The Usborne Kid’s Guide to Advanced German

Why do they even need to learn the word ‘Jacket’ at the age of three anyway?

There are two sides to teaching English to very small children, and both of them are rather disarming once you actually begin to consider them any further than ‘whatever pays the rent’. One thing you become aware of is that in teaching them the specific syllabus with which you have been provided, someone has made the conscious decision of what they feel are the most important and appropriate words to form the foundations of a language for a very small child; the other is that in teaching them you are yourself learning a highly particularised German and simultaneously being faced with its limits. I’ll explain:

First of all, we have the syllabus the kids have to learn. My class this morning, for example, has four children in, one one-year-old, one two-year-old and two three-year-olds. They have to learn the clothes at the moment but while they are understandably learning ‘shoes’ and ‘socks’ they are also learning ‘jacket’ and ‘pullover’ without ever learning how to say ‘trousers’ or ‘shirt’ or ‘underwear’, the latter of which would be nice as it would at least allow me to tell the kids to keep their hands out of their aforementioned. This strikes me as strange; I am well aware that the company I work for know as much about teaching languages to children as they do about cures for rattlesnake bites, but I would give a lot to know the thought process that makes someone decide that children that young should be learning winter accessories as opposed to the ultra-fundamental clothing basics that you need in order not to be charged with public indecency.

There is presumably a certain logic to this: shoes and socks go together, so do a jacket and pullover. Bending over backwards to defend the syllabus somewhat, at least there’s some sort of golden thread. And if you are going to teach kids the basic emotions (happy and sad) you should probably throw in a couple that they’re likely to want to complain about on a daily basis (sleepy, ill, hungry). But as you teach children sets of words you notice in their reactions and ability to grasp certain words that the concept itself isn’t even properly established in their minds yet; none of them really quite get what ‘proud’ is as an emotion, for example, as if while they know how to translate it into their native language they still can’t associate it with anything they might have an anchor to in their minds yet. You also realise the impossibility of teaching a language without taking into account the grammatical and syntactical differences between the two languages in question – teaching ‘snow’ and ‘it’s snowy’ or ‘rain’ and ‘it’s rainy’ almost works because they recognise a pattern and know that it is in some way similar to German (es schneit, es regnet) but when you get to ‘sun’ (die Sonne) and ‘it’s sunny’ (die Sonne scheint) all of a sudden there is a problem. In German the syntax changes as all of a sudden the sun is doing something funky, the pattern is lost and you are left with a classroom of kids saying things like ‘It’s Sonne!!’ or ‘The sunny!!’. And grief, don’t get me started on trying to explain to a group of six-year-olds who have no concept of time why it’s half-past-three in English and half-to-four in German. I make it up to them by letting them massacre each other in the guise of playing ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’ at the end of that topic.

And, as I mentioned, it works the other way around. The phrases I now use most on a daily basis are stupid, teacher-y phrases that I never so much learnt as simply caught out of the corner of my ear and later used in a desperate attempt to get the children to SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP AND FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP KICKING LUKA IN THE GONADS PAUL. ‘Quatsch machen’, i.e. to muck around, is my most-used phrase, as in ‘if you keep mucking around I will make your life a darker shade of hell’. I have a great big sheaf of idiomatic German tellings-off and praises bundled in my mind, and the kids seem to get what I mean because they sure as heck aren’t behaving like little arses just because something got lost in translation and I accidentally asked them to plunge into anarchy as opposed to sitting down quietly. But then something odd happened to me today.

