Monday, December 10, 2012

An MLS ChristmasFest

Hey beloved readers,

So contrary to previous statements and promises uttered in my past posts, I failed to continuously update you all, and resorted again to my tendencies of procrastinating until I have a post full of information.  Perhaps over New Years I will resolve to update more frequently, but I hate failing at things, so probably not.  Anyways, I'll try to simply include the highlights of the last few weeks.

I'm not exactly sure how long it's been since last I put quill to paper, but let me assure you, it doesn't matter that I know right when I last updated you all, not too much has happened.  Contrary to my excitement-filled November, my December has been much more run of the mill.  Weeks of classes and basketball have gone by without too much to note.  As far as classes go, I finished grading a ton of tests for my 11th grade class so I don't have too much work at the moment, and soon I will be giving a test to my 9th graders.  Also my conversation class is reading Lord of the Flies which is great to read again!  In terms of basketball, I finally worked my way into the starting five!  Our coach was absent two games ago, and he left some players in charge.  Since the players actually realize that I'm good, they immediately put me in the starting five and I responded with leading the team with 18 points!  Yesterday we had another game and our coach left me in the starting five but I played horribly, so we'll see what happens next weekend... After the game I said to my coach "sorry, I played horribly today" and he responded with "good that you noticed", just so you guys can get an idea of him.  Not my favorite guy.  But my stats are recorded online so that's super awesome, and I'm 2nd in the league in free throw percentage!

The main highlight of the last few weeks came two weekends ago, however, at the MLS Weihnachtskonzert (Christmas concert for all you German-impaired readers).  It was the same weekend as Christmasfest at St. Olaf, and thus a weekend which could easily lend itself to some bouts of college-sickness on the part of yours truly.  However, playing in the Weihnachtskonzert was truly a blessing all weekend.  There was a concert on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights and it consisted of all the musical groups at the MLS and lasted around two and a half hours.  I spent most of my time sitting backstage waiting to play, and while that could have been very boring, it was actually great to meet a ton of students outside of a classroom setting.  I talked to my 9th graders a ton in German, and I think I made a few fans in a grade I previously thought didn't like me!  Like Berlin, it was fun to let my personality shine through in an environment which was much more relaxed.  I gave fist bumps to my fellow musicians as I went on stage and just had a blast.  I had an improv solo with the jazz band which went really well all three nights and drew awesome, but unexpected, cheers from the crowd.  On Friday night a group of students screamed "Mr. Obermann!!" as I walked on stage, which was really awesome.  I also met some upper class students, who spoke great English and several of whom had studied in America already.  It was nice to get to know some kids, who at 19, are really not that far from my age.  Friday night I went out to a bar in town with some teachers and students and we had a really good time, and I ate dinner with a bunch of the upperclassmen after the concert on Saturday.  All in all it was a great weekend filled with music and friends, as trite as that sounds.

Snow has begun to fall here in the Odenwald, and it is quite beautiful.  I plan to get some photos soon, when the timing is right.  Christmas spirit is definitely in the air, students are getting restless, lights are going up, and Weihnachtsmarkte are popping up all over the place.  I'm also starting to miss my family and friends more, and I am really looking forward to the three weeks I will soon be spending with them over the holidays.  This is probably the last update you will receive from me until I get back, barring any life changing events, so Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

School, Friends, Berlin!

Well friends, it's been a great couple of weeks for me here in Germany, and I am continuing my late night once in a month or so ritual of sitting down at my desk and informing you of my recent shenanigans.

After my friend Thomas left to go back to his university, I refocused on teaching for my classes.  Monday went as Mondays usually go and class was not all that enjoyable.  What's more, a couple students really gave me some attitude.  The instance came up after class.  It was really cold outside and they had a free period before their next class.  They wanted me to leave the room unlocked so they could chill in the warm class room, but I had previously been told by a teacher that students weren't allowed to stay in classrooms unsupervised.  I wasn't 100% sure on this rule, however, and I wanted to let the kids stay since it was so cold outside.  However, I decided to be safe rather than sorry, and told them that they would have to leave, and that I would inquire as to whether or not they would be allowed to stay for next week.  At this point, one student in particular adamantly refused to leave and said that I was wrong and she would stay.  It took me getting quite stern before she left and it all put me in a very strange position.  These kind of instances come up more often than I would have thought, where I am asked by a student if they can do something that is questionably within the rules.  It could be in the rules, but it could also not be, and I almost always have to make a split second and uninformed gut call on what they should be allowed to do.  It is, however, a nice exercise on thinking on my toes and being confident in my decisions.  I later asked another teacher if I should have let them stay in the room, and he confirmed that they were not allowed in there alone.  Victory: Luke.  Later that day in Big Band I was also told that one of my solos would be twice as long, and therefore involve a lot of improvisation.  I actually busted some out without too much trouble and it was fun to fool around on my sax with such freedom.  The concert is in a few weeks, I believe.

The rest of the week went great.  I had no class on Tuesday, but I went to Weinheim as usual to coach and play some basketball.  The basketball was great on Tuesday, and we had some great competition for a couple hours.  I got a ride home from my friend Martin, who doesn't speak too much English, but is almost always generous enough to give me rides when I need them.  I also spent much of Tuesday preparing for my Wednesday lessons as I would have to teach participal constructions in place of relative clauses and for time and reason clauses.  A subject which I am able to speak perfectly, and yet I know nothing about.  I did a ton of research on them and prepared a nice grammar lesson for Wednesday's class.  Incidentally, Wednesday went great.  Class went smooth, with my students paying attention as I explained the complicated grammatical details to them.  I even took part in a card game with some of my students during one of the breaks.  Little did I know that this game involved your hand getting punched and knocked on the desk if you lost.  Obviously, I lost, and the students all but destroyed my hand.  I like to think it won me quite a bit of respect, however.  On Thursday I had my conversation class and I ended up being a little disoriented and arriving there at the start of the class before my class.  I was thus at first very distraught at the fact that I had no students showing up to class!!  Was I that bad??  Then I realized that I was 45 minutes early and I sat outside for a while.  Some students showed up early and we ended up talking for a half hour before class.  Somehow I ended up telling them about the St. Olaf Darth Vader video on Youtube, which they found great, and it now has added about 100 views in the last week.  I think it's currently circulating the MLS.  Friday's class also went very well, though I may have attempted to pack way too much grammar into one class, since I would be gone the next week.  Afterwards, however, I asked one of my students if it was too much, and she responded that no, it was fine, and that I was much easier to understand than their last English teacher (who was far better trained than I).  I took that as quite the compliment!  Basketball also went great on Friday, and I was on the same team as Philipp.  He's 18, and other than that, about the exact same basketball player as I.  We definitely enjoy being on the same team though, as we're easily the two fastest players on the court and we can really get running.  After basketball I enjoyed a movie and a nice sleep.

On Saturday, I slept in and pretty much did nothing until later in the evening when I met up with Timo and Annett at the Sonne (a bar) in town.  It was my first time in the bar, which I heard was Ian's favorite, and it was nice to meet the bartender, who speaks very good English.  Timo, Annett, and I then went to the Rimbacher Kerwe, which is basically just a large tent packed with a ton of people and a band, and we hung out there till late in the evening.  I spent a while talking with Timo and Annett, as well as other older students from the MLS.  Later in the evening, I ran into a girl named Marie, who graduated last year from the MLS and is fluent in English.  We talked for a while, and she then introduced me to several other people in the tent.  One of them asked me where I was from, and after I said Texas asked if I was from Austin.  Turns out, he lived there for half a year for work!!  I couldn't believe it, and we were instantly best friends.  I also met another guy who was determined to find me a girl at the Kerwe, despite my efforts to tell him it was a bad idea.  He then ended up introducing me to around ten girls, all of whom were naturally students at the MLS.  So that happened.  Thankfully, I'm pretty sure it was obvious that I was being introduced against my will, and not trying to hit on them.  Around 2am I took my leave and went home, but it was a fun night.

The next day, I went in to Weinheim to coach a basketball game and we ended up having another brutal defeat.  Shortly thereafter, however, I met up with Elizabeth Peckham and family!  For those of you who don't know, Elizabeth is a friend of mine from high school.  We went into the Odenwald and had a nice dinner together, and it was great to catch up with them, before they drove back to Frankfurt.  I then packed my things, and went down to meet the buses which would take me and over 100 students to Berlin and left at 12:15am.

