englishman abroad, work

I’ve only got one pair of hands

Last December we bought a house. It was originally built in 1949 and there’s a fair bit of renovation to do as you might expect with such an old place. So far, all of the electrics have been stripped out and replaced, two of the outbuildings (a large aviary and a small god-knows-what) have been knocked down and smashed up and then taken away by my very enthusiastic father in law and his gigantic hydraulic truck. The wallpaper is being stripped off and pasted up anew in record time and a new bathroom is being fitted upstairs, this latter part required a couple of new walls and digging up the driveway to find the mains sewer (old house!). These have been our weekends and several of my afternoons per week: DIY and liaison with handymen. The mornings are my usual work with the MariLANG project and my teaching duties at Jade. These teaching duties are about to double because my class has doubled in size since last semester. Things are going to pay off after all this work is done.

Earlier this week I was once again in the UK as part of the MariLANG project, this time for our 5th transnational partner meeting which went really well! This time we were in Kenilworth, a place I’d never been before. It has a palpable aura of sleepy little town in Warwickshire, because that’s pretty much exactly what it is. Jennie, a very hard working colleague from Greece, made a short video of the meeting which I’ll post here:

Anyway, all of this zipping about, DIY, teaching and general business has meant I’ve neglected this blog for far too long. Here’s hoping I can grow another pair of hands.

englishman abroad, the German way

Feeling at home

I haven’t spent any proper time in England, where I was born, for years.

However, on Sunday I got back from a week’s training at Southampton Solent University. It was a lot of fun, and I got to meet with lots of interesting international people and contribute to the ongoing development of the Marilang project.

I spent a week in England and discovered that I no longer feel at home there. On the simplest of levels, things are different: the money looks different, the prices have gone up, Brexit is on the news all the time these days. But my feeling of unease is more profound: I’ve become a bit German. I waited at the traffic lights instead of jaywalking, I put my cigarette ends in the bin instead of just dumping them, I even spoke German with my colleagues when I wanted to be frank.

When I first came to Germany I thought I was an outsider working my way inside. It wasn’t until I went to Southampton that I realised another truth: I was an insider here, and I’ve worked my way outside.

Bittersweet as this feeling is, it’s for the best; Britain hasn’t been doing too well recently. Germany, on the other hand, has been kind to me: a wife and child, our own house, interesting projects and maybe, one day, citizenship.

Christmas, englishman abroad

The Christmas (booze) Market

The Christmas market is in town. If you don’t know what a German Christmas market is like, imagine a winter-themed funfair with lots of food and booze. The one in Oldenburg has a Ferris wheel, a shy (throw-a-ball-and-win-a-prize game), carousel, and other assorted games including a stage where Santa reads Christmas stories. It has a stall where you can buy sides of flame-cooked salmon in bread rolls, it has the requisite German sausages and Reibekuchen (potato cakes /latkes).

But the booze is the most interesting. There are myriad places where you can buy Glühwein, Eierlikör and Feuerzangbowle.

Glühwein

                Glühwein is the German take on mulled wine. Usually it’s red wine, but sometimes white is used, and it’s always really hot. Anyway, it keeps the cold out and you always get some money back when you return the glasses (there’s a deposit on them).

Glühwein mit Schuss

                Glühwein with a dash of something else in it. Typically a shot of rum. My father in law bought me one and I liked it so much I‘ve decided to have everything mit Schuss from now on. Coffee mit Schuss. Cola mit Schuss. Cornflakes mit Schuss. The Schuss really takes it up a notch.

Feuerzangbowle

Its Glühwein again, but this time its definitely only the red variety. If you thought the Schuss was taking it up a notch, stand by. They take a gigantic sugarloaf (it’s what they had before granulated sugar, I suppose) and soak the thing in rum. I mean they drench it. Then they set it on fire, and as the burning, molten, boozy mess drips into the bowl of Glühwein beneath they serve it to you. A huge plus with the stall that specialises in this drink is that it gives you free Spekulatius.