I was sitting outside the classroom with my whole English class waiting for the Hausaufgabe (homework) kids to get the hell out of MY classroom at MY lesson time and I was trying my hardest to stop them all playing this game they had all suddenly invented of skipping sideways up and down the corridor and smashing into each other if they ever got too close together. I was trying to calm them down by asking them about the sports they played and out of nowhere one of the smartest kids in the class asked me: “Can you speak German?” I was, at the time, speaking to them in decent conversational German. “No! I only speak English!” I said, in German, with a wry smile playing on my lips (well that’s how I imagine myself, I suspect it looked more like I was trying to dislodge my false teeth from my palate). “URRR then how come we can understand you then???” the kids all replied incredulously. This is when the whole thing just became too much fun and I started to mess about with their perceptions of reality by announcing in fluid German that I couldn’t understand a word they were saying and they couldn’t understand me either. How odd, though, that despite the fact I have been teaching them for months and the whole time been speaking very adequate German to them they still don’t understand that as speaking or understanding German. What is language to them? Do they see it as fundamentally separate from communicating, as if I could have spent all this time talking English and giving them the feeling of understanding on a subconscious level? Do they think I have a script of German every week which I learn word for word without knowing what it means? Or are they just being moronic to distract me while the rest of them pelt sideways up and down the corridor barging violently into each other? It’s a complex mystery.

Honey, I’m…home?

No, it’s not tidy. Feast your eyes on real, gritty Berlin life.

At least, I bloody hope this mean I’m home. Over the last few months I have been in seven different domiciles, both in the UK and in Germany – let’s break it down:

1. My UK home. Where I grew up and spent the largest part of my conscious existence. A beautiful old huge house with cavernous, airy, freezing-cold rooms and an ever-changing variety of problems to be repaired at great expense. 
2. The hostel in which I stayed when I started my time here. I haven’t really had much of a chance to write about this, since at the time I was busy trying not to end up living in a bin behind a supermarket somewhere in the city. I spent about two and a half weeks in this hostel, frantically looking at flats and attending training for my job whilst spending any free time I had learning my repertoire of songs for the ‘assessed performance’ part of the training period. Staying for a long time in a youth hostel is a completely incomparable experience. You become almost like the jaded old janitor of a night club, lurking around the building watching fresh-faced young things skip joyfully in and out with the ephemeral briefness of mayflies, while you sit in the quieter spots and bitterly glare at them or occasionally take a nap with a newspaper laid over your face. I stayed so long I knew all the names of the staff and learnt every foible of the building and its running, meaning that other guests assumed I was also staff and regularly asked me to help them with their queries and problems. Other guests came, stayed a couple of drunken and thrilled nights, and then moved on to the next exciting European city. I had my own breakfast cereal and milk which I kept on the windowsill and the reception people knew to give me a bowl when I came down in the morning.

3. My colleague’s flat. Ok, so I only stayed five days here, but five days rolled into a ball sleeping on the armchair in my colleague’s bedroom was enough.
4. The flat in Charlottenburg. See previous posts.
5. The flat on Schönhauser Allee, which I have also already mentioned, I believe.
6. My new house in the UK. 
7. My new flat in Berlin, which is comfortable and friendly and small and very ‘me’.

But most importantly, the new flat is the one. That means I’m now here for good. Hubris aside, this has been the most eye-opening experience, as nothing shows you how severely a person needs an anchor until they have it uprooted. There is a beautiful part of Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ where he writes about human beings being connected to their home by invisible tendrils which flail around in hyperspace once that person’s home is unexpectedly taken away. Adams was completely right; when you don’t have a lasting place to anchor your sense of ‘being’ to you simply drift about like a limpet squelching from rock to rock, and this life makes you feel vulnerable and unsafe, as if any moment a seagull will come and suck you out of your shell and some child will come and take it and put it on their thumb and pretend that it’s a miniature Chinese hat. So Gott sei Dank, finally there is a corner of Berlin with my name on it for good. (thunder rolls ominously in the distance)

