Monday, 15 February 2016

German Language Immersion – Sad to Say Goodbye!

COUNTRY: Germany
PROGRAM: Language Immersion
PROJECT: Language Exchange
WRITTEN BY: Sebastian Hahn

With the goodbyes and tearful hugs a forgotten memory we excitedly handed over our passports and began our long journey. As we boarded our flight we gave a last wave to Sydney and made our selves comfortable for the next 9 hours. The flight was a time spent catching up on movies and getting to know everyone from the rest of the group. By the stop over in Singapore we were all delirious due to lack of sleep which fortunately led to an hour filled of stories, jokes and plenty of laughter. As the hour came to end we all mentally prepared ourselves for the next thirteen hour flight that separated into those who slept (mainly me) and those who wished they could sleep.

After finally arriving we rummaged through our suitcases for our jackets and scarfs in preparation for the cold. After going through the customs door we met (our now beloved and hysterical) tour guide, who would be accompanying our time here in Germany. Before any sightseeing began we could first go to our hotel and eagerly devour a German breakfast. At first the German breakfast puzzled most of our group as it resembled more of a lunch than a breakfast not that it mattered at that point. Shortly after we were back on the train heading towards the city. Here we meet with a Munich tour guide and proceeded to walk Munich flat, along the way we heard many stories of the city culture and history, saw some absolutely amazing architecture and took far too many photos. With some free time before returning to the hotel, we could all wonder the Christmas markets and eagerly practise our German.

To begin our second day we again had a lunch style breakfast and then to keep us on our toes we had a hour long German lesson with our much beloved “Frau”. As opposed to yesterday, today held a more sombre activity which was Dachau. Upon arrival at the concentration camp everyone could sense the melancholic atmosphere as we proceeded through the gates of the camp. It is hard to believe some of the events occurred or how many lives were affected within these walls. All which we see from the remnants around the camp. As we departed the gates of the camp we headed towards a more pleasant site of German history, the BMW museum. Here we could see the history of BMW from the very first car, to it’s planes, engines and to its latest car. To finish the day off we headed off to experience the very best of Germany, it’s food. We could enjoy this at the “Hofbrau Haus” with it’s traditional German and delicious food.

The next morning everyone could feel the anxiety as we boarded the train and began our long journey to Dorsten. On the train we all played cards and talked to distract ourselves from the nervousness. It was only after we boarded our last train that we all eagerly practised our German greetings and fretted over meeting our family. As early darkness surrounded us we pulled into Dorsten Station. My own heart was beating immensely at the concept of meeting my family and I’m sure it was the same for the others. Yet as we looked through the masses of dark figures we found our families, and all worries were put to rest and the concept of staying here for five weeks was less daunting.

The next morning for me and I’m sure for the others was a time to explore our new surroundings and get to know the family. For me this was a polar opposite to my life in Sydney as I was now to living on a farm style house as well as now having two sisters, a brother, two horses, chickens and a St Bernard. However, our time was limited as the Australian group and our host Germans were to meet the Dorsten Bürgermeister (mayor) and then have a guided tour. Here we learnt all the history of Dorsten and surprising facts, one of which is that the esteemed author Cornelia Funkle grew up within Dorsten.

It was the time at home with my host family that I felt the most confident about my German where I could understand and contribute to conversation. However this changed dramatically with the proposal of school, to me this was a daunting experience as it was completely different to an Australian School. Our days began with an early start of six o’clock, from here we drove to the bus station and waited in the blistering cold and dark. It was this claustrophobic darkness that was the most unusual to me especially arriving to school in the dark, attending classes in the dark and then often leaving school in the dark. Classes within the school are relatively the same compared to Sydney with the same subjects. The German schools did however differ in its timetable where one could have either long or short days during the week, when having a short day a student could leave at lunch yet on a long day they could go for a two hour break around lunch -time and then return for two more lessons. It was during these breaks that most conversation was made between students and where I could see the similarities between Australian and German students such as conversation topics and definitely humour.

As a break, a much needed break we had a day trip to the beautiful city of Köln. The gossiping of stories and photo sharing began bright and early at the small station of Dorsten and continued on both train rides. It was only until our train pulled into the Köln “Hauptbahnhof” and we all saw the somewhat unbelievable Cathedral, that we became quiet. It was only when we approached the bottom of the Cathedral that we realised how tall it is. We met out Tour guide who gave a very detailed history of the “Dom” (during its 600 year construction) of it’s tragedy and joy. Köln apparently had it all. When entering the cathedral it’s easy to understand why it took 600 years to construct, due to the architecture, artwork and the sheer beauty. To take this to an even higher level, the entire group climbed the 502 (German accuracy) steps and see the entirety of Köln. Despite the chilly wind we all managed to take plenty of photos and of course selfies. When we descended the endless spiral steps and had made our way to the train where we would pull into Dorsten for the second time and said our goodbyes until next time.