I arrived at the buses to a mob scene of parents and kids all getting on them.  Thankfully, teachers had spots reserved and I had a window seat near the front.  I was hoping I would be able to get some sleep and without my headphones that would have been impossible.  The students were in a festive mood, as they were going on a week long trip away from school, and they talked, yelled, and sang the whole 9 hour drive through the night to Berlin.  I turned on music and was able to get probably around 5 hours of sleep, not bad.  The week in Berlin turned out great.  I won't get into it on a day by day basis, but I'll cover some highlights.  We toured plenty of museums and governmental administration buildings, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of information I could understand during our tours.  We also ended up staying at the same hotel that I stayed at three years ago while studying abroad in Berlin!!  I can't imagine the odds.  A few of my students from my conversation class joined the trip to Berlin, and it was great having students that knew me relatively well and wanted to talk to me.  It was also nice getting to know some other teachers from the MLS better, while we went together with groups of students on tours.  An especially pleasant surprise was how much my German improved.  I got to know several teachers much better, and talked to them only through German.  I'm finally at the point where I have no fear of hanging out with someone for a long time and letting a conversation wander in German.  It's also nice to finally let my personality shine through in a foreign language.  I'm finally being able to express stories in relatively the way I want to, and to spontaneously strike up conversations with soldiers at the Ministry of Defense, for example.  Tuesday night proved to be an especially fun night, as we took the students to a club especially made for students.  It's actually a great idea as it is then easier to control for the drinking age and everyone in the club was young except for us teachers.  It was hilarious going to a club with students, however, and many of them would often drag me out on to the dance floor where I could show of my moves with groups of students.  It was a fun night, and afterwards, I unfortunately did not have enough energy to go find an election party and stay up all night to see if Obama would win.  I found out the next morning by asking the receptionist.  I was also pleasantly surprised this week by having several students come up to me and say that my class is the best class or that I am the best teacher.  It really was quite a confidence boost, and I can see why appreciation from your students is one of the true joys of teaching.  The best one of these moments was when I met several students at a Christmas market and hung out with them for about 30 minutes before our tour.  Several of them ended up buying me a huge cookie heart which says "Opa, your awesome" on it, and one of them gave me his hat to wear.  Meanwhile, they all wanted a picture with me, and seemed to think I was pretty cool for wearing the hat and cookie heart around.  Apparently, many students have now heard of that incident as well, but it's nice to express my energy with them and just have fun whenever I can.  I'm really glad I could get to know more of my students a lot better on this trip.  Thankfully, the bus ride back from Berlin was much more subdued and easier to sleep on.  We arrived back at 2am on Saturday, and I got a much needed night of sleep back home.

Classes start up again on Monday, and I'll be sure to keep y'all posted.

'Till then, the Jayhawk season just started, ROCK CHALK!

Monday, October 29, 2012

...Some Time Later

Dear loyal fans and readers,

I am most sorry for the delay in updating all of you with my life stories.  I have no real excuse for my lateness and I can only hope that those of you eagerly waiting for a post were able to somehow find some other reading material with which to pass the time.  But your patience has paid off!  Here is the story of my life in the last month.

I have continued to play and coach basketball in the area, and that has gone relatively smoothly.  Unfortunately for me, the first basketball game that I coached resulted in a loss by over a 100 point margin.  We had only five players who were far outmatched in athleticism by the opposing team, and after two of them fouled out, it was tough to keep up playing 5 against 3.  Nevertheless, as one not accustomed to losing, that was rough.  It has been tough coaching sometimes, since I am only an assistant coach and the main coach knows a ton more about how to run a practice than I do.  Therefore, I often find myself standing around doing nothing, and it can be frustrating not feeling that helpful.  I tend to enjoy Friday practices a lot more, when we split up the team and I take half of them on my own, and thus feel much more effective as a coach.  As far as playing basketball goes, I got off to a slow start and only scored 2 points in our first victory.  But I dished out 7 assists with 0 turnovers so still not a bad stat line.  However, in my most recent game, I finally came out playing with more confidence and came into the game with our team down 12 in the second half.  By the time I left, we were only down 2.  I had 11 points, 5 assists, and 2 steals, so I'm not at all upset about that.  We did lose by 1 however.  My next game won't be until the 11th.  Basketball continues to be a highlight of my week however, and it's great bonding with a bunch of the guys on the team.  There are several guys around my age and we usually chill together during practice.  One of them lives near me and he is nice enough to give me rides home when I need them.  He also wants to watch some American sports with me in the near future so that will be nice.  I may actually have a Super Bowl party after all!

Teaching is going well for the most part.  I suppose the low point is my ninth grade class.  I'm not sure if it is that age, that particular class, or me as a teacher, but we just don't seem to be gelling that well.  They don't seem quite interested in me or my class, and I'm not having that much fun teaching them sometimes.  However, I plan to continue to make an effort with them and things should go uphill.  It just seems to be a tricky age, when those kids start to really get attitudes and think they're cool, yet are not mature enough yet to really be reasoned with.  My 11th grade class is going great, however, as is my conversation class.  I had a class meeting with my 11th graders, which basically means going out to a restaurant with them, and it was great to get to know several of them outside of class as well.  They are good students, and come to class interested, hence boosting my enthusiasm and leading to good classes.  Meanwhile, some of my conversation class students came up to me and told me they were excited to have me on their bus as we go to Berlin in a week, so that was good to hear.  The main tough part about teaching comes from doing a job that I wasn't really educated to perform.  It's really tough to have confidence in your work, when you don't always know what you are doing, but I am doing my best to welcome this as a challenge to really grow as a person.

Other updates from the last month include my dad visiting and my fall break.  Two weeks before my fall break my dad visited from Texas.  I lucked out on his visit because Wednesday was a national holiday, I had no class Tuesday, I cancelled my conversation class on Thursday, got a sub for Friday, and Monday's class was really early.  Thus my dad and I were basically free to travel the entire week.  We went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmo, Sweden for a couple days and played several rounds of disc golf. Some people may like to get to know a country by seeing the sights, but I find little better than getting your hands dirty while throwing around a frisbee in a park.  We had some great seafood in Copenhagen which ended up costing a ton, but my dad was nice enough to pay!  We also drove to Munich, and enjoyed a Friday evening of Oktoberfest fun in a big tent!  The beer was incredible and the atmosphere was like nothing I've ever really experienced before.  Loud music, people sitting on benches, thousands of people packed into a tent, people standing on tables and singing, a million cheers throughout the night, and many new friends.  I need to go back someday.  It was also great just to show my dad around Rimbach, and have him see where I'm living.  We went to what is quickly becoming my favorite restaurant in the area, and had the local specialty: Kochkäseschnitzel.  Basically it's like breaded veal, covered in grilled onions, covered in melted cheese.  It is amazing.  My dad was also able to come to a couple of my basketball games for the first time since I was in middle school.  His visit seemed to blow by, but it was great having him here.