As for the rest of what’s going on in this semi-molten glob of a city: the ice thawed and then immediately refroze into a completely invisible, transparent layer of death which caused everyone in the entire city to struggle from place to place scooting about, slipping and essentially suffering frequent comedy moments; one man yesterday was walking his little Jack Russell dog who was skittering about on the ice like a cartoon character trying to skedaddle, and so eventually the man took pity and picked his dog up. He went on with the dog in his arms, at which point he instantly fell over himself, before getting up and heading off whilst intensely conversing with the dog. Now everything has started to thaw once again in preparation for Monday morning when people have to go to work and it can once again become a teflon pavement varnish. Berlin’s small children, meanwhile, are starting to get bored and cross with the paltry selection of words and songs they are permitted to learn and are getting naughty in ever more inventive ways, running away and hiding somewhere in the school or playing London Bridge with the added rule that you have to headbutt everyone when you’re not busy being headbutted yourself. One particularly delightful boy spent the entire lesson with his hands in his knickers groping his own genitals  – oh, except for the points at which he decided to hold my hand.  At this point it is important to focus on the little things that make everything worth living through, and therefore I would like to finish this post by thanking all the children in my Thursday class for still confusing the words ‘rooster’ and ‘rock star’, and for bursting into an air guitar solo every time they do so.

Now comes with visual interest! Available in stores.

Grandma, what cool things did you do when you lived in Berlin? Cardcraft.

This is a picture of a mask I made for my first ever German ‘Motto’ party – being a fancy-dress party based on some kind of motto (stop me if I get too technical) – where the motto was ‘Traum’ (dream). Now, although I am an eager dresser-upper to say the least, I am always reluctant these days to spend much time or money on good costumes anymore after being sick and tired of being the zombie bride in the ‘Mean Girls’ situation; that is to say, showing up to a party dressed immaculately and enthusiastically as the llama from ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ only to find that everyone else has either chosen a subtle, charming and attractive costume or most commonly, barely even deigned to acknowledge that it is a fancy dress party at all. But out of the two commodities I have, time and money, time is a lot easier to waste, and thus I set about making a donkey mask so that I could go as Bottom from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Tying a teatowel around my neck to look sufficiently Shakespearian and fastening a woollen tassle to my arse to be my ‘tail’, I forged off into the complete inertia of the Berlin transport system during snowy season. There is no real moral to this story; the party was a lot of fun and gratifyingly some people had also dressed up too (as a waiter or in a skiing onesie, for example); the only reason I tell the story is to show material proof of the fact that I am wasting my year abroad, not even in style.

This blog post was also originally written and used as a rather irate little burst of catharsis, which I then deemed inappropriate to publish and boring to read. Hence the lack of golden thread in this post. So stay tuned and buckle up for a selection of unconnected musings!

 Firstly, work: I have been taken on as research assistant for one of my tutors, meaning that yesterday I had the honour of yomping up to Reinickendorff to the Berlin Landesarchiv to spool through a million metres of microfilm to find some mystery photos in order to enlighten the world about Brecht. Sitting in a room that is entirely beige (including the furniture, machines, and people within) flicking through negatives of a communist journal sounds about as stimulating as chewing greaseproof paper, but god help me if I didn’t love every single pseudo-almost-squint-and-you-can-pretend-it’s-detective-work-or-CSI minute of it. I felt important, investigative, and triumphant twofold because not only did I solve the mystery but also managed to understand the instructions of the guy who taught me how to use the microfilm reading machine, who had a pronounced stutter (honestly, it was so bad he could have been Ben Stiller in a bad Ben Stiller film). The feeling of success quickly dwindled after I then turned the spooling knob too far trying to wind up the film and sent it unfurling all over the place, and then had the receptionists watch me with narrowed eyes as I ate my pumpernickel sandwich in the lobby to avoid the driving snow, and then returned triumphantly home and tried to open the front door with the locker key which I only then realised I had accidentally stolen from the archive.


So that’s that. Then, secondly, children: yet more success turned sour in the form of the world’s shyest child, who up until two weeks ago wouldn’t say a single word but would simply shyly and morosely suck her fists if asked to contribute or join in. I recently got her speaking in lessons, after which she would eagerly say any word I asked her to with the kind of tiny, bashful smile that would make a lumberjack get misty-eyed. And this week, her confidence grew even more and she began to be naughty. I have a feeling this is going to go down a bad, bad road…
However, joyous joyous wonderment came in the form of my Tuesday afternoon lesson, where the children are usually so outrageously naughty that I am lost for words about them; suffice it to say, one of the children has now shown up for multiple lessons with blood all over his face. This week I tried new tactics, and learnt two things about the class: these children respond to a) praise rather than punishment, and b) miming playing electric guitar at any opportunity. We spent the whole lesson singing songs air-guitaring like champions and they at no point tried to murder each other or myself, and even the child with the demonic grin and unnervingly slanty eyebrows was a little gem. It is true that you just have to find the right angle with every group, it’s just that some groups’ angles are more obscure than you could possibly imagine. 


