German Schools: Student Life

If you read my first school post, you now have some idea of what the German school system looks like.  There are several kinds of schools in Germany, and, just like anywhere, there are many kinds of students.  I would like to tell you about the life of a Gymnasiast, or Gymnasium student.

Gymnasium Damme, front entrance

Let’s start with organization.  The Gymnasium consists of grades 5-12.  During grades 5-10, students are divided into classes, which usually consist of 25-30 students.  Each class gets a letter.  For example, if there are six 8th grade classes, then the school has 8a, 8b, 8c, 8d, 8e and 8f.  The students stay with the same class from grades 5-10.  They have the same schedule and stay in the same classroom.  The teachers come to them.  Since they are together for so long, there is a lot of emphasis on team-building and trust within each class.

How are the students divided?  This may be interesting for the American audience.  When parents enroll their students in school, they choose which language will be their child’s second foreign language (French or Latin; everyone takes English).  They also choose which religion course their child will take (protestant or Catholic).  Of course, it doesn’t always work perfectly, but one of the classes I am in consists entirely of Catholic students who take Latin.  What if you aren’t religious or practice a non-Christian religion?  You could either choose one for your child, or they will be placed in one.

The American in me is wary of this system, but the teacher in me knows that you can’t teach a subject without a licensed teacher.  Teachers get licensure in their subjects through their university, which is accredited by the state.  Some states have universities with licensure in Islam, but you still have to rely on getting a job.  As with everything else, it comes down to funding.  Some schools also offer Philosophy/Ethics as an option to a religion class, but, again, money.

But I digress.  Let’s get back to the schedule.  Our schedule looks like this:

  • 8:00 – 8:45 1st Period
  • 8:45 – 9:30 2nd Period
  • 9:30 – 9:55 First Break (25 minutes)
  • 9:55 – 10:40 3rd Period
  • 10:40 – 11:25 4th Period
  • 11:25 – 11:50 Second Break (25 minutes)
  • 11:50 – 12:35 5th Period
  • 12:35 – 1:20 6th Period
  • 1:20 – 1:50 Lunch Break (30 minutes)
  • 1:50 – 2:35 7th Period
  • 2:35 – 3:20 8th Period

Each period is 45 minutes.  Some of the periods are doubled, so you the students have 90 minutes of the same class.  You probably noticed the nice, long breaks.  The kids can run around outside, sit inside, eat, smoke, whatever. (They aren’t supposed to smoke on school grounds, so they cross the street and smoke 15 feet away from the school.)  The kids have a different schedule every day.  Here is an example of a 6th grade schedule.  They only have 6 periods every day:

Here is a 7th grade schedule.  You can see that they have 8 periods only two days a week:

And another 7th grade, this time with bilingual (in English) geography:

In the 7th grade, the students can choose to take a 3rd foreign language if they wish.  Our school has English (required), French, Latin, and Spanish.  Here is a list of some of the other subjects with their translations:

  • Deutsch – German
  • Geschichte – History
  • Mathe – Math
  • Politik – Politics
  • Religion (Reli) – Religion
  • Bili – Bilingual Geography
  • Erdkunde – Geography
  • Chemie – Chemistry
  • Physik – Physics
  • Biologie – Biology
  • Französisch – French
  • Englisch – English
  • Spanisch – Spanish
  • Kunst – Art
  • Musik – Music
  • Sport – Gym/PE

The kids all seem to keep meticulous calendars to keep track of which class they have on which day, and which homework is due when.  They also color-code things with their well-stocked pencil cases.  Every student has a pencil, a fountain pen, an eraser, pencil sharpener, ruler, compass and any number of colored pens, pencils and markers in that case, and that pencil-case is with them at all times.  If you say “underline X,” it will be immediately followed by the rustling sounds of students digging out their rulers so that they can orderly underline something in their notes.  The first time this happened, I was shocked.  At home, I am pretty happy when a student shows up with anything to write with.

In addition to the difference in subjects and intensity, grading is also different.  The scale is 1-6, with 1 being the best and 6 being the worst, although 5 is also more or less considered failing.  The students also have other demands placed upon them in the classroom.  At the end of each period, the students with Tafeldienst (board duty) clean and squeegee the blackboard.  At the end of the day, the students with Ordnungsdienst (something along the lines of neatness duty) sweep the room with a broom and dustpan.