Only a week later, fall break arrived and I flew to Venice for only 12 euros!!  Ah, the beauty of cheap airlines!  American needs some of those!  Once in Venice, I met up with my cousins Garrett and Stacy, and my spirits were probably as high as they have been all fall.  It was great to see them, and romp the streets of Europe, getting lost among the alleyways as I made many gut instinct calls on how to get back to our hostel.  Garrett and I were adventurous enough to try the local Venetian cuisine: noodles dyed in squid ink, and they did not disappoint.  We next took a train to Bologna, a highlight of which included a girl asking us to take a picture of her with a boy.  They were hugging, holding hands, and kissing, so clearly together.  We then asked her to take a picture of the three of us.  They boy was inadvertently standing in the way, and she needed to get him to move.  She tried to wave him away with her hands, and then called out to him: "Hey..hey...uh....oh what's his name....move!"  Garrett and I were both in shock.  The entire day went by with us wondering how this girl could be with this guy and somehow not know his name.  Then by sheer luck we saw her hours later in the day and we got the chance to ask her!  Turns out, they are dating, and she just momentarily forgot the name....  All the luck in the world to that couple.  After Bologna was Florence, which was probably my favorite of our Italian cities.  It was beautiful and artsy, but with enough of a local and young feel to not feel overwhelming.  We saw the David for 11 euros, which to me was a little expensive, but it was spectacular nonetheless.   We also found our two favorite restaurants of the trip.  The first was supposed to be a great restaurant, and I ordered a traditional Florentine steak.  It was great.   Stacy, however, ordered tripe, unaware that that is a cow's stomach, and upon seeing what she was brought almost threw up on the waitress before swearing off meat forever.  Garrett ordered ravioli, and enjoyed his 8 pieces of ravioli at the price of about 1 euro per piece.  When I got the bill, I almost died at how much my steak cost.  Basically, that restaurant was our favorite because of how absurd the night was.  The second restaurant we found was in a less touristy area of Florence, and was a nice pizzeria with a brick oven.  The pizza was amazing, and we ate there two days in a row.  I was able to eat a delicious seafood pizza, and the staff was nice enough to round down the bill!  Our last meal there cost 33,50, and they charged only 30!  Someday, I will return.  Our last stop was Rome, where we stayed in a great hostel and were able to meet some cool people.  We spent our first night there going to a Lazio vs. AC Milan soccer game at the Stadio Olimpico.  It was amazing, Lazio won 3-2, and we became Lazio fans for life.  The second day was spent walking around the coliseum and just hanging out.  The next morning, I left at 5:30am to fly back to Germany.  It was amazing to see my cousins, and I am extremely lucky to have two cousins who I can consider as close to me as anyone I have in my life.

The rest of my break was spent in a rather quiet fashion, which was needed, and I have begun looking for and applying for management consultant positions back in the US, for when I return.  This past weekend, I welcomed a visit from Thomas Zürn, whom I met while he studied in Austin at my high school for a year!  He lives about 2 hours away from me, and he came and stayed all weekend.  It was a great visit.  We caught up on all sorts of stories from our lives and enjoyed the best that Rimbach has to offer.  Meanwhile, we found tortillas in Rimbach, and made breakfast tacos that we will remember forever!  Gosh, that was a needed meal.  Note to mom and dad: Thank you so much for the salsa.

Rimbach received it's first snow this weekend, though it quickly melted, however the hills within view of my house are still frosted white.  I have another week of classes upon me, before I join the 11th graders in a school trip to Berlin.  I will also welcome the Peckham's to Rimbach on Sunday night for a nice dinner, which I am looking forward to.  That's all for now dear friends, thanks for reading, and I'll try to make this a little more regular, hence keeping the entries shorter!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Third Person

I'm writing here today to alert you of a certain phenomenon which I became aware of during my second or third week here in the Odenwald.  I began to notice that whenever people referred to other people by their names, they would always put the word "the" in front of the name.  For example, it is common to hear one say, "I was talking to the so-and-so the other day..."  It turns out this is just part of the unique way of speaking in this region.  At first it sounded very strange to me, but, being more than willing to take any opportunity to try to blend in, I began to adapt this strange colloquialism.  To say I enjoy it would be quite the understatement.  I have always longed to refer to myself in the third person in English.  Sadly, it just comes off too darn egotistical.  Now, however, I proudly introduce myself as "the Luke Obermann" whenever the opportunity arises.  Alas, such a manner of speaking will be sorely missed upon my return, but makes it all the easier to cherish these next 9 months.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Hey all,
It's been about two weeks since I've updated everyone with life here in little 'ol Rimbach, so here's what I've been up to, with some added commentary.
Two weeks ago ended up being a great week! Classes went more or less smoothly, and I continue to play basketball twice a week.  Furthermore, on Thursday, I went out to Winzerfest in Bensheim with several other teachers, which is basically a festival in the middle of town where they only have wine to drink.  We all drank a bunch of wine and hung out and it was really fun!  I also made tentative plans with another teacher, Timo, to possibly visit Sweden and Norway this coming summer, so we will see whether or not that works out.
On Friday I played more basketball and I was offered a job coaching in town!  That sounds like a great and fun opportunity, and a nice way to earn a little more money!  Furthermore, after basketball one of the players told me he was driving back near Rimbach, so he offered me a ride.  He even bought me dinner at McDonalds on the way back, and we spent around an hour talking and driving back, all in German of course.  He dropped me off near Rimach, where my bike was, and I rode it through the center of town, when I thought I heard "LUKE!".  After investigating, it turns out a friend of mine was taking a short break from work and had seen me.  I'm finally getting to the point where I see people I know almost every time I go out in town!  Victory!  I got a few beers with him in a pub and met some more of his friends.  One of them spoke very good English, and after learning that I don't have a car, offered to give me his scooter!  So we will see if that happens.  I could be living the dream soon, scootering around Europe!  I spent Saturday evening going to a colleague's birthday party.  Throughout the weekend, I was struck by the generosity I have so far encountered in my travels.  Everyone seems more than willing to help me out when I have questions, they are generous with their money and buy me drinks all the time, and they give me rides back from basketball!  Such encounters really make me reflect on how amazing people can be.
I didn't have much to do this last week, as one of my classes involved working on a presentation all week, and the other consisted of an exam.  That does mean, however, that I now have a pile of exams to grade.  Woo!  One of my students showed me how to watch the NFL online though, and it's great to spend a Sunday evening procrastinating and watching football!  Just like in college.  My conversation class is going really well, and the kids really enjoy participating.  After class this week, several of the kids had 45 min till their next class and they were sitting outside talking so they asked me to join them.  We spent the next 45 min just chatting in English, but it felt great to be building better relationships with my students.
I also began coaching basketball this week, for kids ages 14-16.   I don't completely know what I am doing, but Romy kindly lent me a basketball book and it's helping me learn more about my favorite sport!  The kids are great, and they asked me to coach them in English since they said that that is the language basketball was meant to be played in.  Meanwhile, I've been called for traveling many times in basketball which is frustrating and partly due to a difference in European vs American rules, but I am working on it, and this Friday I played some of the best basketball I have played in a long time, though I partially dislocated my shoulder for like the 9th time just because I moved it too fast, so it looks like I'll be dealing with weak shoulders until bionic joints become more readily available.
A couple more thoughts that I've had the last two weeks are as follows.  I have noticed consistently that Wednesday is one of my favorite days of the week, and it is also the day that I work the most.  It's really interesting how I often feel very lazy, but that hard work really puts me in a good mood.  I think I need a job where I am very engaged and work hard all day, but don't have to take my work home with me.  Who knows though, my career is still up in the air.  I am also really glad that I took positive psychology last year.  Sometimes it gets boring and lonely here and I start to get down, but it's incredibly important to live in the moment and see how many things I have that I can be grateful for.  Every time I start to think about how I am living alone in Germany, learning more about myself than I could have imagined, it's impossible to stay down for long.  Even when I'm lonely, this experience is something that I need to spend every moment soaking up.  Lastly, I have often been struck by how many people I have met who really remind me of someone back home, in the way that they look.  It makes me think of dopplegangers, and given the near 7 billion people in this world, the odds really don't seem too extreme that somewhere in this world there is someone who looks almost exactly like most people we know.  Of course, upon encountering this person, most of us would likely deny it to be true.  Anyways, just a thought.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Dinner with Oles

Last Thursday I was invited to eat dinner with Linda, a former Ole-Rimbach teacher.  It was a great excursion.  I met Linda and her husband and their three week old baby Deniz, and we went to their favorite restaurant in the area.  Needless to say, it was great, and I had my first Kochkaese Schnitzel with caramelized onions, potatoes, and homemade bread.  Wonderful stuff.  Furthermore, it was great just getting to talk with a fellow Ole who has already gone through the same experience I am doing.  It was fascinating just to hear all the changes that have already happened in the last 8 years alone, and to compare thoughts on moving to Germany.  We both agreed that one of the largest difficulties is the occasional loneliness and overcoming the language barrier.  It was comforting to really realize how teacher after teacher have overcome these barriers before me as well and had great years here.  It was also really nice to talk about St. Olaf, as students are beginning to move back this week.  Linda was in the Ole Choir and she shed a little dirt on it which was nice, since Ole Band is obviously far superior anyways.  It was great talking about the Caf and the Pause, and kind of a surreal experience to be having such conversations in the middle of the Odenwald.  Above all, it make me really begin to appreciate how this set of Olaf-Rimbach guest teachers really is a community.  We have all gone through a pretty unique experience, and I have no doubt that by the end of my year here I will feel quite a bond with the other teachers, many of whom I've yet to meet.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Few Thoughts