Finally: the first of this year’s Christmas shopping trips was made today, and more than finding presents for anyone I discovered how anything you can imagine is made and sold and considered to be a good idea by someone. My favourite items were the 250 Euro corrugated cardboard totem pole, the ‘man-porcelain’ for MEN who want their PORCELAIN to be HAMMER-RESISTANT, the 95 Euro tray which is designed to look as good upside-down as it does topside-up so that people don’t go ‘Oh good lord, is that a…*choke*…tray??!?‘, and the little orange mouse made of vegetable-dyed leather with no apparent purpose at all which for some reason was being sold in a shop claiming to be an anti-consumerist establishment. No doubt there will be more worldview-changing shopping experiences to come, but that’s that for now; I’m off to weep over the white bathroom floor that I just mopped so that as much black cat fur as possible could become firmly stuck to it before the moisture dried.

This blog post was brought to you by…a decent cup of tea

The kind of marvellous tourist attraction I offer my guests

Two posts in two days! Good lord, what is going on here? Well, I suppose I’d better get on with it then.

This weekend I had my first visitor from the UK, my mother, come to see my new little kingdom in my new Heimat. Being a right little mummy’s girl (possibly to a forehead-slappingly embarrassing extent) I was boiling with anticipation of her arrival, and having spent the whole weekend with her doing little more than lingering over the kind of hearty brunch that makes your cheeks pink and yomping around the streets of Berlin in the freezing cold, I am now ready to tackle the last few weeks of fighting small infants with renewed vigour and lebkuchen-fuelled dynamism. Because Germany is different to the UK in that they trust childcare professionals to not be paedophiles or prone to sudden grotesque acts of violence, I was even able to let her observe one of my lessons with absolutely no fuss or red tape whatsoever; the class responded to her presence by being as adorable as the little sweeties could manage, save one little one who just decided to inventory all the crockery in the playroom, of which there was quite a huge stash. We discovered great and not-so-great restaurants, we chewed our way through Harry Potter 7a, we gazed at hand-made ladles at the Christmas markets and drank ludicrous quantities of tea. Tea. Teeeeeaaaaaaa.

She brought me tea. Proper tea. The kind of tea that smooths down all the prickles in your brain and makes you ready to be awake in the morning and ready to sleep at night. Whittards’ Spice Imperial. Twinings’ Lapsang Souchong. Yes yes oh yes. 

See, the thing about tea in Germany is this: they love it and drink it by the gallon, but in a way that is rather incompatible with my ultra-English ‘ooh I’m gasping for a cuppa’ kind of way. German teas are mostly fruit teas, green teas and herbal teas; they have odd and suggestive names like ‘Hot love’, ‘Little sin’ and simply ‘Man tea’ (none of these are made up, nor are any of them novelty or joke names. I promise.). The herbal teas are presumed to have magical powers which will cure your sore throat, help you through the menopause and, if they are organic, rid your body of all the poisons you’ve been building up. Other teas such as redbush come in every flavour except ‘normal’ – you can buy redbush tea in vanilla, orange, cream and cream-caramel flavour, and I am trying to avoid finding out how you make a dried bag of bits of leaves taste like a sweet creamy dairy treat. Then you finally come to the black teas, where all of a sudden variety and inventiveness completely surrender and you are left with three choices: Assam/Ceylon blend, Darjeeling and Earl Grey. The Earl Grey is always the least bad of the three, although German Earl Grey tends to taste like a cat’s scrotum compared to the stuff you can get hold of in good old Blighty, and leaves attractive thick scales of brown on the surface of the water. PG Tips is also available from English ex-pat shops and asian supermarkets. Naturally. German varieties of the black teas are always produced by companies with names that make them sound like the characters of British nobility from Pirates of the Caribbean, names like ‘Duke Twentington’ and ‘Captain Farnaby’. Finally, every tea you ever buy is sold in individually wrapped bags, so that you can gradually fill your apartment with tiny paper rectangles as you individually unwrap each arbitrarily enveloped teabag to RELEASE the ORGASM of FLAVOUR that would clearly have otherwise evaporated into the atmosphere. 