As I said, students are together from grades 5-10.  After 10th grade, students enter the Oberstufe, or upper level.  At this point, students choose a profile, with is sort of like a major in college.  Your profile comes with five required courses, and you fill the rest of your time with other subjects.  If, for example, you choose the social sciences profile, you might have history, politics, geography, German and philosophy as your five main courses.  These five courses will last for two years, and at the end of the two-year period, you will take a VERY long exam called the Abitur, or Abi for short, on each of these five courses.  Since the Abitur exams start at the beginning of May, the courses end for the 12th grade students a few weeks beforehand so that they can prepare.  Of the five exams, some will be written and others will be oral, and they can last between 3 and 6 hours per subject.  You have to pass the Abitur to study at a university.

All in all, Gymnasium students are very serious, especially relative to the average American student.  Their schedules and curriculum are quite demanding, but they still do normal kid things: school clubs, rec sports (There are no school-sponsored sports teams in Germany.), bands, choirs, riding bikes, Facebook, playing video games, reading and watching TV.  In order to keep everything straight, they have to learn time management and organization, which they seem to do with success.

And now for some photos of the school and classrooms:

side stairwell to the front entrance. The ramp on the side of the stairs is for rolling your bike up and down the stairs.

typical classroom

and another classroom

front of a typical classroom

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German Products 6 & German Music #7: UEFA European Cup Edition

Ole! Ole ole ole!  Ole! Ole ole ole!

It’s time for one my favorite sporting events: the UEFA Europameisterschaft.  Think World Cup excitement on a smaller geographical scale.  People have parties, there are large public viewings, and even betting, just like the NCAA tournament brackets you probably filled out at work in March.  You probably noticed that I didn’t really mention anything specifically soccer-related in this list of things I like about the EM.  That’s because, just like with the NCAA tournament, I don’t really know anything about soccer.  As with the NCAA tournament, I will be filling out my brackets based on things like where I’ve traveled, which country has better food, &/or which country has the most attractive players, er, I mean flag.  (Cut me some slack.  I haven’t seen my husband in six months; something’s gotta give.)

Since the US is not in Europe, there’s no need for me to feel guilty about rooting for Germany.  However, just because I’m not in the US doesn’t there aren’t things to buy to show my support for parties beer the German national team.  I would like to share some of these with you below.

1.      Fan Section at Famila:  Famila is a grocery store chain here in northern Germany.  I love that they went with the “Sexy Title + 3 Other things” formula for their logo: Famila – Sympatisch. Nordisch. Frisch.  Famila has a fan section right out front where you can purchase everything to meet your black-red-gold needs.  I did not purchase most of the items shown below, but I wanted to show them anyway.  There are cowboy hats, lanyards, bracelets, stickers, flags for your car, covers for your side mirrors, air horns, key chains, wigs and even a vuvuzela, all available in Germany’s schwarz-rot-gelb flag colors.

2.     Candy:  Nobody has a sweet tooth like the Germans, so it’s only fitting that they have the candy to match.  Here are some festive peanut M&M’s and a bucket of Haribo Gummi Bears in black current, raspberry and lemon.  Lecker!

3.     Hawaii-Kette:  Germans love a good beach, and what better way to show it than with a lei.  Unfortunately, “Hawaii-Kette” doesn’t lend itself to as many double entendres as “lei,” so you may have to be more creative when chatting up that attractive soccer fan by the bar.

4.     German Flag Makeup Stick:  This makeup stick solves the age-old dilemma of wanting to draw a flag on your body, but not having a yellow eyeliner pencil.  Keine Sorgen!  With this makeup stick, you get a perfect flag in a single swipe.  Gotta support the team.

5.     Mini-Tricot:  I am from a country that loves a good koozie, so when I saw this adorable mini-jersey, I assumed it was for my beer bottle.  A friend of mine pointed out the tiny hanger and suction cup, and suggested it was probably for a car.  Since I don’t have a car, I’m sticking with my original use.  Rebel!

6.     The Soccer Scarf:  I’ll end this post with the traditional soccer fan accessory: the scarf.  As a Terrible Towel user, I totally understand the logic of waving a strip of fabric around in the air to support your team.  If you suffer from the terrible misfortune of not being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, think about the practicality: it can be really cold at soccer games.  At least you can be a warm fan.

This particular scarf was a gift from a friend and features all of the years that Germany won the European Cup and the World Cup.  Maybe I can add 2012 to the scarf this year.

The EM kicks off for Germany on Saturday, June 9 against Portugal.  Don your favorite Deutsch-wear and support the German national team with the battle cry: ‘SCHLAAAAND!

p.s. PLEASE listen to the official song of the EM 2012.  It’s so worth it, das versprech’ ich euch.

p.p.s Click here for all of the information and schedule for the EM.