So, Germany is beautiful.  For those who don't know, the area where I am living is called the Odenwald, and even Germans regard it as some of the most beautiful landscapes in Germany.  With rolling hills and thick forests everywhere, it's hard not to be awestruck often.  I have also noticed, that every house in Germany just looks picture perfect.  It took me a while to figure out why, but I've finally put my finger on it.  Gardens.  I don't know what it is about Germans, but they seem to love to have perfect gardens.  I walked down a street in Mannheim the other day, past house after house with small yards in front of their houses.  Every yard was manicured perfectly in its own way.  There are hedges which are cut to perfection lining every yard, instead of fences.  There are patches with herbs and vegetables growing, and beautiful flowers blossoming from flower boxes.  Meanwhile, the grass is cut short and is watered well.  I can't even count the amount of times I have seen people out working in their gardens.  People just seem to have a love of the earth here, and they want their gardens to look beautiful.  Quite frankly, it adds a ton to the attractiveness of towns and neighborhoods too.
Also, I had my first conversation class today.  Basically, in addition to the two regular classes that I am teaching, I am offering a voluntary conversation class to students in grades 8-13.  They can choose to take it to improve their English and learn from a native speaker.  I had 9 people interested the first day and 14 today, so I'm glad to see that interest is increasing.  Most of the kids are in grades 11 or 12, but I have one girl in grade 8.  Anyways, I can already tell that the conversation class is going to be a highlight of my teaching here at Rimbach.  At first, I wasn't too excited about it, why want extra work?  But teaching only 14 students, combined with the fact that these students actually want to be there, provides a really great experience.  I've decided to keep the atmosphere really casual and told them that if they want they can call me Luke.  Meanwhile they are all already really good at English and are really enthusiastic about talking.  Basically we are gonna read or watch anything they want and just have enjoyable discussions about things they find interesting.  At some point, they will be introduced to that pinnacle of art which is Calvin and Hobbes.
In the meantime, I've continued to play basketball in Weinheim, but my money problems have made it difficult to ride the bus or train.  Thus I'm now getting back on the saddle, riding my bike 9 miles there, playing ball for 2 hours, and then riding 9 miles back uphill.  Time to get in shape.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Glory of the Kerwe

I have found Americans to hold several stereotypes about Germans, not the least of which is how great the beer is.  Movies such as Beerfest have helped to solidify prolific great beer drinking as an activity synonymous with Germany.  I'm therefore dedicating this post to sharing some of my experiences thus far with that time-honored activity.
First of all, I came to Germany with a goal of leaving as a far better beer connoisseur than when I arrived.  So far, I am achieving that goal, and I have to say that German beer is just better than American beer.  That is no myth.  It's cheaper and it's way better.  And America should up its game.
Second, I recently had the opportunity to go camping at a music festival with thousands of Germans.  It was a blast, but it also presented a great opportunity to people watch.  Most of the other people there were drunk by the early afternoon, and I noticed two things that are sorely missing in America.  One, is the large quantity of quality drinking songs.  There is nothing quite like seeing tons of different groups scattered around a lawn and a lake all singing loud different drinking songs.  Or sometimes one group would start up and then others would join in.  America needs this, it's quite the atmosphere builder.  Also, it was funny to note that in the wee hours of the morning, when most people were beginning to go to sleep for the night, people would eventually feel the need to yell out at the top of their voices: "HELGA!!!"  This is apparently a pretty well known drunk cry, and it would then be echoed and answered by tons of other people all around the campsites.  This happened about every 20 minutes or so, whenever someone just had the impulse to start a chain reaction of Helga cries.  Totally cool, though mildly annoying if you are taking the task of getting to sleep seriously.
Finally, and by far the most important, I have gotten to learn about the Kerwe.  This, above all else, is something almost too cool for me to describe and something that America needs.  At its core, a Kerwe is like a festival that occurs in the fall and lasts a weekend in a little town, but it is so much more.  Here in the Odenwald, towns are sprinkled around every valley and none of them are very big.  However, every weekend one or two different towns has a Kerwe.  There are booths selling food, carnival rides and games, huge tents with food, and of course, a ton of beer.  Then there are buildings pumping out all sorts of music where people are dancing and just having a blast.  Thousands of people from all over the Odenwald and of all ages come to the Kerwes each weekend and hang out.  There are children running around in the day, students, young adults, and even seniors, all just hanging out, drinking, and having a blast!  On the opening night there are usually fireworks.  I have had the luck of being able to go with some fellow teachers this weekend and it was great.  I already knew like 6 or 7 people at the Kerwe, which for me, was quite an accomplishment!  For most locals however, they see tons of people from all over the valleys who they know.  Essentially, it is like a huge party put on for all the towns, and there is a different party, in a different town, every weekend.  I haven't completely figured out who pays for these to happen, but this is something which has to start happening in America.  I couldn't even imagine how cool it would be if all of downtown Austin would just be shut down for a weekend for a huge party.  Unfeasible perhaps, but unforgettable as well.
Such have been my experiences with beer and the kerwe in Germany so far, but expect an update eventually when I go to Oktoberfest!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Howdy Y'all,
That's a phrase I don't hear often anymore. So it's been about a month since I arrived in Germany now and I figure it's about time to give people updates. Alas, my procrastination can only hold out so long.

First off, I'm kind of writing this on the fly, so as far as excellent grammatical structure and a coherent theme go, expect to be underwhelmed.

By contrast, my arrival in Germany was somewhat overwhelming. I didn't get much sleep the night before I left, because I naturally spent the entire day procrastinating packing and to my horror realized around 2am what a huge job it was to pack for an entire year. Nevertheless, it worked out, and an employee at the airport was nice enough to ignore the fact that both of my checked bags were slightly overweight. Hopefully saying that here won't cost her her job, because she's clearly a baller.

My flight also happened to be delayed on the tarmac for 2 hours with no AC, so that was awesome. Thus, when I landed in Frankfurt, in addition to being jet-lagged and exhausted, I had to frantically find my meeting point with Romy and hope that she hadn't given up on me when I was two hours late. So I dragged over 100lbs of luggage a ridiculously long distance to find out that her flight had also been delayed and I waited for her to arrive. I was greeted by Romy and Tilo who were very accomodating and we traveled back to Rimbach together. At my apartment I unpacked and was very tired and homesick. However not two hours after I landed, one of my podmates from college, Brandon, and his high school friend, Dode, arrived to stay with me two days. I had at first thought that I would need more time to settle in, but their visit proved to be just what I needed. I couldn't be homesick with guests, and together we explored my new town. We even made it to a local bar and I made my first group of friends here in Rimbach.

I spent the next three weeks here at a language course in Heidelberg and it turned out to be quite a great experience. My German improved faster than I could have imagined and I am usually able to say what I want to when I need to. I also met a bunch of friends my age from all over Europe at the language course, and we had fun together on the weekends. It was also a great way for me to practice my German, as it was pretty much the only language we all had in common. Also it has been hard for me to be very talkative with native German speakers because I am embarrassed by all the mistakes I am making. However, with other foreigners, making German mistakes is just normal. Sadly some of the friends I made there have already left back to Greece or to the Netherlands to continue on in their lives, but I hope to see them again sometime. Furthermore, I will definitely continue to hang out with the friends that remain there.