Now, if any of my outrageously lovely German friends happen to read this post, allow me to qualify it by saying that none of this is bad but merely…well, different. Not to mention that the English attitude to tea is even worse, as we in general tend to adhere to the philosophy that if it’s brown, hot and coats your teeth it must be a delicious and strengthening beverage. PG Tips and Tetleys should in fact only be used to stain wood or tan leather. Also, the coffee in this country is wonderfully good and the fact that it is usually served with a tiny biscuit feels like a little present in itself. And now that I have great tea to complement the great coffee here, my cup runneth over.


I do apologise for that last part.

O hi Internet, so good to see you again

Flat number 3, bed number 4, cat number 2. 

Since I last posted life took another sudden lunge into intense difficultness; I finally moved out of my old flat, which was unpleasant in more than just the ‘moving a whole life’s worth of stuff halfway across Berlin’ kind of way; I moved into my new flat and discovered that the place I had sorted to use as my base while I search for something more permanent does not have the internet, the lack of which honestly feels like a loss equivalent to suddenly not having any fingers; I found a place to live for December and also a place to live from January onwards, both in the coolest areas of the coolest city in Europe, and finally I began a new class of utterly insane children (but at least the receptionist at this primary school is like a sassy German version of Eddie Izzard).

The upshot of it all is that I’m now in this rather natty flat on Schoenhauser Allee with two rotund and painfully sweet cats and a woman who knits, crochets, sews and makes her own sour cream. I think this place found me rather than the other way around.

The toughest thing at this point in time is surprisingly, however, not the constant moving around or WG-viewings, but in fact teaching the little children. They are now savvy enough to know that when they fool around and don’t sing the rainbow song properly my power is limited to not giving them a stamp, and that is the beginning of a slippery slope which leads to horrific anarchy. In any one class you will encounter one or more of the following ‘problem children’:
1) The little bastard. It’s not that he is bored or that he doesn’t want to learn, the fact of the matter is that he’s the kind of disobedient little arse with the broad and mischievous grin who you hate for being so naughty but love him abundantly for that exact same reason, thus putting you in a catch-22.
2) The smug one who knows everything. Yes, there is always a swot. I’m ashamed to say that I was one back in the day, and they are perhaps even worse than the little bastards in that they don’t even have an endearingly devilish tinge to them but simply want to show you and everyone else how overwhelmingly clever they are ALL THE TIME. And then they get cocky, and then they get rude. One girl who I persuaded to take part after she demanded to be allowed to skip English because it was too easy then had the sheer gall to say, with a smirk as I taught the ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ song, “Is your shirt perhaps a little too short?”. She practically clicked her fingers and went “mmmmhmmm!!”
3) The vacant one. That child who seems to be in some other sphere of existence to the rest of us, interpreting everything we do and say as something mystical and without explanation; I have one pupil who spends every lesson in a kind of fog, slowly reaching out at everything I do/hold like a big starfish exploring a rock, and drifting mesmerised around the room while the other children sit and play games. These children are impossible and impregnable.
4) The evil twins. Ok, so they’re not usually twins (although I do actually have one pair of irritating identical twins) but these are the two kids who are glued together and cannot be parted and like to misbehave in tandem, tagging each other in when I manage to get one of them settled to actually join the lesson. They are perhaps the worst of all, and they tend to be small and agile to boot.
5) The uncut diamond. These kids are just heartbreaking; on their own they are so good, so clever and so enthusiastic – they will come to you before a lesson begins to show you that they’ve been practising their English without you having even asked them to, and they might give you a perfect answer when no-one’s looking, but the minute the rest of the kids arrive they immediately conceal all of that under a layer of shocking naughtiness which can often be impressive. One kid sung me the rainbow song before a lesson began, but then during the lesson at one point managed to stack some chairs on a desk and sit atop the horrifically dangerous tower while I tried to recover from my several parallel heart attacks.

