Automatic (Germany & Christmas)

It’s been nearly two months since I’ve written a proper post, so I guess I have a lot to catch up on (sorry). A lot has happened during the past two months, which (if you’ve been keeping up with my Facebook posts) many of you should know about. Back to the second week of November, which was an extremely eventful week… I ended up going to Aladdin (the musical) with Kim, which was really good! That Thursday, I had my job interview at an all-girls’ private school – the one that I had worked at for a couple of weeks in October. I loved this school because compared to every other school in London, there were no behaviour problems.. Parents are paying thousands of pounds per year to send their kids there, so the girls know they shouldn’t mess about. Also, I ONLY have to teach biology – not general science, meaning no chemistry (which I’m somewhat sad about), and NO PHYSICS (thank goodness! I’ll still never understand how to teach electrical circuits…). The other thing that I love about this school is that there aren’t any sets. In London, they arrange classes by “sets,” which is basically their ability level. For example, there might be 8 sets for one year group, so students would be arranged from top set (set 1) to bottom set (set 8). Usually the students in the bottom set are the ones who make their teachers quit (because they hate their job) and are usually the ones that I get when substitute teaching. They have no motivation and encourage each other to avoid doing work, because “what’s the point of trying if they’re at the bottom?”. It’s the dumbest arrangement and I absolutely hate it. This school has classes of mixed ability, so I don’t have to worry about any set numbers. And last but certainly not least, I get free lunch everyday. I figured I’d be crazy to let an opportunity like this go away, as I likely won’t find a school like this anywhere else – even in Canada. My observation lesson was with a Year 12 group on the topic of “Viruses” – a topic I knew very little about. I constantly read and researched it a few days before, and I came up with a pretty decent lesson. I was SO nervous when I had to present it, because I not only had a group of year 12 girls watching me, but also their teacher and the deputy head. After the observation lesson, I had a half hour interview with the headmistress of the school. Everything seemed to go well because a couple of hours later, I got a phonecall from the headmistress asking if I wanted the job! That evening, I looked at three flats in the area. I found a 2-bedroom flat with a girl who I got along with really well and I made an offer that evening. The rent is quite a bit higher than my last place BUT the flat is an 8-minute walk away from the school, so I’m cutting my daily travel time by about two and a half hours. I was on such a high that day – everything went in my favour! That weekend, I went to a rugby game with Becky

Afternoon tea

and we actually won (They win quite often, but I had yet to go to a game where they didn’t lose). Then the next day, I went to a Canadian Remembrance Day ceremony in Green Park. I was only expecting about 30 people to be there but when we arrived, there was a huge crowd of people – hundreds had shown up. It was an incredibly moving experience – being at a Canadian ceremony while living in a completely different country. After the ceremony was over, Kim and I went for afternoon tea, which consisted of an abundance of snacks and sweets – I couldn’t even finish it all!

I was still required to stay at the horrible all-girls school that I was working at for another two weeks (I ended up working there for nearly four weeks) and every day that I was there, I felt more and more sure that I had made the right decision about accepting the other job. I put my room up for “sale” that week and it was snatched up by the first person who came to view it, so it was a VERY easy process. The next couple of weeks just consisted of me packing and getting everything ready for my move. By the last weekend of November, I was able to start the long and tiring moving process. Each round trip to and from my flat took about three hours, so I did three trips on Saturday and two trips on Sunday. It was another one of those moments where I completely underestimated the amount of stuff I had! However, as soon as I started the move, I just put some Christmas carols on and somehow tricked myself into making it enjoyable. Anyway, I got everything moved over by Sunday and then I started work at the new school on Monday. It was quite overwhelming at first… you can tell the girls are testing you out – the younger girls seeing how lenient you are/what they can get away with and the older girls seeing if you actually know what you’re talking about. And every girl can say 100 words with just one look. It was quite intimidating! However, after a few days, I got the hang of it and fell into a groove. I teach 11 classes (most classes only once a week, except for the 10’s and 12’s, which happen twice each) – one year 7, two year 8’s, one year 9, three year 10’s, two year 11’s, and two year 12’s. A lot of the year 12 stuff is so in depth, to the point where I’ve never learnt what they’re learning, or I hadn’t learnt it until university. Therefore, I find myself reading biology books in my spare time, trying to teach myself about certain topics. I’m required to mark something by every student at least once every two weeks and I have 222 students, so I’m required to mark 222 things every two weeks. I understood that accepting a full-time position would be a lot of extra work, but I think I had forgotten how much work it would actually be. I found myself starting to count down the days until I’d be going back to Canada again, which was not a good sign. I think I’m just stressing because this school has high expectations since it’s a private school, whereas every other school I’ve worked at, the teacher didn’t really care if they got through a lesson or not. I’m just trying to maintain a healthy balance of school and work, so it doesn’t completely take over my life. I’ve been trying to only do work at school and then do very little (or none at all) while at home.
The next couple of weeks were mostly filled with Christmas-related things – I went to Winter Wonderland, went

Red Hot Chili Peppers

out for dinner a few times, went to many Christmas markets, and did a weekend trip to Birmingham with Kim. The Birmingham market was absolutely insane and was jam-packed, but it’s supposed to be the biggest German market next to the ones in Germany and Austria. I got to go to the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, which was really good! I went to three 15-minute musicals, which were ACTUALLY 15 minutes and were awesome. I went to both Elf and Love Actually at the cinema, and I met up with a friend who I had met in Bruges last April. My neighbourhood even had a few reindeer in it at one point! The last day of my school was quite a different experience.. it started off with about an hour of just singing Christmas carols as a school, then the girls went to their homerooms to do secret santa, and then the entire school walked about ten minutes away to a church, where they actually had a service-like program, complete with a Boar’s Head Feast performance by the Year 13’s, a bunch of actual scripture being read from the Bible, and an excerpt read from The Christmas Carol (This all being done by a school that doesn’t belong to any religion). It was crazy for me to witness, as I don’t think anything like that would ever happen in Canada. My school finished a week earlier than all of the other schools – on December 15, so I decided to pick up some substitute jobs at some other schools for a week. It actually made me miss supply teaching! Throughout the week, I watched Life of Pi, two episodes of the new Planet Earth series, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I got PLENTY of free periods in order to get all of my marking done! There was one school that felt like it came straight from the 70s. It had long, dark hallways, which still had old-school posters, showing pictures of bad quality and kids with bad haircuts. The school had a smell that reminded me of my grandparents’ house. I honestly felt like I should be in a Degrassi show.