Some of the more potent memories from the first three weeks here are as follows: One night, about ten friends and I hung out on the Neckarwiese in Heidelberg, which is like a 2km long stretch of green grass on the shore of a river that runs through the middle of Heidelberg. We were speaking in like a total of 5 or 6 languages and just enjoying the beautiful sunset in the valley with the Heidelberg castle overlooking us. It was also a blast to go to the swimming pool in Heidelberg and attempt a front flip from around 10ft, the highest I've done a flip off so far, but I'll increase that. I also got dinner with Helmut Hartmann at the local Fischerfest and we enjoyed one of the most picturesque moments of my life. We were eating fish and drinking local beer under a large tent filled with long tables and benches occupied by a ton of locals. Meanwhile, music was playing and the sun was beginning to set. We were sitting on the edge of a hill, looking down on four or five large ponds with walking paths winding between them where couples lazily wound their way home. There were telephone poles strung with light bulbs around these paths. Meanwhile, all around the tent and the pools was a large pine forest. Rising above the trees on the opposite side of the pools were a couple hills with pastures and old wooden fences upon them. I felt like I was in Hobbiton, and Helmut was able to appreciate that. As if that wasn't nice enough, as we ate, a hot air balloon began to land on the hill across from us. As it landed, a herd of horses crested over the top of the hill, ran under it and down the hill towards us. I just broke down laughing, it was ridiculously perfect.

The last few weeks have also contained their fair amount of stress. I've had to figure out how to pay my rent, get visas, navigate public transportation, set up health insurance, set up a work contract, cook, and learn how to be a teacher, all in a language I only mildly understand. If it weren't for the extensive and unending help of Romy Schuster I would truly be helpless, and I need to express my sincere and overwhelming gratitude at how helpful she has been already. Probably the most stressful experience for me was the Friday before school started. It was my first day in the building and I was told how to basically do everything for my job then. I should probably have been preparing a bit more beforehand as to how to teach my English courses, but I felt pretty overwhelmed. Nevertheless, the support offered by fellow teachers at the Martin-Luther-Schule is incredible.

My first day in class was a double hour with the 11th grade in 90+ degree weather from around 3 to 4:30 in the afternoon. To be expected, I was very nervous. Also to be expected, the kids did NOT want to be in class anymore. It led to a rough first day, as I partly took their lack of interest and positive feedback personally. Nevertheless, the next morning I taught them again as well as a 9th grade class and things went much more smoothly. I am still trying to get the hang of the whole teaching thing though, and I have plenty more to learn as I begin my second week.

Also, I joined a basketball club last week, and that has truly been a blessing. My knowledge of German did not really extend to the physical sport vocabulary realm, so I've been learning a lot of that, but the language of basketball is somewhat universal. I have appreciated in America how basketball can connect me to people far different from myself, and I appreciate it here as well. Despite playing with complete strangers on our first day, after a half hour we were high-fiveing and congratulating each other like old friends. It feels great to play that sport again, and a March Madness watching party at my apartment has already been unofficially scheduled.

There are more observations I would like to point out, but this blog entry has already been a bit of a rant. I think I really will update it more frequently now, as that will lead to less wordy entries and also allow me to point out smaller observations. Nevertheless, I hope you find reading about my experience here interesting and I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate the support of friends and family both back home and here in Germany.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Hello everyone!

This is Ian again, for one last blog here. I am currently sitting at the computer at home, in Wisconsin, after a whirlwind of travel and visits during the last month.  So we'll start with my departure.

Leaving was rough.  I managed to see a lot of people before I went, though not all, and had some great times.  Saying goodbye was difficult, of course, especially to some of my closer friends, but I will see them again, I'm sure. I mailed one suitcase home, since I didn't want to have to carry it around during all the small flights I took (to Sweden, and then from Baltimore to Chicago), and that finally arrived yesterday.  And then, a short ride with Linda later, I was on the plane and headed to Sweden.

The two weeks dancing in Herraeng, Sweden were one of the most amazing things I've ever done.  It was an incredible experience being there, surrounded by hundreds of dancers from all around the world, and the feeling in the camp of enthusiasm and passion for dancing and devotion to fun is indescribable.  It was totally overwhelming at first, the night I arrived, just having left Germany behind, and now in this crazy environment, and seeing one of my friends in particular was all just too much to handle that first night.  The next day I woke up feeling excited and ready, though, and the rest of the two weeks was just the best experience.  I want to go back every year I possibly can.  I learned a lot, and had crazy amounts of fun, and met some wonderful people.

I then flew to Baltimore to stay with my friend Larren and her fiance Eugene, whom I had never before met.  It was great to get to know him, and I really enjoyed my time with them (though I did have an interesting reaction to their cats.  Not my normal scratchy throat and eyes, but rather both of my eyes just turned red.  Like the deep bloodshot red of someone who hasn't slept in a week.  It was...unsettling to wake up to.)

Then it was home to Wisconsin, and a couple days with my mom and dad and my grandma, which were wonderfully relaxing, and then I was off again, headed to the Twin Cities for my friend Charles's bachelor party, a friend's birthday party the next day, then Charles and Heidi's wedding the next day, and then I stayed with a different friend every night for the next week, seeing as many of the folks from Minnesota as I could.  It was great to see so many friends again, and to dance in my "home" swing scene again.

And now I'm back, figuring out what I'm going to do.  I have an audition on the first weekend of September at a dance studio in Chicago to possibly become an instructor there, and then we'll see where things go from there.  I am incredibly grateful to have had the experience I did in Rimbach, and to all the people who helped and supported me, both here and in Germany.  When the school year at St. Olaf starts up again, I hope to go up to visit campus, and hopefully speak with a couple of the faculty about the possibility of forging stronger musical ties with the MLS as well, so we'll see how that goes.  I'll keep you all up to date, probably through email, since this blog is now Luke's.

On a final note, Herr Fink asked me to write a little something about how much German is acquired during the Rimbach year.  In answer, I would say it greatly depends.  For me, it had been three years since I'd spoken German when I arrived in Rimbach, and I had forgotten a lot.  The Sprachkurs in Heidelberg helped significantly to refresh my memory, but I would also say that my German now is far better than it ever was before.  It's certainly not perfect, but I received a lot of compliments on my German, and I felt very good about my improvement.  It's also dependent on how much effort you make to improve your German; asking colleagues and friends to correct you, and taking every opportunity possible to speak in German rather than English.  I didn't always do that, alas, but those are the strategies to really improve.  I would leave any additional comments on the topic to my colleagues at the MLS, who were around to see the change; they can verify or deny what I've said.

Once again, thank you so much to everyone involved with the program, and, before I forget, heartfelt congratulations to Linda Johnke and her husband Mick on the birth of their first son, Deniz Liam!  I'm only sad that I wasn't around to meet him, but I look forward to seeing him someday.

I'm handing the reins to Luke now.  Take care, everyone, and thank you, and good luck, Luke!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

All Good Things...

Wow.  Eight days left in Germany, followed by a two week stint in Sweden at Herrang Dance Camp, three days in Baltimore visiting my best friend and finally getting to meet her fiance, and then I'm home. 

This year has gone amazingly fast, and so much has happened.  In truth all years feel that way, at their end, I think.  But a year such as this one, with a deadline, and a definite End in the sense of a finality...they seem the fastest of them all. 

The last few weeks have been, unsurprisingly, rather busy.  The Project Woche (the last days of school) were a lot of fun.  I did a Rock'n'Roll dance class which was taught by two former students who are on the competition team from Moerlenbach, and competed last weekend in the World Championships.  It was interesting to learn Rock'n'Roll, and though it's not really my kind of dance (it's mostly a show/performance dance, and as such is much less lead and followed, and pretty much always choreographed) it was a good opportunity to learn about it, and get some experience in the dance.  I want to further broaden my dance horizons, and hopefully will also do some ballet and modern at some point in the future. 

The days have mostly been filled with trying to see as many people as I can, to hang out and say goodbye to everyone.  My friend Carol, who I visited back in October, came to see me once more.  We met in Brazil, and had not seen each other again till this year; it was wonderful to see her again, and see how we've both changed.  We went hiking in Heidelberg, and I finally got up the Heiligenberg and saw the Thingstaette, which is great.  The view of the castle and city from there is wonderful, as well. 

My last night Blues dancing in Heidelberg is this Friday, and then I have two birthday parties to attend on Saturday, and then my own going away party at the Sonne on Sunday.  It will be a busy weekend, and then I have to pack and get all my things in order.  I will try to post one more blog before then, a more introspective look at my thoughts on leaving, and on my year here in general. 

I hope you are all well. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Abi Abi Abi! Oi Oi Oi!

