when you already don't know what will happen?

I've certainly learned a lot since moving here in late July and I continue to learn. What do I think about Germany now? My first thoughts are that I like living here. There are nice people, interesting things to see, and most importantly, good food. Anyway, it is a big question and will require more thought.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pastor Hornle

The following is a story as told by Josephine Haugen Senft '48, the very first Guest Teacher.

Upon arriving in Rimbach, Germany, in June of 1948, I was welcomed with love and generosity by the Hornle family and the faculty and students of the Martin Luther Schule.  A faculty member told a story about Pastor Willi Hornle, the founder and organizer of the school.

During the war years Pastor Hornle preached in his sermons to the congregation about the Nazis and their misdeeds.  He was informed that the Nazis would arrive in town at some time and "take him away."  What could he do to prevent this was his question.  He had a family and a congregation and he was needed to assist and help them.  He decided that he would join the "regular" German Air Force--which he did.  He was allowed to continue with his work in Rimbach but he wore his Air Force uniform rather than civilian clothes.

One Sunday morning during the church services the inevitable happened.  The door to the sanctuary opened and several Nazi officers entered.  The congregation was stunned into silence.  Pastor Hornle walked down the center aisle and as he approached the Nazis he removed the robe to reveal the German Air Force uniform.  Seeing that, the Nazis could not arrest him.

Sometime between 1945 and 1948, Pastor Hornle organized the Martin Luther Schule to provide educational opportunities beyond the elementary school in Rimbach for the children and the young people of the entire community surrounding Rimbach.

When I met Pastor Hornle and others in Rimbach in June of 1948, the currency reform and the formation of the Bonn Government had not occurred.  At that time, three years after the war ended, Pastor Hornle was still wearing his Air Force top coat, as it was the only coat he owned.  Those were difficult times for the population.  Food, clothing and other essentials for living were scarce.  Also, all families were required to share their homes with other German families who had to flee their homes in the East.

It is amazing to think about the kinds of challenges that faced the early Guest Teachers in comparison to the challenges I face in 2011!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cloth Napkins

Here is a story from Virginia Larson, ´59, who was the Guest Teacher in the 1959-60 school year:
In the upstairs Internat, where I ate many noon meals, we each had a Serviettentasche with a cloth napkin, which we used for one week. By the end of the week, some were pretty gross, having been used three times a day for seven days. Then they all went in die grosse Waesche, where white things were "gekocht" and emerged pristine as the driven snow. Herr and Frau Praetorious presided over that Internat, all boys.
As we celebrate the upcoming tenth Guest Teacher of the current series, Viriginia is collecting stories about the program. If you have stories, feel free to send them to me, and I'll post them here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Trip to Nuremberg

Last December I got to take a great trip to Nuremberg with the thirteenth graders.  We left very early in the morning and didn't get back until very late (I think it was after 10:00 pm).
We started with the Nazi party rally grounds (Reichsparteitagsgelände) where there was an excellent museum in the incomplete Congress Hall.  We also had an outdoor tour of the grounds, including the Great Road and Zeppelin Field.  It was really cold that day, and I did not wear appropriate foot wear.  My shoes were not protecting me from the cold, even though I was wearing double socks.
We also watched Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens), a Nazi propaganda film by Leni Riefenstahl.  Apparently it is illegal to sell or show it Germany today, so the museum had to import a copy from England.
After leaving the grounds, we went to the Nuremberg Christ-child (Christmas) Market (Christkindlmarkt).  There were good chances to shop here and I bought some presents, along with some food and drink, especially Glühwein (mulled wine).  There were some amateur musical groups, especially brass bands.  Again, it was quite cold, and I had to warm up in a grocery store for a while.  Should have bought some boots.

Along with some of my travels to other places, you can see some of my photos from that day here.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Celebrating Holidays

Celebrating holidays in Germany has been a learning experience because, of course, there are different holidays and different traditions for common holidays.

I have been blessed by the hospitality of many people here and been invited to celebrate with them.  For Christmas, for example, I was able to eat with two different families and see the kinds of things they do, while eating some traditional food.

Sometimes it was my turn to share about the U.S.  For Thanksgiving, I invited some teacher friends over and attempted to cook something close to resembling Thanksgiving foods, though unfortunately the results weren't the best.  Thanks to the amazing cafeteria at St. Olaf, I'm still learning how to cook.

For Halloween, I decided to invite my conversations classes to carve some pumpkins while eating some candy.  We had a good time, though it was cold and dark, and got to talk a bit about how Halloween is celebrated in the U.S.  Here are some of our creations (mine is on the left):

Center Stage performs Black Comedy

One of the most fun parts of my job is working with the English theater group, Center Stage.  This year's production was Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer.  The group had been working on it since last spring, and I got to join in in the fall, working as an assistant director.  Our three performances were last week, Thursday to Saturday.  Thursday and Friday were both sold out and Saturday was well attended.

I didn't have too much experience working with theater, but I really enjoyed being involved in a production.  It makes me want to do some more acting in the future.  I also really enjoyed getting to know and spend time with the actors.  I'm sorry that our rehearsals are over for the year.

Here are some photos of the cast, set and posters.