Wednesday, January 13, 2010

At School

This is the place where I spend most of my time.
My school. The yard is covered in snow right now, as you can see, and at this moment deserted because the lessons are running. There are only two young teachers in the Teachers' Room with me right now, Wanda and Sandra, and they are discussing fur coats. Not having, but
wanting one. And also if they want breakfast now, and who's going to get it from the cafeteria.
This is what everyone is having today:

Cafe Latte and salami sandwich. It's Wednesday, after all.
If you look closely at my laptop, you can see the broken keys.... I think. They look like knocked out teeth, and they HURT me!!!! Typing is no fun, either, but this will remedied, because my beloved bought me a MacBook Pro. NO more missing teeth!

This is our Teachers' Room.

Well, part of it. It was rebuilt just this summer when the two neighboring schools merged and the two groups of teachers became one. There was quite a lot of upheaval and unrest because no one thought it would work out, but it did, in fact, and the atmosphere is a lot better than expected. The seat in the front with the pink bag next to it is mine, by the way. You might have guessed. Pink.

Our school now houses (hosts? teaches? serves?) nearly 600 students. For German Secondary Schools, this is fairly average. We teach grades 5 to 10, which would make it, in US terms, a "junior high school", I think. There are 62 teachers working here, three social workers, two headmasters, two secretaries and one cook.

This is Yvonne, one of the secretaries, and the kindest soul in the world.

And our cook, Gaby, feeding the hungry little ones.

My headmaster, Birgit, in her office, after saying she always looks stupid when she smiles for a snapshot, but this one actually pleased her enough to permit me to use it. Without her, I would not be doing the job I love so much. She believes that theater and musical work are essential for kids, and for their education, and she is my greatest supporter.
In fact, she never looks stupid. Harassed, at times, or worried, but most often she radiates a wonderful, positive spirit.

Break, again. The Espresso machine is in use.

This has become a ritual. There is nothing like a fresh brewed coffee to get together and chat for a moment. We bring different roasts and blends and then compare, and it has become a little of a contest to find the rarest and most exotic one. Hamburg has many coffee companies, and we are good hunters, all of us.

The Hubby. We work at the same school, but do very different things. He is a math and physics and chess teacher, I do the arts. But we both love coffee. Obviously.

This here is not a new school building. In fact, it is rather old. You can see it in the stark dullness of the hallways, the grey, uncomfortable angles and the uninspired class rooms. There is this unspecific and yet very particular smell, I don't know rightly what it is, but common to all schools.

It is associated with hoards of running children, chalk, over-stuffed school bags and damp winter jackets, mashed sandwiches in greasy wrappers and spilled tea.
There are no nice retreats for the kids during lunch break, and no peaceful corners.
This is the one recreational room:

As you can see, not a whole lot. But we have a lot of fun. I've taught a group of 5th grade girls knitting here, and we play and sing, too.
Also, I hear a lot of stories, from favorite pets' antics to sad family fates, newly separated parents, families torn apart, new families forming and not working too well.
Most of the kids at our school are from socially challenged backgrounds, most have a migratory history. Only a small percentage is of "German" origin, the others are from all over the planet. We have one 6th grade with 16 (!) nationalities in it, which is wonderful for the kids. There is no better way to learn about the world than living and studying together.

And this here, finally, is what I do when I don't hang out in the Teachers' Room:
I teach theater and musical classes. Right now, we're putting together a show that will go on stage on February 5, at the official opening ceremony for this newly merged school. We will be singing and performing Musical and movie songs for the mayor, the Minister of Education, the press, the city council, other heads of schools, etc.... and we're very excited about it.

These are "my" kids:

And this is how we look after a successful show:

Had to break off blogging on Wednesday and could only resume today, but actually there is little to add anyway. The pictures talk, I think, and no one looks unhappy, do they?

My Macbook arrived Wednesday afternoon, and we have been spending a lot of time together, and making friends. I know now why people who have one would never go back to a Windows machine. This is not a clever Apple slogan, it is really true.
Teacher Knud asked me today why I thought it was different to use a Mac, and I replied that it felt as if some very clever people had taken apart a Windows laptop into a squazillion little parts, looked very closely at every one, reshaped, painted and maybe turned it over and then put it back together to work properly. A little like a Borg starship: neat, sleek, efficient, doing what it was meant to do, exactly.

And on this note, I'm closing shop for this week.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Right off the plane, here she is!!!