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America’s Next Top Model vs. Germany’s Next Topmodel

I am a modern, well-educated woman, and I love America’s Next Top Model (ANTM).  I have watched every episode of every one of the 18 cycles.  I have watched it get cheesier and more ridiculous than I thought possible.  Then, I saw the theatrics tone down a bit, for which I hold Andre Leon Tally responsible, because after he left the show, it got more ridiculous than ever.  I used to watch the marathons on VH-1 in college, even if I had seen that episode hundreds of times.  My grandma and I watched a cycle together where we rooted for a girl from my hometown.  I’ve gunned for Yaya, Isis, Joanie, Annaleigh, Allison and Caridee.  I watched in awe as Jade said “This is not America’s Next Top Best Friend.”  I shook my head in disbelief with each weird new theatric Tyra introduced (“My models/went over/the ocean…).  I cringed each time she said “Smize,” “Booty Tooch” or “Pot Ledom.”  (But I secretly loved it.)

I knew I would miss ANTM while I was here in Germany, but luckily, I could watch ANTM cycle 18 online, and I could watch Heidi Klum’s Germany’s Next Topmodel!  Kitschy television and cross-cultural comparison?  Score!

So, is ANTM > GNTM, or is it the other way around?  Here’s a rundown:

  • Originality: Since GNTM was modeled after ANTM, ANTM wins this category hands-down.  Point ANTM
  • Host: Let’s be honest.  Tyra Banks = crazy and Heidi Klum = crazy.  For me, the deciding factor is the cheese factor.  Heidi is not even close to being as over-the-top ridiculous as Tyra,  Point GNTM
  • Supporting Cast: Tyra has Nigel and the Js: Mr. Jay, the creative director, Ms. J, runway coach extraordinaire, and Nigel Barker, judge and noted fashion photographer.  Heidi has Jorge and the Thomases: Thomas Rath, designer and judge, Thomas Hayo, art director (and purportedly Heidi’s new “friend”), and Jorge, the runway coach.  The Thomases are enjoyable, but Jorge comes across as fake and annoying.  I love Nigel and the Js.  Point ANTM.
  • Drama:  Based solely on comparison of these two programs, one would conclude that American women are scrappy bitches, while German women are friendly and loveable.  Point GNTM.
  • Rules:  One would expect that GNTM would take this one easily, BUT that is not the case.  Sometimes Heidi sends no one home, sometimes she sends a few home.  The finale had 4 models.  Four?!?!  Come on!  Tyra sticks with the rules 98% of the time.  The benefit is that when she doesn’t, it is really an exception.  Point to ANTM for knowing the rules of good television.
  • Real-World Experience:  The ANTM models seem to exist only in ANTM world for most of each cycle.  Only at the end, when the final 6 get sent abroad and do go-sees do they really seem to experience the real world of modeling.  (Clearly this is something I know a lot about.)  The models on GNTM spent the season in LA, New York, Milan and Germany, and went on multiple casting and go-sees.  Point GNTM, for letting the viewers believe we’re seeing the “real thing.”
  • Products: Here’s a category I expected the Americans to excel at with no problem.  ANTM has teamed up with many companies in its history, most obviously Cover Girl cosmetics,.  The show even has its own fragrance now.  Imagine my surprise when I saw Germany’s Next Top Model magazine on the newsstand, GNTM albums on Spotify, and GNTM contestants on Maybelline ads.  And, yes, I admit that I bought the first issue of GNTM magazine.  This purchase shows both that I have impeccable taste and make good decisions when it comes to spending money.  For sheer variety and number of products, GNTM takes this one.  Point GNTM.
  • Editing:  This is a trifle unfair since, as an American, I think all German television shows are too long.  Point ANTM for leaving out segments like “The Host of the Show Gets a Haircut.”  Snooze.
  • Finale:  This is a tough category.  The ANTM finale typically consists of the Cover Girl shoot and a final fashion show.  The quality has arguable decreased.  At the end of the most recent cycle, the models participated in a hologram fashion show for Forever 21 that was clearly a Tyra Banks production.  Forever 21?  Seriously?  If the models aren’t wearing clothes I can’t afford, how will I know that I want to buy them?  The German counterpart had a promising premise: a live show in Cologne with performances by Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, and the winner of The Voice of Germany.  For the trained viewer, however, it was clear that the entire format was lifted right out of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show playbook.  Maroon 5 even played the same song they performed in December 2011.  Also, the appearance by Justin Bieber just seemed sad after seeing this interview about a month ago.  Point goes to no one.  To Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks: step it up, ladies.

