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.

Today....today 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: http://www.sweetsoulmusicrevue.com/
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