Eierlikör

If this is made properly it tastes like boozy custard. I honestly don’t know exactly what is in it but I would hazard: egg, advocaat, some other spirit and custard powder. I know that can’t be right, but the truth would probably be even worse. Google it at your peril. All I know for certain is that it definitely has egg in it, as one year I had some and also got a whole raw yolk in my mouth. Haven’t been too keen on it since.

 

englishman abroad, travel

A very Denglish holiday, part 1

Until recently we had never booked a Pauschalreise, the trip to Tenerife was our first family package holiday. Previously everything we booked, the accommodation, the flights / ferries, the trips and entertainment had all been planned meticulously and booked in advance. This time we decided to do the ‘normal’ thing. Not everything went to plan…

We had taken a train to Düsseldorf airport and were waiting around for the bag drop to open, when my spidey sense started tingling. A man, dishevelled, stubbled and dirty with a large, ripped holdall was shuffling furtively around the departures hall. I watched him closely. His eyes darted about the place until they fixed upon the security guards who were patrolling, he detoured around a large, potted fern and continued on his way towards me. The man was plainly avoiding the staff and this piqued my interest further. I started to wonder, “could this man be up to something?”

Just along from the generic, metal airport bench on which I was sitting, he stopped with his back turned to me. He unslung the bag from his shoulder and rested it on the floor next to some recycling bins. He unscrewed the lid from one of these metal bins and pulled out another bag, a Rucksack. The thought crossed my mind “could this man be a terrorist?”

Smoothly, the man switched the two bags, leaving his holdall in the bin and screwing the top back on, and then peering into his rucksack. A brief smile crossed his face and I saw that the bag was full of plastic bottles. The man was collecting them for the Pfand. For anyone who doesn’t know, most Flaschen (bottles) of plastic or glass here in Germany have a deposit on them, which can be redeemed for cash at supermarkets and the like. Many homeless people scrape a living by returning these bottles (my friend calls one of our local tramps Flasch-back). This particular homeless guy was much more creative than most. I watched him do his rounds and repeat the trick with other bags, I estimate he made about 15-20 euros in the ten minutes I watched him.

Relieved, we waited for a few hours until we eventually boarded the flight to Tenerife with Norwegian Air. They had Wi-Fi! On a plane! Such exciting times! Eventually we landed in the late evening, and went to the coach station adjoining the Flughafen. The coach full of Germans was already full and so we waited for the next coach, which was full of English.

The coach took us into the rapidly darkening late-evening and along a motorway with a lovely view of the coast, which we had plenty of time to enjoy because the coach broke down on the side of the motorway. There we were, no aircon, only dim lights and a dead engine on the hard shoulder with traffic flying past. The driver couldn’t speak English or German, but someone spoke to him and assured us that a replacement coach would be with us in ten minutes. Ten minutes passed. No replacement. “Well” I said, “it still beats Butlin’s”. A couple of people smirked at this and told a little story about a time they’d been to Butlin’s, long ago. A few others piped up with some holiday horror stories they’d lived through. I kept a couple of lost-looking Germans in the back of the coach informed of what was going on. People shared out water in the sweltering heat. Boys and girls exchanged phone numbers.

The coach was no longer an English coach, it was a Socialist Coach.

Eventually the replacement coach did come and we had to swap all the luggage from one coach to the other with cars whizzing by the whole time, it was fun but shambolic! The new coach was much newer, much cleaner and much better driven. A capitalist coach, no doubt.

We eventually arrived at the hotel around 11pm and there was a buffet waiting for late arrivals. There was no drinking water though. You see, when you book a package deal you run the risk of the Reisebüro neglecting to mention small details like extra costs. I knew that the water on Tenerife wasn’t potable, but surely drinking water shouldn’t cost extra!

I briefly argued the point with the very unhelpful night porter, and considered mentioning the Geneva Convention, or Human Rights, but in the end, I decided to take the more expedient route and steal some water by tagging along with a group whose travel agent hadn’t taken the cheapest option. I nabbed three bottles of water by pretending to be a Portuguese tourist and we turned in for the night. On the way to our room we saw a vending machine that sold a litre of water for 3 euros. This was going to be a very expensive trip unless we found a way around the water scam in the morning…