After this it was back to school, unfortunately there was only four more days of school which passed rather quickly and soon we were saying our goodbyes to our new friends.The next days were probably the most insightful into the German culture as they were just normal days which showed what an average family would do. Personally due to me living on a farm style house with three siblings, my days were always eventful. Events ranged from tending the horses, playing soccer, riding the tractors with my younger brother and playing cards games. Aside from these activities my family and I would also go out and see the local sites or see family.

I believe if there was one sole event that explained Germany culture it would be Christmas. This is due to how dear they hold it, and how many traditions they have. The first is how they not only celebrate the day but also the four weeks leading up to is with four candles. A second rather exciting tradition is going out into the woods and cutting down a Christmas tree. Of course like Australia after the tree was set it up in the living room it would be decorated till overflowing with decorations. As the days passed and the tension rose, it was time for Christmas Eve. It was here that my host family and I celebrated with a huge feast of food, games and music all of which was amazing. Yet as the hours of celebrating carried on and I thought it would never end it was time for a midnight Church service. It is this culmination of events that I think Christmas is a time where I fully experienced every part of German culture from it’s food, it’s traditions, it’s religion and it’s people.

As the time of Christmas wore off and the days became less festive and life almost returned back to a somewhat normal state. However, this peace did not last long as New Year was approaching. In the German culture this meant fireworks and alcohol. On the night of New Year’s Eve, family members and family friends arrived and the hours of count down began. After a rather lengthy feast where both the alcohol and conversation ran freely the New Year approached rapidly. As we began to count down the seconds the cacophony of fireworks began. All around the little town of Dorsten people were setting of their individual fireworks to create a spectacular show all around. Yet although the fireworks died down the parties went into the early hours of the morning.

From New Year the days unfortunately were numbered and each day ended sooner than last. As the last night approached the farewells began among our families, some had little gifts, some gave us cards and others simply hugged and wished the best. I think the reason the farewells began early was because we would all truly miss each other, after five weeks why wouldn't we? It was a time where we experienced their normal life and activities and I suppose over time we became a part of their normal life. As the next morning sun shone I said my last goodbyes over our last breakfast and then made the drive to the train station. As the train slowly began to pull off we caught our last glimpses of Dorsten, maybe some of us would return who knows but for now we soaked up the last memory of it.

Although we had just said goodbye one couldn't help but feel excitement for Berlin and as the scenery around turned white from the snow the atmosphere grew. After a long five hours we eagerly bundled off the train only to be greeted by an Artic like temperature of -11. From our usual 30 degree temperature in Sydney this -11 was a shock to everyones system. From here we all eagerly looked forward to the warmth of our hotel and the prospect of food. Our only adventure left of the day was a impromptu walk to the Brandenburg Gate, here we all took photos, group photos, selfies. With the photos sessions over we all walked in to the cold of night with snow falling around us, almost a perfect moment until a snowball hit you.

The next day offered more of an opportunity to see the sights of Berlin as we went on our walking tour. Here we were lucky to experience the beautiful sights of Berlin, with its architecture in the Brandenburg Tor or the Reichstag and it’s history from settlement to present day. Lastly of course is the culture which as we learned not only revolved around curry wurst or Berliner doughnuts but the vast shopping centres most of which visited if not all. To end the day after this amazing yet rather exhausting tour, we went to the Berlin wall which although has a history of brutality and separation, is now a symbol of peace and harmony. This is perhaps due to it being covered in thought provoking art that inspire concepts of peace.

Our next day offered a slightly different array of experiences beginning with the Berlin horror Bunker. It was here that we visited a Berlin Bunker that had been used during war time to protect the surrounding people. It is easy enough to see why this place of war had been turned into a little horror show due to its eerie atmosphere and formidable appearance. As we waited to enter the maze our heart beats rose and our ears filled with the screams of the previous group. All I can say is that I’m glad its over and I'm sure I speak for the rest of the group. After those mornings rather interesting activities we had a more relaxing and pleasant sightseeing activity which was the Charlottenburg Schloss. This magnificent and historic building has housed some of the the most prestiges Royals from Friedrich to Wilhelm and also Napoleon. I myself couldn't help but admire the architecture and paintings that filled the building. Overall, the day had offered rather stark contrasts of Berlin adventures. However the day was not finished. No, dinner that night offered an opportunity for our rather favoured comedian Declan Heim to thank our much beloved tour guide.

Yet with the next morning, the time for the five weekers had come to an end. As we hugged and said our goodbyes to the seven weekers in the lobby we went out into the snowy city of Berlin for the last time. Although the travel went as blur and I was barely conscious from the early start I couldn't help but think of my time here in Germany. Throughout the time we had not only improved our German significantly but we had also created friendships with our host families that will last forever. We had created memories from school friends, from time with our host brother or sister, with the family in Berlin or Munich. I guess, I replayed all these memories of this long journey on the flight and I’m sure they will replay ever so often in the future.

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