...Wait, I think I did that wrong.  ;-) 

I hope some of you got that, but I suppose I should probably explain.  The Abis (students who just made their Abitur/graduated) will occasionally break out into a cheer that goes something along the lines of "Abi Abi Abi!"  "Tur!"  "Abi!"  "Tur!"  and so forth, and it's essentially the "Aussie Aussie Aussie!"  "Oi Oi Oi!" cheer. 

So, it's been more than a month since I wrote something on here.  I'm terribly sorry about that, but it's been pretty busy.  The show in Mannheim went very well, and I really had a ton of fun there.  We had a pretty good turnout, too, except the last show; that one was a little spare.  In between those shows, I was trying to keep on top of corrections and school work, and was only marginally successful.  But that's all behind me now.

Last week my Aunt Pat was here to visit me, which was a really great time.  I had a lot of fun with her, and she really enjoyed seeing the "real" Germany.  We didn't place a huge emphasis on sightseeing, but rather wandered around Mannheim and Heidelberg a lot, and ate lots of traditional German food, and had a beer or two, an apple wine or two, and of course pretzels. 

However, since she was here, I didn't really do much by the way of school work, except what I absolutely had to do.  That means that I had to finish the rest of my students' last Klausuren in the few days between when she left and Thursday, when final grades were due.  It was crazy, and made crazier by a lot of other things going on. 

Tuesday and Wednesday were almost wholly consumed by setting up the exhibition for the Living History Project.  This is a class Romy Schuster and I have been working with all year, and the students have put together an exhibition on the partnership between St. Olaf and the Martin Luther Schule.  It's a great exhibition, and very informative.  Tuesday evening I also took part in the Abikammerkonzert (Abitur Chamber Concert), singing with the Voice Boys.  A number of Abiturienten/innen performed various musical acts, and a couple were really impressive.  Similar to St. Olaf, there is some real musical talent at this school.  I think it would be good for us to try to foster some stronger connections between the music departments here, and maybe the Band/Orchestra/Choir's next international tour ought to be to Germany. 

Wednesday was the opening of the exhibition, and it was also a day when the Abis pretty much take over the school.  We came in to find that the teachers' lounge had been filled with balloons, and the Abis blocked all the entrances and exits to the school grounds with squirt guns and paints.  Anyone attempting to get through was doused and painted.  It was a pretty crazy experience, and one that I don't think would fly at all in the U.S. 

Thursday I had coffee and cake with Thea Jakob, the widow of Willi Jakob, who was very influential in the reemergence of the program.  It was a very pleasant meeting, and she is more or less famous for her cakes, so that was wonderful, too. 

I've booked my flights to Sweden and then to D.C., where I'll finally get to meet my best friend's fiance, and then back to Chicago.  Grades are in.  I have already had my last 11th grade dance class, and my last conversation class.  I'll have my last 8th grade dance class on Monday, and my last English class on Wednesday.  My main commitments now are musical; rehearsals for the Abi Ball, and then also for the CD the Big Band is going to record.  I'm very much looking forward to that.  I'm going to sing Minnie the Moocher at the Abi Ball with the Big Band, too.  I can't wait. 

Thursday marked exactly one month till I leave Germany.  It's crazy. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Whoa There!

So, so, so much to tell since the last post.  I'm sorry I've been so out of touch here, but life has been crazy.  There's a lot to cover, so some things will be mostly just summarized, rather than described in detail, so you don't have to read a short novel just to catch up.

Easter Break was fantastic; I spent ten days in England, which was really fantastic.  I visited my friend Jim, who had been my counselor at a summer study program I did at Cambridge University about seven and a half years ago.  It was a blast to see him again, and we had a lot of fun hanging out in Norwich.  We went birdwatching, sampled the finest of British comedy, took a brewery/pub tour, and went and saw a great blues band.  I then went to Birmingham to visit my friend Agnieszka, who I knew from her exchange to the U.S. also about seven and a half years ago (the last time I'd seen her was the day before I left for England).  It was great to see her, and catch up, and I also got to take a trip down to Bristol to visit a fellow Ole and swing dancer, Chris.  All in all it was a wonderful and relaxing trip.  I could obviously go on about quite a few things concerning England (new friends made, etc), but mostly I just hung out with people.  I didn't go there with the intention to sightsee, though of course I did some, but rather just to see people and spend some quality time with them.

 Then when I got back, life got busy real fast.  I was having about four-six individual rehearsals every week with the members of the various sketches in the show for Center Stage, as well as having evening rehearsals in Mannheim for This Lime Bower.  A girl I had hoped to potentially start something with when I returned home informed me that she had been dating someone since the first of April, so that threw me for a loop, as well, and it all just sort of swirled together into a mash of sadness at that fact, stressing out about how much work needed to be done for Center Stage, and sheer enjoyment of the moments during rehearsals with the students when things would just click.  The last few weeks have been some of the most demanding, and most difficult of my life, I think.  I was honestly worried about whether or not we would pull of the show at times, and whether or not the kids would really be ready for the stage. 

The week before the show was insane.  I'm not sure I've ever been quite so active.  I was on the go constantly, trying to figure out everything that needed doing, and if not for the two teachers that helped me, Anette and Romy, I would never have gotten it all done, or figured out how to do most of it.  We managed to work with the tech team, despite myriad technical difficulties relating to the room we were performing in (our normal space was under construction), and get the sound and light figured out more or less satisfactorily.  Assembling the stage was a relatively minor challenge, but still a bit of a challenge.  Since we hadn't been able to rehearse on the stage until that week, and indeed didn't even know what the stage would look like, all the plays had to be blocked out (that means that the actors' movements needed to be planned or fit to the stage) again in the space.  Most of the shows are fairly static, but a couple required more movement.  Props were assembled, and fake blood made, and sound effects found.  That Thursday I had 13 and a half hours of rehearsal.  7:30 to 17:00 with Center Stage, and 20:00 to 23:00 with TiG7 in Mannheim.  And then I was on the train to Rimbach again at 6:00 in the morning to get back for our 7:30 rehearsal.  The title of the show, by the by, was "It's Art! (I'm Not Crazy!)." 

I am very, very proud of my students; of the work they put in, the progress they made, and the performances they put on.  The shows went well, and even when a fair amount of lines were dropped or parts were skipped on Saturday night, the actors kept the show moving, and didn't let the audience know, which is a major part of theater.  I feel very lucky to have worked with such a wonderful group of kids, and am extremely grateful to them for their efforts and their patience with their often-distracted and often-contradictory director. 

This coming weekend is the show in Mannheim,  and I'm looking forward to that.  It's part of an English theater festival, so there are a number of actors there from the U.S. and U.K., and I got to meet a few of them the last couple days.  It should be a good weekend. 

All the best to everyone. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Busy Bees!

Wow, lots to report!

First off, Virginia Larson (who keeps all of us Rimbach folks up to date, and so much more) sent me an email the other day - okay, it was more like three weeks ago - and she had a couple questions, which I think I will answer here.

How would you rate your year?
To this question, I'm honestly not sure how to respond. I have had a lot of wonderful experiences here, and a few that weren't so wonderful, but it's hard to give a whole year some kind of rating. It's been a worthwhile experience on all fronts, and I wouldn't have traded it for anything else. So, I guess on a scale of 1 to 10, it ranks at "great, but incomplete?" :-P

What are the highs?
The highs...I'm really not certain, exactly. I have had a lot of experiences over here that have been truly wonderful. Getting to know my friend Jana and her family, and spending Christmas with them was a warm, welcoming feeling. Laughing about the absurdity of English with my conversation classes is definitely right up there. The opportunity to direct a play, and test myself in that role with Center Stage. Meeting and working with wonderful people at the MLS has been a high point, as well. Making Damn Good Chicken for six people - the first time I'd ever tried something more complex than stir fry for multiple people - and having it work out great was a real triumph, though of a small sort. Introducing my 13th graders to the lighter side of Shakespeare, and hearing them laugh so hard at Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. The list goes on.

the lows?
This is an easy one. Loneliness. Living alone after being in the dorms at Olaf is hard, and living in a very small town makes it harder still. I miss having company in my room, or just down the hall, or across campus. Frustrations with myself and my work have cropped up on occasion, and the mistakes I make in my teaching. Wanting to do and see so much here in Europe (I have standing invitations to both Turkey and Italy, and the funds to do neither), and knowing that I have to turn them down simply because I can't do everything. I know that sounds like a whiny "low" to have, because I still have those opportunities, but it's having the opportunity in front of you, and having to say no because despite only being here for a year, there's simply no way to do everything I want to.