It seems we have a tie.  In a nod to diplomacy, I’m going to leave it as it stands.  If anyone can suggest a tie-breaker, I’m all ears.  Which is why I’ll never be a teen model.

Herzlichen Glückwunsch an Luisa aus Leer, die Gewinnerin 2012!

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The Adventures of Heidi and Amanda: Köln (Cologne)

After Dresden, Amanda and I needed a bit of a break.  We spent a few days in Damme, doing laundry, riding bikes, eating Grünkohl and sleeping for free at my apartment.  Refreshed and in clean clothing, we took the train to Cologne on Gründonnerstag, Maundy Thursday, (literally Green Thursday) and stayed until the Saturday before Easter.

Cologne is a great city.  It sits on the Rhine and is literally filled with culture.  Every time you step off of the bus or come up from the subway, you find yourself standing before some relic that looks like a chess pieces.  There are churches, towers, walls, all ancient, all beautiful.  Although there is something to see everywhere, it’s most famous tourist attraction is the gorgeous Gothic cathedral, the Kölner Dom.  The train station literally sits on the Cathedral Square, or Domplatz, so even if you have just 20 minutes between trains, you can take in one of the Europe’s best attractions.  The Dom supposedly houses the remains of the Three Wise Men, making it the 3rd most visited pilgrimage site in Europe after Rome and Santiago de Compostela.  The Dom tower also boasts an excellent view.  For just 6 Euro (3 for students!) you can climb each of the 509 steps to the top for a great view of the city.  Ticketholders also have access to the museum, which houses all of the cathedral’s treasures.  Those who do not want to make the climb can still visit the Cathedral, take photos and participate in mass.

I often get bored looking at churches in Europe.  It becomes an “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all affair.”  Not in Cologne.  Amanda and I were at the Dom at least four times in three days.  It is seriously that impressive.  We did everything we could possibly do there.  Not only did we complete the excruciating climb to the top of the tower, but we made the whole trip (up, sight-seeing, and back down) in under 30 minutes.  We had to, because there were so many masses happening in the Dom on the Saturday before Easter.  We also heard mass on Good Friday, which was an absolutely beautiful, intense and moving experience.

I don’t want to fool you; our trip wasn’t all exercise and holiness.  On our first night, we had dinner at a great tapas place.  We ate at the bar and talked to the bartender, while we enjoyed a spread that included fried calamari, mussels with white wine and garlic, goat cheese with honey and almonds, garlic bread with aioli, fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce, a honey chicken skewer and garlic shrimp.  It was SO delicious.  Our bartender was a friendly guy.  He had tattooed sleeves, and Amanda pointed out that she hadn’t seen many tattoos in Germany.  I had to agree that it seemed much more common in the US.  When she asked the bartender about it, we learned that he was also a tattoo artist.  (So that explains it.)  He claimed to have some gruesome body modification stories, but he wouldn’t share them with us.  Blast.  When we asked him where we should go out later that night.  His response:  “Tonight?  Nowhere.  After sundown, the whole city will shutdown.  There will be no music, dancing or drinking, because it’s Maundy Thursday.”  I had not thought about how seriously Catholic Cologne is, but still, I had never of such a thing.  In my defense, Freiburg was also “Catholic,” but nothing ever stopped a party there.  #Tripplannerguilt

Luckily, we were pretty tired, so we just headed back to our most excellent hotel- Centrum Hotel Leonet.  For the same price as a Jugendhotel (like where we stayed in Dresden and Berlin), we got a nice hotel room with free WiFi, free breakfast and even amenities.  The hotel is in the Altstadt part of Cologne, which is safe and has good access to public transportation, restaurants, bars, shopping and the gay-friendly neighborhood.  Props to Amanda for finding this place!

The next day, we headed to Museum Ludwig.  The Museum Ludwig is a modern and contemporary art museum more or less right next to the cathedral.  The museum has a large Picasso collection, so I had to go.  Luckily, Amanda was willing.  The Chocolate Museum was next on our list.  We had had high hopes, but it you could probably skip it.  We also did some walking around and stumbled across some more interesting buildings, churches and sights.  My favorite from this stroll was the Karneval-themed fountain.  Damme may have the largest Karneval in Northern Germany, but Cologne has the largest one in the whole country.  They live for it.  This fountain was a memorial to someone who had been an active Narr, and featured a boat filled with drunken musicians.  You knew they were drunk because none of them was playing his instrument correctly.  An added bonus: the joints on the figures moved!  Dr. Hefeweizen, take note: when I die, I would like a fountain featuring drunken, moveable figures.  The fountain should also be imprinted with the lyrics to a silly song.  That is all.

