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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Orchestras, Teaching, and Life in General

Hi Everybody!

It has been a while since I’ve had the time to sit down and write about what’s been going on, but that’s basically a sign that life is keeping me busy with exciting things!

The most exciting thing that has happened within the last few weeks is that I performed in a concert with the orchestra I’ve been practicing with. They have a performance every November, and it turned out to be a fantastic show! The orchestra itself is quite small, but there are tons of guest players that were nice enough to colour our performance using their musical expertise. It was fun listening to the talented oboist and bassoonist – they are such unique and lyrical sounds! It made me miss the days of when I played oboe in high school. But I had enough instruments on the go that night!

For the most part, I played the stand-up bass. My boyfriend, his sister, and her boyfriend all came to the show (seeing as their mom, dad, and me were all performers in it!) and it meant a lot to me to be playing for people I knew in the audience. I was extremely nervous, seeing as it was my first orchestra performance since high school. It didn’t help that our first piece was the most complicated one! But the more we played, the more relaxed I got, and I really enjoyed myself. Sebastien’s sister was on photo duty, and did a fantastic job!

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A new wave of angst hit when it was time to play the bagpipes. A few weeks beforehand, we had settled on sheet music for “Highland Cathedral” that had a melody for brass instruments as well as bagpipes. We had practiced it enough times that I was confident with how it would all sound, although there was that fear I always have of my reeds falling into my bag before I play, or a drone going drastically out of tune for some reason. The song turned out lovely though. It began with a trumpet soloist playing the melody, then two flutists joining in. Then I came in closer to the end, and it added loads of power to the performance without being overwhelming. Something slightly funky was going on with my “F” so I had to work around that (heart going a million miles a minute) but in the end it all came together very well, and it was a very strong performance. I wore a big goofy grin the rest of the night, and was absolutely delighted to be presented with flowers at the end of the night, for my solo. I’ve also included a picture of my name as a soloist in the program, because that was pretty exciting to see too!

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After the performance, we went out for a fancy Italian dinner – we had invited all of the guest musicians, as well as our significant others, to join us. I was able to talk in German for some of it, and someone who had never met me before actually asked my boyfriend if I had grown up speaking German. She probably realized that my German is far from perfect once she heard me speak more, but I was still extremely flattered!

All in all, it was a fantastic evening. It sure is lovely to be able to play music you love for an appreciative audience. And I was so lucky to receive so much gratitude for my bagpiping! A terrific memory that I can add to my experience here in Germany.

Another semi-exciting thing that has been going on over the past few weeks is that I’ve accompanied various groups of grade 11 students to the Humboldt University Bibliothek. I informed one of the teachers here that I would love to get involved in Library Science, and he set it up so that I would be the supervising teacher on these tours of the library. Each time I went was very similar – a tour guide came and set us up in a “student room,” then we were shown various important spots in the five floors of the library. After that, the students would have to complete an assignment back in the student room using the computer research resources. The first two groups I took were very well behaved, but unfortunately the third one had a few people that spent a lot of time goofing off. I caught one of them on youtube when he was supposed to be listening to the assignment, and I walked up to him and said “can you please turn that off” with a great big smile. Oh ya, that’s the disciplinary Canadian. It’s a wonder the students weren’t terrified of me.

Anyways. I got to learn a fair bit while on these tours as well. I got quite good at taking attendance in German (I figure it’s a language transferable skill though, so I’m set for taking attendance in English too) and I loved getting to explore the various resources this library has to offer. The architectural design of the building is very artsy, and I could never get sick of spending time looking around. Also, our tour guide is my new idol. She always dressed very professionally and tastefully (without her hair in a bun or wearing glasses, just to throw in the stereotype so many people think of) and was extremely knowledgeable. Overall, I am very grateful that the other teacher thought of me to do these tours when he learned of my enthusiasm for libraries.