Tips for Luke that would be of interest to all of us?
Ask questions. A lot of information gets posted on boards and the like at the school, boards whose purpose you will be told before school has gotten underway, and many of which will only occasionally be relevant for you. If your German is anything like mine, you may not understand all the details of the info you receive, and you will be reliant on your colleagues to clear up any misunderstandings, and make sure you know what you need to know.

Take the initiative, socially and in pretty much everything else. There are a lot of great people at the MLS, but getting involved in things usually requires you to go out of your way, sometimes repeatedly, to get involved in things, whether it being having drinks with some of the other teachers, or playing in an ensemble, or whatever else might happen. You will have a lot of time on your hands, often enough, and it's entirely up to you to fill it.

So, that's that for those questions. I could probably go on and on (as you have all seen me do, by now), but there is more to tell!

The weekend of St. Patrick's Day was a Blues exchange in Heidelberg, which was pretty fun, and I met some great people, and had a good time. I had started to get kind of down about my dancing, and my level of skill, but my wonderful friend Kendra helped me get some perspective, and felt better. After all, though I've been dancing for about five years, only about two and half of those years have been spent in serious pursuit, pushing myself to learn more, and I need to keep pushing myself to practice and learn and be better.
I also hung out with my friend Lorenz that weekend, since I didn't do any of the classes during the exchange, and had the opportunity to take a nap in the ruins of a castle. It was lovely.

On the following Thursday I made Damn Good Chicken (recipe provided by my once-again wonderful friend Kendra) for the teacher dinner group, and even though I doctored the recipe a bit and was uncertain about some of the quantities required for six people, it all came out very well.

And then. My friend Nicole came to visit me on Friday (Thank you again, Anette, for driving me to Frankfurt to pick her up!) and stayed till Sunday evening. It was the best weekend ever: her visit was everything I'd been missing over here as far as my friends are concerned. On the very first night we laughed so hard and so much that our faces hurt, and they didn't get a chance to recover all weekend. There was lots of hugging (which I miss so much over here) and joking and general foolishness that I don't really get here.

Center Stage is running well, and there is sooo much to do before our performances. I'll be in England for a large part of our Easter break, but I've met with the students all in various free hours, and I think they will do well.

One more opportunity arose on Thursday. Linda Johnke, who works as a set/costume designer at the Mannheim National Theater, called me up saying that one of the three actors working on a show at a smaller theater in Mannheim had dropped out, and that they were looking for another actor. I was, of course, thrilled by the opportunity to act, though there were a lot of time constraints which needed to be worked out. My job and Center Stage are, of course, my main priorities, but I met with the director today, and there should be no conflicts, so I will be performing in a short play called "This Lime Tree Bower." The show goes up the week after the Center Stage show (which I still have to title. >_> Oops), and is a very interesting little piece (it will only be just over an hour long).

Busy, busy bees!

Best wishes to all of you.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tension and Release

Today's blog has nothing to do with the kind of tension and release I normally talk about. It's a common topic in dancing, especially Lindy Hop, when we talk about a lot of dynamic stretch and release in the swing out (the basic step) and the rest of the dance.

No, the tension I'm talking about here is the good ol' fashioned heart-in-throat tension that you feel when something really important and decisive is going on.

Some time ago, my closest friend over here, Jana, informed me that she had an audition at the Mannheim Theater Akademie, and wanted me to help her. I of course agreed, and we set about figuring out what to do. We looked through some possibilities, and she selected her monologues and we got to work. I didn't really get involved until closer to the end of the process, after she had the monologues memorized and was ready to start working more stylistically, though we talked about the identities of her characters early on as well.

One of the characters she chose was Phebe from As You Like It, a play I was just in last February, and really love. Thankfully, I learned a lot from my experience with the show, and from my director about playing Shakespeare, and was able to give her a lot of helpful feedback on her Phebe. She had a great grasp of the character, and by the time the audition rolled around, I felt it was her strongest monologue.

I went with her to the audition on Friday, which turned out to be about a 6 1/2 hour ordeal, and involved quite a bit of nerves. The aspiring actors were put together for a movement warmup/audition, then split up to sing and then to give their monologues, one at a time. After the first monologue, Jana emerged looking less than optimistic. The auditioners had interrupted her, something she was not used to, and gave her direction. She had taken that as a sign that her monologue was unsatisfactory, but I assured her it was normal, and that they were also looking for potential and how well the actors took direction, not just a polished performance. I also assured her that she would wow them with Phebe, and yelled "Knock 'em dead!" as she went off to deliver Phebe. She came back looking very happy, and told me that though they'd interrupted her again (as they had everyone else), they had also all been laughing as she continued with the monologue, in all the right places.

I could not have been nearly as nervous as she was when she went back to hear the final decision and to get feedback from the auditioners, but my heart was trying its level best. I was really on edge, and thought I heard her laugh from the room they were in, and eventually she came out with a smile on her face, but was then ushered into another room before I could find out what the deal was (though the smile was promising). Finally she came out and I said, "Well??" She odded her head, and ran towards me, and we both geeked out a little bit. She went to call her parents, and attempted to trick them by saying she had big news in a somber voice, but couldn't pull it off on account of being too excited. We celebrated with her parents and had a great night, hearing all about it.

I mostly share this with all of you because I am very proud of her, and very proud of the work that she did. But it's also to remember that even though my job here is teaching, sometimes you find yourself being apart of something really special that you'd have never expected.

Congratulations, Jana!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Losses and Celebrations

Despite it only having been thirteen days since my last post, a lot has happened.

I did not mention in my last blog what my plans were for Karneval, which was last weekend. I had already received word some time ago that my friend Katie, another dancer from MN, was going to be in Cologne for the weekend of the 18th of February, and I had decided to go up to Cologne and see her. It was only afterward that we both remembered that this would be Karneval, and Cologne is essentially the place to be for Karneval celebrations in Germany. We forged on ahead, and despite some complicated arrangements regarding at whose place I was staying which night (with a friend of my friend, and then a German dancer that lives in Cologne as well), I ended up going up on Sunday, hanging out with Katie and her friend Christina (who is something of a Karneval Grinch), and had a great time. We saw the film The Artist, which I highly recommend; it's an exceptionally charming film, and very well crafted. We were at one point accosted by an Afghani man who wanted to ask me (hearing that I was American) why America was still in Afghanistan, and what we were doing there. He was not aggressive precisely, but very insistent, and as such the whole encounter was a little disconcerting; you never know in what direction such a discussion will go, under the circumstances. But he parted with us in a fairly friendly manner, so it was no problem.

We saw a couple parades while we were there, and although the parades themselves were nothing spectacular (the usual fare of bands of varying levels of skill, people in costume throwing candy, and various sponsors and organizations with floats), it was the spectators that really made the experience. Almost everyone I saw was dressed up in some way, costumes ranging from just a headband or hat to elaborate and fantastical. I loved the rampant silliness in the crowd. I had no costume, but after switching hosts to my friend Sanni, we improvised one with the supplies she had, and we went out to a Karneval party, which was also pretty fun.

Of course, the first part of the title tells you all that there's more to it, and there is. I also received the news on Sunday night that my grandfather had passed away. While surprising in its timing, of course, the actual idea of his passing did not come as too much of a shock, since his health had been deteriorating for a long time. He had suffered a number of strokes about seven years ago, and had been slowly sliding downhill ever since.

The loss of a family member under such circumstances is a bizarre thing. I am saddened by his death, and I will miss seeing him, yet in many ways the man I knew as my grandpa has been gone for years, and he had not recognized me or known who I was for probably three years. How to feel, under those circumstances? In many ways, I don't think that his loss will hit me until I am home and amongst my family members again. Being alone over here creates a real sense of distance, both physical and psychological, from the grieving process. I could not attend his visitation, or funeral, though I will certainly visit his grave when I return. And although his death saddened me, I was surrounded by an environment which he would have loved: the silliness and fun of Karneval. My grandfather had always loved to dress up, and to play tricks on other people, and I felt it was fitting that I was wearing his jacket during the weekend. He especially would have liked a camera I saw which squirted water into the face of the person who was trying to take a picture. I enjoyed myself during Karneval, in part despite my grandfather's death, and in part in honor of my grandfather's life.