Oh of course there are more than this, but it’s late, I’m tired from a long day at the coalface and I have a class in west Spandau tomorrow morning; for those of you not familiar with Berlin, that’s the bit of Berlin that is the leftmost crusty brown bit of the big Coffee Stain. I’m living on the rightmost crusty brown bit.

Coffee no. 6,142,561

Desperation, n : sitting in Landsberger Allee Netto reading Das Glasperlenspiel

Sit down to begin writing a blog post about coffee; decide to make a pot of coffee before starting in earnest; put kettle on; watch cafétiere slip off kitchen counter and explode into a million skin-ripping smithereens; spend half an hour sweeping and hoovering, before eventually settling for a mediocre cup of Redbush. Well, at least my dumb bad luck has a sense of irony.

Anyway, what I was planning to write this evening was to do with the fact that life at the moment revolves around coffee. Not just coffee, but hot drinks in general. Because in Berlin at the moment, when you buy a drink in a café you are not paying 1 euro and 20 cents for the delicious beverage, but purely because you simply have to be somewhere warm right now now NOW. The cold in this city is something different to usual cold, it rasps your skin like rough steel and makes all your extremities retreat into your coat in a manner similar to a tortoise. And when you spend your day running from class to flat viewing, always being early for fear of being late, there is only one alternative to sitting on a bench wishing you were in a duvet burrito. Thus I am spending my life and my savings in cafés – and it’s only October.

Tuesdays are also generally painful due to the lesson I teach every week on Tuesday afternoons, which takes place in a school so distant from the heart of Berlin that it is next to genuine arable farmland. The children in this class are fairly old, around six years old, and therefore are savvy, rude and so brilliantly cheeky you want to hug them and throttle them simultaneously. They seem to have learnt their backchat from precocious children in 90’s sitcoms; when I asked one girl when her birthday is, she sarcastically replied “Every year.” She is six and a half. One boy arrived early to my lesson because he wanted to help, announced to me that he had practised and learnt the Rainbow Song off by heart for me, gave me an eye-wateringly sweet rendition of it all by himself, and then proceeded to spend the whole class being as naughty as his little flailing limbs would allow him. One kid spit at another’s face; another stole my elastic bands keeping my flashcards together; and when I was getting them to move about a bit to get their energy up and told them all to hop up and down, they all just stood there and cynically asked, “Why?” 

I feel sorry for these kids, because it’s not their fault that they’ve been forced to sit in a classroom learning boring stuff with a short and shrill student from the British Isles, and it’s not fair that their friends are outside having a laugh and playing and not learning the months of the year. The paradox of the ‘fun lessons are productive lessons’ philosophy is that when the children are not willing, the most you can do to scold them is to say, “CHILDREN!! STOP TALKING AND LAUGHING AND MESSING ABOUT! SIT DOWN AND BE QUIET SO THAT WE CAN HAVE FUN AND PLAY TOGETHER!” Something always jars in my mind when I look at my lesson plan and think, “Oh God, we’ve got so many games to get done today we won’t even have time to blow bubbles or play with the dolphin hand puppet…” The concept of organised fun is such a precarious idea and in the realm of education I am not sure how much of a place it really ought to hold. Doubtless entertaining and interactive teaching will get an idea across infinitely more effectively than droning repetition, but I wonder if fun activities during a lesson are only truly effective if they have something more mellow to act as a contrast to; when playing becomes as much of a pedagogical demand as sitting still doing sums, even a game might feel like a chore. I see it in the kids’ behaviour, and I wonder if perhaps we are doing too much, once again, to focus on children’s love of ‘fun’ and ignoring their underappreciated curiosity and capacity to be purely interested instead of shallowly entertained. But then again, perhaps this is just me finally leaving childhood for good.