On Tuesdays, a group of Canadian Education Officials came to visit the school I work at. I was asked to spend that day working with them, and I like to think I proved to be helpful. The officials there were trying to learn how to emulate German’s language teaching practices. While there are many potential languages in Canada that people could learn, there isn’t the same initiative early in the education system that there is in Germany. The officials made reference to wanting to promote exchanges between Canadian and German schools, and they asked me all about how I came to be spending this year here in Germany. The group of us attended a grade 7 French class to see what a language class in Germany is like, and I now know some very useful words – primarily “la chien” or something to that effect. Maybe “la chat” but I’m not sure if I got those genders right. After that class, we spent some time discussing our countries and how we approach language, and there was a mixture of English, French, and German all in one discussion. It was pretty neat to be around Canadian speakers again, and they were interested to hear that I come from Calgary – there were two there from Winnipeg, and two working in Ottawa. It’s crazy how within Canada, the language challenges are completely different within each province. People of different descents settled in various parts of Canada, and it has resulted in different language specializations and priorities today.

The last experience I will rant about in today’s blog is a teaching related one. My schedule recently changed, and last week I was with a class I had never been with before. The teacher beforehand told me that she has quite a lot of problems with this class – they apparently are very lazy, and she often has difficulties with getting them to pay attention. The class is about to start the novel “Of Mice and Men” and my job for that class was to talk with groups of four or five students at a time about the Great Depression. I was quite surprised by the result. I had expected these kids to be unresponsive and lazy in our discussion, but instead they were thoughtful and insightful. Some of them expressed passion for changing the poverty situation in Germany, and it was great to hear people that are so driven and inspired. I guess my point here is that it’s amazing what kids are capable of: a lot of the time they’re self conscious and trying to impress others in a large class, but once they’re given a chance to talk on a one-on-one basis, they are each brilliant in their own way. Sorry for the lame cliché speech, but it’s hard to express how pleased I was after that class experience.

Anyways! This may have been a slow blog post, but thank you so much for reading! Things are about to pick up around here – I’m meeting my mom at the airport in a few short hours! She’s spending ten days here with me, and I can’t wait. While I will have some work to do, I’ve already been planning touristy things to show her. Next weekend we will be going to Dresden with Sebastien’s family, which is extremely exciting! I should probably get back to cleaning the house before her arrival. Not too much cleaning though, just enough to make her think that my house is normally that clean.

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!

Tschüß!

-Robyn

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Posted by on November 29, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Weekend Roadtrip through Small German Cities

Hello Everybody!

Sorry it has taken me so long to get a chance to write this blog! When Sebastien had the day off school last Friday, his parents kindly lent us their car and we took a small weekend trip through Germany. I meant to write about our adventures the moment we got back, but I had my first German exam on Thursday and therefore spent a lot of the week studying! And let’s be honest – when I wasn’t studying or at work, I was knitting. But here’s the blog now!

I’m very lucky to have a strategic planner for a boyfriend. Usually I mention the things I would like to see within a trip, and he makes it all smoothly flow together. His hope for this trip was to take a hike through some hills, and I had said recently that I wanted to return to Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther had spent some time. I visited the castle once before with my high school band, but that was before I had studied Martin Luther in university and come to appreciate his achievements.

So on Friday morning, we drove the three hours to Weimar and spent some time wandering around. Weimar is a city best known for its historical buildings, and its connection to Goethe who was a famous German writer. There is a “Goethe House” which we walked by, but decided not to go inside since it didn’t look overly impressive. Thanks to my slight obsession with libraries, we walked over to the “Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek” soon after our arrival. Apparently this library is extremely popular during “tourist season” and a maximum of 250 visitors are allowed in per day. However, we got lucky and were able to look around! The library belonged to the Duchess Anna Amalia (go figure) and although it burned down in 2004, everything has since been fully restored (although it took until 2007!) The library exhibit began with a portrait of Anna Amalia, in which she is holding a book – this was a fairly unique characteristic for a portrait back in the day. My audio guide was in German though, so forgive me if my facts are slightly wrong.

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To me it looks like she didn’t really know how to properly read a book, but I guess she’s the one with the cool library so I should keep my mouth shut. After that, we went upstairs and saw some video footage of how the library burned down, and the extensive work that was put into restoring everything. There was also a really interesting old clock that kept track of the days of the week, the month, the year, and the time. Maybe the temperature as well, but I’m not sure. Only thing it couldn’t do was take pictures or receive phone calls.

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We got to wear big huge slippers over our shoes to keep the floors clean, and then we entered the library itself. It was absolutely amazing, and I can confidently say that it is the coolest library I have seen to date. I am going to admit that a few of the following photos are actually postcards I bought instead of pictures I took within the library, but that’s just because I couldn’t get the full span of the room with my camera. I was told in the audio guide that I could technically request to take a book to the reading room, which would be incredible considering the age of some of those books. There were portraits and sculptures of historical figures, including Goethe himself. As you can see from some of the photos, there were two floors full of books – and then a third floor that was covered all except for a narrow opening, through which you could look up and see a painting. It’s hard to describe, but I was in awe of it all, and could have spent hours there looking around. 