The circumstances of his passing brings up an interesting question, however, on saying goodbye. I have not been able to attend the funeral of either of my grandfathers, as my Grandpa Heasty passed away while I was in college, just before finals, and since I had already taken almost a full week off school to see him before he died, I needed to be back at St. Olaf in order to make sure I was keeping somewhat abreast of my school work, little as I wanted to at that time. And yet, with my Grandpa Heasty, who passed away a little less than two years ago, I was able to speak with him one last time before he slipped into a coma in his last days. In that way I was able to say goodbye to him before he died, and I was also present at his burial.

With my Grandpa Hathway, it's such a different set of circumstances. As I said, in many ways, my grandpa had already been gone, for me, for a number of years before his body finally gave way. But there was no moment in which there was a sense of him being about to go, or a moment in which I had the foreknowledge of what was to come. He just gradually slipped away, being less and less present each time I saw him. It's such a strange and tragic way to lose someone; the gradual loss of all the things that make that person who they are. But even that knowledge is tainted with the evidence that some part of them still remains, even till the end.

Grandpa Hathway, who was always a tinkerer at heart, and was very mechanically minded, and when he was in the first nursing home he stayed in (which he was not happy in, as no one there knew ASL, and therefore he couldn't speak with anyone; we eventually managed to find a home where all the staff were required to know ASL, and he was significantly happier there) he escaped relatively frequently; he would watch the nurses and caretakers when they unlocked doors, and remember the number codes, or one time picked up a caretaker's keys, examining them one by one, and later taking the same keys, having already figured out which key worked for which doors.

It's a very strange feeling, and one I'm not sure I wholly understand. Funerals and visitations are a necessity for most of us; it's a time and a place to share in our grief, to say goodbye, to gain some closure in the loss of someone close to you. Yet when we have all been mourning the loss of my grandfather a little bit each day, his death is more of a time for us to express that grief publicly, and to allow others to share in it. However, in true Hathway spirit, we also celebrate one of the most remembered and missed aspects of my grandfather's life: his humor. My grandfather was a trickster, and I feel secure in the knowledge that more than a few angels will be wondering where they misplaced their harps, or when their robes were dyed pink.

Rest in Peace, Grandpa Jack.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Doldrums

So, it's official. I've hit the doldrums, at least temporarily.

For those of you who don't know, the doldrums are an area of water (evidently near parts of the equator) where the pressure and winds and tides are exactly wrong for nautical navigation. The winds can completely disappear, leaving the water without any swell or tide, and ships can be stranded for days, even weeks. The conditions in the doldrums can also lead to more severe weather than other parts of the open sea, making it a less than ideal place for a sailing vessel.

Now, since I have not recently taken up sailing, nor am I anywhere near the equator, I'm sure you all understand that I'm speaking metaphorically.

I'm not really sure what it is in particular, though it's almost certainly a combination of multiple factors, and I imagine most of the guest teachers experienced something similar. I just feel sort of listless, puttering about with no direction.

In all honesty, I should be feeling pretty good. I paid my deposit for Herrang Swing Camp, the biggest dance event in the world, so it's certain that I'll be going there in July. I went to two parties over the weekend, and had fun at both. The first was my favorite bartender's 40th birthday, at his pub, and there was a band, and whatnot. I also met another American there, a fellow named Victor who has been living here since 1988. He was a hoot, and we got along great. That one went pretty late. The other was a housewarming party for a colleague who just moved into a new (and very nice) apartment. It was fun, as well, though the conversations were tough; most of the people spoke over top of each other, making it night impossible for me to understand anything most of the night. We did all have particular fun at one point when our hosts had to go out briefly to pick something up: we rearranged the living/dining room, so that the table and couches were in the opposite positions they had been when our hosts left. Their reactions were pretty great when they returned. I also went on a nice walk to a nearby village called Albersbach with another colleague of mine, on a really beautiful day.

So, in short, I am still having fun, and good times, but I'm also just...blah, sometimes.

One thing I know is contributing to that is that I made some rather large attendance mistakes with my 11th grade dance class, so that their report cards have to be altered, which makes rather a lot of work for the administration (unfortunately, I cannot fix that myself). So I feel like a fool, or the rookie that screws up what is arguably the easiest part of the job. So that both contributes to, and is fed by, this listlessness I've been feeling.

The main part of it, most likely, is simply the let down of "after Olaf" catching up to me. At Olaf there was so much going on, all the time, and here I'm on my own so often. I think it's more or less something of an involvement-withdrawal. I'm pretty involved here, and try to keep that up, but it's still a pretty big difference. There are things I can, and want to keep doing, but sometimes keeping my forward momentum going is tough. It's a temporary funk, and honestly, I feel better now than I did over the last four days or so, but it's still just a sort of background feeling.

As for what else is going on, I'm finishing casting my actors in Center Stage, and we will begin rehearsing our sketches (finally!) this week. I am looking forward to that, and I think it'll be a good show, all things considered. There are some interesting logistical details to be worked out, since the room we'll be playing in has four large pillars in it, but we'll figure it out.

My apologies for the long space between blogs. I will hopefully keep them more frequent from now on.

All the best.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Back to Work!

So, I had a wonderful last week or so of break, beginning with New Year's, and following up with a trip to Copenhagen to visit a couple of exchange students who had lived in Wisconsin for a year.

New Year's here was great. I was at my fellow teacher Anette's apartment, and met a bunch of her friends (a number of whom were also teachers, though not all), and we had raclette, which is (I believe) a Swiss thing. We each had our own little individual frying pan things, and we put food in and put them into a central stove-type-thing. It was different, but the food tasted good, so no complaints here. I got along really well with Anette's friends, especially a fellow named Rupert, and another teacher named Maria, who immediately after learning I was a native English speaker said, "Oh! I have to show you this." And promptly wrote something on a piece of paper. She then explained that her students had to do a presentation on Central Park, and that one had started the presentation with the following sentence:

"Central Park is a large pubic park in New York City."

I cracked up as soon as I saw the sentence. I love the little mistakes we all make with foreign languages ^_^

At midnight, of course, we all went outside, and that was something I have never witnessed before. Anette lives near a very large public space, some kind of park or something. But it's large, and flat, and you can see a fairly long ways. And every last inch of that space was covered with smoke from fireworks.

They were everywhere. I don't think there was a single group of people there without at least one box of fireworks, and for the Americans reading, I mean the kind of box which is about a 1'x8", and about 8" tall, firing something like a dozen projectiles into the sky. And everyone was out on the street, firing them all off. It was insane. I thought Americans were the crazy ones when it came to things that went boom, but I saw Germans placing these boxes, lighting them, and taking a single step backward to watch them go off. I am somewhat shocked I didn't see anybody blown up or burnt while we were out there. They were only a few feet from cars in other instances. For a fellow raised by a firefighter, it was quite a spectacle. I've seen some great fireworks displays in the States, but nothing like the free-for-all that New Year's Eve brings to Germany.

Copenhagen was...amazing. It was great to see Tine again, who lived in Janesville for a year waaaaaaay back when - about 13 years ago, now. We had a ton of fun together, and she and Anette seemed to get along very well, too.

Copenhagen itself is a beautiful city. We didn't make a lot of concrete plans, but we walked around the city a lot, and saw as much of the city by foot as we could. There are simply too many things to tell you about the city, and so I will include a couple of links. These are the albums of pictures I took while we were in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen 1

Copenhagen 2

If they don't work, I'll sort them out, but I hope you can all see some of the pictures. It was really an amazing trip.

School has, of course, started again, and I'm frantically finishing the tests I need to have finished (I was not so...diligent over break as I perhaps ought to have been) in order to input the students' grades next week.

On a lighter note, however, a good friend of mine from St. Olaf has evidently been traveling around a bit over here, and is arriving tomorrow for a visit. She'll stick around till Tuesday, and while I unfortunately could not find any dancing for us over the weekend, I imagine we'll figure something out.

All the best to all of you, and my wishes for a great year.