Chapter 5: In which I realise that June is the most boring month of the year

This week my lucky primary-schoolers (Grundsch├╝ler) get to learn the months of the year. Well, to be perfectly honest, this won’t be their first try, nor my first try to teach them. The months of the year are one of the hardest things to teach to very little kids; they don’t quite yet understand what the months are doing per se, they don’t really see the difference between the months and the seasons, and they don’t really know what the months are called in their own language let alone a foreign one. Furthermore, in a lesson jam-packed with activities, interactive games and visual aids, with a hyperactive English oompa-loompa bounding around the room like a cartoon grasshopper to boot, the moment when that person then becomes earnest and still and tries to tell you that ‘Mai’ is ‘May’ is certain to be the low point of the lesson. 

The issue is that months are totally abstract; perhaps even more so than hours and minutes because with time you can point to a clock and ask them to decide what time lunch, dinner or bedtime are.  Months are vague boxes of time separated arbitrarily into either 30 or 31 days (and once 28 just to keep things interesting) with no specific real-world connection. The birthday trick (‘Which month is your birthday?’) doesn’t even work because a lot of them have no idea when their birthdays are; one boy told me that his birthday was in Herbst (autumn) and could not be convinced that there are multiple months in autumn.

To cut to the chase, I realised that there needed to be some way to give each season a hook, and so I’ve set to designing a set of months flashcards. They each feature a portly bunny rabbit indulging in whatever thing is most pertinent to the month – in December he’s dressed up as Father Christmas, in October he’s in a hallowe’en scene, et cetera. There is a tree in one corner to keep a sense of continuity by showing the changes in seasons as the months progress. But this has been a lot less simple than I anticipated; what, for example, sets June out as an important month? It doesn’t really have an ‘event’ like Christmas and thanks to global warming’s year-round damp grey weather you can’t even say ‘Oh man, it’s always boiling in June’. Therefore our bunny (I think I shall call him Douglas) is holding a tennis racket, wearing a baseball cap and using a hand-held fan to cool down a bit. Is that quintessentially June? Who knows. I don’t think it is, but anything that will give these children something to visualise when I parrot the names of the months at them will be a step in the right direction.

Something else that has been perturbing me today (a dull, dull, enormously dull Sunday) is how hard it is to be here with a time limit. Every day I feel like I ought to spring vigorously out of bed, spend the time in between lessons exploring every nook and cranny of this amazing city which is on loan to me, taking photos of urban decay and small children pointing at the sky and bicycles, before joining a group of my cool cosmopolitan friends as the sun goes down and spending the night drinking and laughing and falling in lust with everyone and then having a short but charming nap on my floor-level bed before starting it all again the next morning. I want to be able to tell that kind of story to my future children. However, most days I wake up in an imprint of my face in the pillow so deep it’s like I fell onto it from a height; I shuffle from lesson to lesson, spending my time on the trains staring at the person opposite me and wondering why he chose that particular style of mullet; I occasionally take a photo of a dog or a funny sign if I have my camera; I go home and make dinner and write five thousand emails and maybe a blog entry. This is not what one does with limited time in an incredible city! But on the other hand, for nine months one can’t wander around in constant amazement at the place one is in. You can’t be a resident and a tourist at the same time. People who live in London don’t just ‘pop’ to the Natural History Museum.  Nonetheless, every minute here not spent doing something Berlin-y feels like a waste of precious and once-in-a-lifetime experience. Perhaps once the blisters on my feet have finally healed, once I stop living in stop-gaps and start getting the hang of being trigger-happy with my camera I will start being a proper year-abroader. Or perhaps I’ll just reach an enlightening realisation about how best to select your mullet depending on your face shape and moustache style.

Rose T