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After we left the main event, we were able to check out an exhibit detailing the steps involved in using a word press. There were a series of photos detailing how every letter would be strung together in order to make a page, and after that it would go through an elaborate printing process. There were samples of works created through using this process, including “Hamlet” written with a combination of English and German. Each picture would have to be hand carved as well. Hard to believe it used to take such an extreme amount of work to create just one page in an entire book, whereas now we can create huge documents within the space of hours if not minutes!

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After we left the library, we spent a fair bit of time wandering through the town. There was a small German “Weihnachstmarkt” going on that I had seen from the window of the library, but it was pretty small and deserted this early in the season. There were different places where we could buy food, as well as a small ice-skating rink. It makes me excited about the bigger Christmas markets I want to check out as the season goes on!

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We made sure to eat some bratwurst with mustard, because that’s a specialty in Weimar.

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We walked through a park, and saw Goethe’s garden house as well as a mass amount of sheep in an enclosed area. Not really sure how those sheep came to be there, but when we stood still it sounded as though it was raining because the sheep were constantly moving leaves as they munched on the grass.

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As we were getting ready to head back to the car, we saw a group of small children and their parents, carrying lanterns and quietly singing as they walked along the path. Apparently in Germany, it is a tradition that happens every year in November alongside Martinstag (November 11th). Children walk with lanterns and sing, and it scares away evil spirits – or something to that effect. Either way, the kids were adorable, and I got to hear all about how Sebastien and his siblings did the same thing when they were kids while their mother played accordion.                                                                                                   ImageImage

After that, we got back in the car and headed for Erfurt. We checked into our hotel and headed to a Chinese restaurant in the area, and had an early night. The next day, we got up bright and early for our hike. We packed up some banana juice and granola bars, put on our best walking shoes (in my case, running shoes) and drove to Tuphüringer Wald, where we proceeded to climb up Schneekopf. Unfortunately I made a knitting mistake while driving there, so I was a bit anxious about that while we were making the climb.

This was actually my first hike in what seems like forever, so I went into it with minimal expectations. I had taken it for granted that I was not a hiking girl, but Seb continually talked it up for me and made me decide to give it a try. I had expected to be toasty because of all the movement, but in the end it was very good that Seb brought a hat and mittens for me to wear. There had been a heavy storm across Europe a few weeks earlier, and it meant that a bunch of trees had been torn from the ground. Unfortunately one of these trees must have had a path-marker on it, because we ended up taking the wrong way at a fork in a road for lack of sign-age. The way we went wasn’t too bad either and still got us to the same place, but there were a lot of fallen trees we had to climb through, and my feet got massively muddy. When we reached the peak, it was extremely windy, but the view was pretty amazing as well. We were lucky to have a clear day, but it was also pretty chilly! On the way back I was a bit irritated by how cold my wet feet were, but Seb said that normally we would be hiking much earlier in the fall. It took us about four hours in total, and I treated myself to a hot chocolate pretty soon afterwards. All in all, I would say I haven’t been turned into a wilderness woman, but I would be up for more hikes in the future.

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After our hike, we drove back to Erfurt to act like proper tourists. We checked out the two Cathedrals central to the city, and could see the signs of a Weihnachtsmarkt slowly being put together. We then climbed to a great viewpoint, and got to admire the view as darkness settled in.

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While the night was extremely chilly and my poor feet were completely numb, I enjoyed getting to see the city. Being outside when it was chilly made me think of Christmas, and I started getting excited for the holiday season. I also did a bit of shopping at the artsy stores around while Seb patiently waited. Only had one embarrassing moment where my German failed me: the shopkeeper asked me if I was finding everything okay and I answered with no thank you. Wasn’t sure why she looked at me so strangely but I walked out of there quickly and Sebastien explained it later.