Guten Nachmittag Blogwelt!

Hi everyone!

I am a student studying German and English Literature, and as a direct result of this perhaps unwise life choice I have ended up moving to Berlin for almost a year to ‘practise my German’ and more importantly immerse myself once and for all in this mad, tiring, hilarious, weird and endlessly changing place. I have now been here for a month (almost to the day) and already so far I have accumulated far too many stories and musings for me to torture my friends with over the occasional Skype conversation. ‘Oho,’ thought I, ‘this is the perfect time to start that blog you’ve always told people you’ve wanted to start just to sound interesting at dinner parties.’ And yes, I am afraid that is how I write. You will get used to it.

So here I am, in what many people call the coolest city in Europe. Certainly it is cool; I spend every day yomping from district to district and each one has something totally unique, which makes me think that perhaps the reason why Berlin is such an awesome city is fundamentally because it’s more like twenty-five fascinating little towns sellotaped together at the edges with some excellently quick railways. What am I doing here, you may ask? Let me give you the full story.
 

A few months ago, I began to work on ideas for what I was going to do for this year abroad. Was I going to study abroad? No, that would be like carrying all the stress and endless essays of my current university life into a different setting. Would I work? No, why would I use a year in a different country to sit behind a desk every day? I decided to go for the British Council assistantship scheme. It’s a cushy setup: you work as a language assistant in two schools in the host country, teaching for a piffling thirteen hours a week for a staggering 800 euros a month wage and a few thousand quid thrown at you by the British Council in case you accidentally spent all your ludicrous salary on gold-plated smoked salmon. Perfect.

I wrote my application, mentioning about two, three, maybe twelve times that Berlin was the ultimate city of my dreams. But I would settle for Dresden or Leipzig. I waited for a response. Eventually, it came: Bautzen. Bautzen is a small place in Saxony which is famous for prisons, concentration camps, the Sorbians, and mustard. Twinned with Dreux, a French town in which a friend of mine spent a painful and heart-achingly boring year of his life on the same assistantship scheme. Needless to say, I wasn’t keen and I pulled out. Having sent my CV to every single place in Berlin, it eventually found its way to a language school which specialises in teaching English to little children, from the age of 1 year old and up. Two high-pressure Skype interviews later, here I am, teaching the colours of the rainbow to people so small they can barely (and often are unable to) control their own bodily fluids. I sing, I dance, I perform small skits featuring a dolphin hand-puppet called Sushi, I play games, I blow bubbles…dignity and job-satisfaction in this position are low, but lord knows it’s not boring. Thus a lot of this blog is going to be focused on teaching, kids and language learning and general.

At the moment I am also searching for a new place to live, as my current flat is so far away from where I work that I am able to crochet entire garments during the hours I spend on the trains. Searching for a WG-Zimmer (a room in a Wohngemeinschaft, a flat-share) is a high-stress and high-octane process involving visiting the residences of complete strangers multiple times per day (thus completely violating everything your mum ever told you not to do) and hoping that one group of them find you nice enough to want to live with you. At the moment, of course, everyone wants to live in Berlin, and it’s practically impossible to find a place to live; a friend has just accepted a room that is just SIX square metres in size and has Winnie the Pooh printed on the carpet. Birds are given more space in the crappiest zoos. Hence a lot of what you read here will also be about finding a Zuhause (home) in Berlin and living there once that’s accomplished. 

You will also read about the German language, about Berlin as a city, about German and Berlin culture (they are certainly different enough to separate), about my own private projects, which I will elaborate on in later posts, about everything I am reading, watching, listening to…I hope it will be interesting and that you will enjoy reading it. Ultimately, I hope you come to Berlin one day yourself. There’s nowhere like it.