So the girl came and left again today after five days of fun and laughter and a lot of sight-seeing.
AMAZING what you never get to do in your own city, isn't it? There's always this thought that there will be SO much time to go to that place or see this thing - and then you end up never doing it until someone from far away comes along and wants to see it all.

So we went to Berlin, where my family and I had not been since the Wall came down, and you know when that was, right? It is a modern, big city now, the Capital, and you hear many languages wallking down the boulevards, but not German. It was as COLD AS HELL.

I'll start at the beginning, though. While waiting for Charity, we strolled through the airport and came across these four guys. They look like a band, and they were sleeping the first time, but I wanted to ask if I could take their pic before I did.
"Yeah, man, sure!" was the reply I got.
I kept making up stories about them. My favorite version is: they are a Finnish rock band who performed in one of the Reeperbahn bars the night before and were now waiting for their plane to get home for NYE.

That was, as I said, on New Year's Eve.
We had a party and some friends over to meet our American Guest, and the neighborhood put on a really great firework show for us.

After a day of rest, Berlin.
Berlin in winter. Really, you realize how much closer to Russia and Moscow it must be, it being THAT cold there. Also, where in Hamburg you would mostly hear English or Japanese from tourists (and there are a lot of those here), in Berlin we mostly heard Eastern European languages, which are hard to know from each other and sound so much more foreign, and why exactly is that?

Here's what's left of the Berlin Wall. A piece of about 20 yards with some documentation, but that is all. The city looks the same on both its former sides, sometimes even grander and more spectacular on the Eastern.
Have I mentioned that it was cold?

Uhm, cold, right?
That huge cream building on the right is the US Embassy. It is huge, and right next to the Brandenburger Tor, seperated from it by a German bank. Go figure.
There was a rather cute guy watching the Embassy's gate, but none of us felt we should start a flirt with him. WAY to serious looking.

A piece of international history.
And yes, we still call the Americans "allies". They are. Were.

On a friendlier note, Berlin does have a Hard Rock Café.
I never knew why there was such a cult around the thing until we walked inside and had drinks and dinner there. That place alone might make me want to return to Berlin.
Heck, the starters alone would want me go back there!

The drive back home that night was less pleasurable because of - right; the snow. but we managed, and were up in time for more good stuff the day later.

Charity meets German food - not a good idea. The roast goose was fine, the red cabbage and dumplings - no. Sorry for that, girlie! You'll never have to go near it again!

Uhm, we went to this bar because of Pea.
When Pea and I first met and I told her I lived in Hamburg, she said she had been here, and visited the Red Light District.
Now Pea is the sweetest and daintiest of well-mannered ladies I've ever come across, and for the life of me I can't think what she might have wanted there, but she assures us that these are all hers and would we please return them to her post-haste via Charity, she is out of undies.
"Wait, what???"
They served pretty good Long Island Ice Tea at that bar, and it was only a few steps away from the place that is "forbidden" to "normal, regular, not-whore women".

Which is called "Herbertstrasse" and is a narrow street of shop windows with nekkid ladies in them. You know what that's all about, right? And here it is. Yes, we did dare go inside. Free country, and so on.

At a bar/lounge that allows smoking. One of a very few places left in Hamburg, I have to say, but an especially nice one.

And this is the view across the little lake right in the center of Hamburg where we were sitting then:

Here now comes the part that I'm really loathing.
Charity loves art, and so we went to the Hamburg Kunsthalle, the Art Institute.
We were there a couple of times, mostly with other guests, but not during the last ten years, quite honestly because I think 20$ entrance fee p.P. is a little steep for a regular Sunday afternoon enjoyment. But this here, this was different, and a great joy.
And I know that I will now go there more often, because it is money exceedingly well spent, and here we come to the loathing part:
I'm deeply ashamed I did not know about the famous paintings we had here!!!
There are some of my very favorites on display right here in Hamburg, and I never knew.
This, I loathe. Seriously.

Yep, folks, now you know why I am loathing this part alright. ALL those famous painters, right here, in front of my nose. *Turns away in shame*.

Now here is my conclusion.
We did not sleep very much. We did not really eat very regularly, either, we probably drank a little too much, and we covered a lot of ground.
I loved having Charity here, and it would have been great if she could have stayed longer, but hey, this was a spontaneous, fun thing we did, and a week with her a great, wonderful gift.
Also, it probably put me on my own way to traveling more than anything else ever did.
Bug, when you read this, I loved you coming over like this. And I'm looking forward to showing you Chicago in summer, just the way you showed me Hamburg.

And here is the last pic, and it shows how we felt most of the time.