The night ended with a hot meal, followed by cozy pajamas and a good sleep. The next day, we headed to Eisenach so that we could see the Wartburg Castle. It was a Sunday so the city was pretty much deserted, but we managed to find a bakery that was open for breakfast. It was exciting to be back in Eisenach after I had travelled there with my grade 11 group, but this time I didn’t check out the church where Bach had been baptized, or his house. Seb and I walked around a little bit, and then drove up to the castle for their English tour. Last time we went there, it had been completely dark and we were only given a sample of the full tour since we were technically there past tourist hours. It had been an impressive view to see all of the city lights, but it was something completely different to see it during a fall day, complete with yellow and red leaves as well as birds in Vs flying south for the winter. The castle itself was interesting to see, although a lot of the artifacts in it were based on speculation instead of exact knowledge. It has an immense amount of history, and Martin Luther’s time in the castle was a very small event in the grand scheme of things. I had a lot of fun thinking back to that trip I took in grade 11. The only flaw about the castle I found was all the construction going on – it made it seem a bit less authentic, and made it obvious how many modern tourist additions have been made. Unfortunately my camera was basically full by the time we reached the castle, so I was unable to take mass amounts of pictures, but I still managed to get “a few”…so feel free to look at all 600 I have posted here.

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After that, Seb and I drove back home. I was unable to spend that time knitting, but since then I think I have discovered the mistake I made. It was a fantastic trip all in all, and it was great that we were able to fit so many interesting things into one weekend!

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you’re all having a great weekend yourselves.

Auf wiedersehen!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Halloween Week!

Hello Everybody!

Seeing as this was my very first Halloween in Berlin, I decided that I should write about my adventures here.

First of all though, to provide an update on the German class I was hoping to take: it turns out that it has needed a bit more paperwork than I originally thought, but I’m pretty certain I will be able to take the class. I had to register to Seb’s university as a “guest student” but since that is done, I can now pay for the course and officially be a member as of Monday. My second German class went well, although it’s funny to be back in the land of having homework and exams to prepare for. I think it’s going to improve my German a lot though!

On Tuesday, Seb and I went to the Berlin Dungeon with a group of other people here from England for the year.

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Unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos while inside, but those are the pictures I took of the entrance. We began the tour as a big group, and I personally thought it was a lot of fun! Our first “tour guide” was a creepy looking joker that continually would stare at one of us or another to make us feel uncomfortable, or would sneak up on us and then shriek unexpectedly. We went down an elevator that was made to look extremely old and had the sound effects of chains clinking, and after that we went through a series of rooms that had various creepy people in costumes in elaborate rooms. We learned a bit of Berlin’s history, and at one point took a raft ride to escape the plague while rat sound effects went on over our heads. Often we were shrouded in darkness, and then when the lights came back on the actor would be in a completely different place than he was before, standing right over someone. They often took people from the audience for various demonstrations, and at one point a woman in a torture chamber made Sebastien demonstrate various torture tools. Well, she was going to but then said she didn’t want to make his blood get everything dirty. The entire tour took about an hour, and it reminded me of something out of Disneyland (just because of how elaborate it all was). Sebastien wasn’t quite as into it as I was, mainly because of how touristy it all was. Either way, I figured it was a great way to begin Halloween week!

On Wednesday, in my conversation course I showed the kids the beginning clip of the film “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. It was the song “This is Halloween” and I read over the lyrics with them after having watched the clip. I think they enjoyed it alright, and after that we got into conversations about scary films and Tim Burton, and what their Halloween plans were. Also, starting this week, my teaching schedule has changed a bit. So now I am working with a grade 6 class on Thursdays, and the first class was a complete success. I introduced myself, and the kids were totally interested to hear about me. One little girl is from France, and actually spent a year in Canada. I can’t imagine moving around that much and constantly having to learn new languages (her and her sister have been in Germany for three months now, so they had to start learning German this year after learning English last year). However, she showed a lot of interest in my conversation course and I will hopefully see her next week. For the rest of the class, I worked with groups of four, reading a passage from their textbooks out loud. Some of the kids, including the girl from France, were completely eager to read with me, and I really enjoyed it. Reading out loud also allows me to correct the students on their pronunciation without discouraging them – it actually made me think back to when my Dad was teaching me how to read, and he would always make sure I pronounced words correctly (no wonder I’m such a skillful reader now!).

On Thursday evening, after my German class, I went to my Australian friend’s house for a movie night. On the bus ride I did see a few Trick or Treaters, including a group of tiny ghosts. We watched “Hotel Transylvania” in honour of Halloween, and I was able to drink some tea and knit. At the end of the night it took me about two hours to get home since I didn’t know the most direct route, but it was a very enjoyable evening.