After the museum and the walk, we had to have some traditional German eats, so we headed to a Cologne institution: Früh Kölsch.  Früh Kölsch is a Kölsch brewery and restaurant.  Kölsch is a special sort of beer only brewed in Cologne.  It is served in a tall, thin, .2 liter glass called a Stange, is very effervescent, and has a light, clean taste.  Servers carry racks of filled glasses around and just keep giving you more until you tell them to stop.  A new glass earns you a tally mark on your coaster.  When you are ready to pay, they count your tallies and multiply.  It is a clever system, but be careful: since the glasses are so small, it is easy to miscalculate how much you’ve drunk.  Once you stand up, however, it will become abundantly clear.

Früh is not the only maker of Kölsch.  It is not even my favorite.  I find the flavor very yeasty.  Sion, Gaffel, Dom are some others; Dom is my personal favorite Kölsch.  Früh is the Hofbräuhaus of Cologne: touristy, slightly over-priced and heavy, “German” (read: what everyone thinks is German) food.  Still, if want the typical Cologne experience, I feel a trip to Früh is in order.  I also wanted to hit up Früh because there was one thing I needed to cross off of my to-eat-while-in-Germany list: blood sausage.  I knew they had it there with the dish called “Himmel und Aard” in the Kölsch dialect, which is “Himmel und Erde” in High German, or “Heaven and Earth” in English.  It’s is mashed potatoes and apples, topped with fried onions and a blood sausage.  Amanda went for a sausage with potato salad.  The result?  We were both disappointed.  Her meal was a glorified hot dog, and despite what everyone says, blood sausage was not that tasty.  I’m willing to give it a go somewhere else, but I am going to need a long mental recovery time on this one.  Maybe a trip to Früh Kölsch isn’t necessary after all.  Früh Kölsch: 1, Heidi and Amanda: 0.

As we left Köln, we quickly learned that there was a soccer game that day.  Werder Bremen vs. FC Köln.  The train station was crawling with men, who, despite being completely hammered, were friendly and generally upbeat.  We saw some Bremen fans singing on the steps of the Cathedral on our way into the station.  As the Köln fans circled around them, I was certain we were about to witness a serious altercation.  Instead, the Köln fans just tried to sing their own song louder than the Bremen song.  Whew.  Way to keep it clean, guys.


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52.5 Degrees

I did not plan to write a weather rant today, but the last few days have me so vexed.  I have to let it out.  Liebe Leute, today is June 6.  The high is 53°F.  It is raining.  It has been this way for at least a week.  I have worn a fleece jacket and a scarf (not just for fashion purposes) nearly everyday for ten months.  I turned on the heat two days ago.  It is daytime from 5am until after 10 pm.  I am going insane.

Damme lies at 52.5 degrees N.  I understand that this is a northern climate.  I don’t even like hot, sunny weather.  Exhibit A: Pittsburgh averages 59 clear days or 145 days that a local would consider sunny.  (Apparently there is some debate on the number, but even at 145, it’s still cloudy almost 2/3 of the year.)  Exhibit B: We spent our honeymoon in San Francisco in August.  Exhibit C: There is zero chance that I would ever live further south than Virginia.  Exhibit D: All of my family’s vacations included going either to Canada, to Michigan or further north within Pennsylvania.  Exhibit E: I am see-through pale.  When Neutrogena introduced SPF 105, I went outside feeling like a knight riding into battle with a suit of armor.

Here’s the thing, though:  Even people who don’t like hot weather enjoy the occasional change in the weather.  Everywhere I have ever lived has four seasons.  I like all four seasons.  You cannot enjoy constant sun if it never rains.  Likewise, you cannot enjoy staying in and watching a movie on a rainy day if it rains all the time.  With the exception of the one warm week in September, the two cold weeks in January, the freakishly warm weekend at the end of April, it has been 50°F and gray almost the entire time I have been here.  But that’s not all.  The plants and trees never die.  It is always green in the woods.  In fact, the only thing that has ever changed is the amount of daytime you get.  In December, you have approximately six minutes of daylight per day, while in June, the day never ends.

So I ask you, is this for real?  How can this place be real?  Is Fulbright even a real program, or are all 300 of us involved in some sort of experiment?  Maybe it’s a reality TV show, and whoever notices the weird-ass weather patterns first wins.  Furthermore, how can there be seventeen hours of “daytime” everyday with no sun?!???

One thing is for sure: the birds never stop chirping.

(Also, a Fulbright reality show would kill.  Picture it: different country every season.   Call me.  I have ideas.)

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