On Friday night, Seb and I went to a Halloween club event. The deal was that people would pay one entry fee to get into four different clubs – and if you were wearing a costume and arrived before midnight, you would get in for half price. On the way there, one of Seb’s friend presented me with white and red face paint, offering for me to attempt some sort of costume. So, while on the train, I drew a heart on one cheek and a Q on the other, and coloured in the rest of my face white. Seb allowed me to draw a heart on one of his cheeks and a K on the other, but I didn’t colour the rest of his face white. In the end, I got in for half price (although they said that next time I should put in more effort) but Seb didn’t quite pull it off.

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I had pretty low expectations of this event before I went. I figured it was just an excuse to promote the clubs, and thought that there would be minimal decorations and perhaps a few half-ass attempts at costumes. I was pleasantly surprised to instead find that there were tons of elaborate costumes, and each club had been transformed into a spooky dance floor. The first club we entered had corpses hanging from the ceiling, a giant spider attached to the disco ball, cobwebs everywhere, and a horror movie projected silently on one wall. The music came along with five different screens displaying things such as “Happy Halloween, little monsters!” and skeletons dancing.

As for the costumes: according to Seb, Halloween isn’t too big of a thing in Berlin. And the people that do wear costumes never ever dress as something silly or funny – it’s always scary. In some parts of Germany, there is an event in the spring called “Karnival” and that’s when people can dress as anything they want. At this event, the most popular costume seemed to be a nurse covered in blood, and there were quite a few zombie brides (although I don’t understand how so many of them had access to real wedding dresses they could pour fake blood all over!) There were a ton of people with fake contacts in an icy blue colour, and at one point I found myself staring at a zombie bride who’s one eye was completely white with no pupil or iris. People had all sorts of fake injuries – one had a face that had been ripped off then placed back on, one had gashes on her cheeks that were being held together with safety pins, and one had a credit card that had been thrust into her forehead. There were a few costumes that weren’t so scary as well, such as Marie Antoinette complete with a ball gown and a tall white wig, and a few normal pirates (totally what I want to be for next year!). There was one group that did the cast of Alice in Wonderland (there were multiple Alices though, some with blood on their outfits and some without) and it was really funny to see the Mad Hatter breaking it down on the dance floor. A few of the costumes looked very impractical – quite a few masks, which I know from experience get very hot in normal circumstances, let alone in a club. Plus someone wore a complete Merlin cape and hat, along with a full length white wig and beard. I wish that I had taken my camera into the club to capture some of the elaborateness of the costumes, but I’ve never been one to take pictures in a dark club. The only problem with the evening was that it started getting exceptionally busy by about 1am. The clubs were stuffed full of people, and there were huge lines of people waiting to get into each. Seb and I left a little earlier than we had expected to, because of how full it was, but we certainly had a great night.

The next day, I was at “Claire’s” searching for earrings, and one of the girls working there noticed my stamp from the night before. She and the other employee had been at the Halloween event too, and agreed that it had been too full. It had taken them forever to get in unfortunately. Did I mention that I had this entire conversation with them in German? That’s right. I’m practically a local, going to clubs and discussing my experience with strangers in German. That was the highlight of my day right there!

The other day, I posted a blog that provides a link to an article I wrote a year ago about how early people in Canada begin to publicize Christmas. Just as a follow up: I had it in my head that Germany is not as commercial a place as Canada, and therefore figured that Christmas publicity wouldn’t happen for another few weeks. Apparently I was wrong! A few weeks into October, there were already Christmas chocolates and goodies available at the grocery stores, and a week ago I noticed all sorts of Christmas CDs, advent calendars, and books at a department store. Last night there was a Christmas tree on the side of a street, but as Seb pointed out, it was not yet lit up. I guess the key difference is that in Germany, the things available are those that have to do directly with the holiday, such as something to read or decorate your house with. In Canada, it was a lot more about companies directly relating their advertisements to Christmas: “buy THIS for your loved one for Christmas! It’s on sale, but only until December 23rd!” To read the original article I wrote, check out the link I posted in my last blog about my short career in journalism.

Anyways! Thank you so much for reading all about my recent adventures. I hope you also had a great Halloween!

Bis später!

Robyn

 

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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