Finally, on December 22nd, I flew out to Cologne, Germany. The flight was an hour and five minutes long, so it

Chocolate Museum!

sped right by. After I arrived, I spent the evening checking out a few Christmas markets. The next day, I did a bit of shopping and then continued with the Christmas markets since the 23rd was the last day that they’d all be open (and there were about seven to go to). It wasn’t unbearably cold in Germany, but the wind would make things pretty bad. That afternoon, I decided to keep warm by going to a Chocolate Museum (of course), which actually ended up being a Lindt Chocolate Museum (even better!). It wasn’t too bad, although it wasn’t my favourite. The thing that struck me most was that experts estimate about 75% of cocoa farmers and their families have never tried a piece of chocolate. It really puts things into perspective, and makes me realize how much I take for granted. Anyway, that evening I went out with a couple of guys from my hostel – one from China who’s living in America (Tony), and one from Australia (Dylan). We ended up spending much of our time in Cologne together, and we all ended up meeting in Munich again a few days later.

One of the many Christmas markets in Cologne
On Christmas Eve, Dylan and I went on a free walking tour through Cologne and met quite a few other people from our hostel – a couple of Canadians and a few Kiwis. We all went for lunch/dinner after the tour and then decided to just go back to our hostel and relax in the warmth. Beforehand, we went on a long search for hot chocolate after easily finding Bailey’s. However, most of the stores closed at 5 and when we finally found a shop, hot chocolate didn’t seem to exist. We made due with buying milk and chocolate bars, and the end product was totally worth it! After polishing off the bottle of Bailey’s and playing Uno, Heads Up, and Never Have I Ever, we decided to go find dinner. It didn’t end up being too difficult, as we found a kebab/pizza place about a minute away from our hostel.
The next day was Christmas! As I mentioned on Facebook, this was my first Christmas that I spent without knowing anyone. I was really looking forward to seeing what it would be like, and my experience did not disappoint. It’s difficult to explain without feeling like I’m offending people but in some ways, this Christmas was one of the most fulfilling that I’ve had. Back at home, Christmas is built up during the whole of December and then the actual day usually just consists of waking up, opening gifts, then sitting around and eating lots of food. And then it’s just over. Here, it was just a regular day without any gifts and I felt like I enjoyed the entire day. I started the day by going for lunch at an Asian restaurant for chicken satay (delicious!) and then went back to the hostel and visited with people during the

Me, Dylan, and Tony in Munich

afternoon. That evening, five of us (me, Dylan, and three Kiwis – Meg, Emma, and Jess) went to an Italian restaurant for dinner and finished the evening with a walk across the bridge to view the gorgeous cathedral. I FaceTimed my family when we got back to the hostel and then went to bed. Not once during that day did I feel sad or homesick, and I know it’ll be a Christmas that I’ll always remember and cherish.

Neuschwanstein Castle
The next morning, I headed for Munich. To get there, I decided to use Blablacar, which is basically an organized way of carpooling. You go on the website to see who you can catch a ride with and how much it’ll cost, and then ask for a ride – it’s that easy! I caught a ride with three other Germans and ended up arriving in Munich about six hours later. Once I arrived, I met up with Tony and some of his friends that he had already met there. We went for dinner and drinks, and I met quite a few new people. On Tuesday, I decided to go to the famous Disney-inspired Neuschwanstein Castle. In order to get there, I had to catch a 2-hour train to a town called Fussen. Unfortunately for me, the train was absolutely packed, meaning I had to stand/sit on the floor for the duration of the journey. I went for lunch and got an amazing smoked salmon tarte flambée, which is basically just like a pizza with cream instead of tomato sauce. Afterwards, I had to catch a bus to get up to the castle. The trek to the castle was crazy and reminded me of Banff, where so many people go to see. The view of the castle made everything completely worth it though! Absolutely gorgeous. The town of Fussen was really cute as well – the houses were all so


colourful, and there was still a Christmas feeling in the air. I made the long journey back to Munich, this time making sure to rush onto the train in order to get a seat. I thought it was going to be a good trip until a couple came on with their six children (all under the age of ten). All of the kids sat on the floor in front of me and made noise, tickled each other, rolled around on the floor, and continuously asked their parents for more chips and food. About halfway through the trip, two American kids beside me were given their iPads, and then the entire train was silent. It was as if those six kids had never seen anything like it before, and they all crowded around to watch. I made it back to Munich and then met up with Dylan (who had just arrived that day) and Tony for dinner. I ended up trying a pancake soup, which was basically just chicken-noodle soup except instead of noodles, it used strips of pancakes. Weirdest concept, but it wasn’t too bad.

Pancake soup
On Wednesday, I went to the Dachau concentration camp memorial site. Dachau was one of the first concentration camps, and it was the only one that remained open through the duration of the 12-year Nazi rule.  I saw the crowded barracks (where everyone would have slept), the gas chamber, and the crematorium. There were 32 barracks and each was designed to hold 200 prisoners but towards the end of the war, they ended up each holding about 2000. I read about the perimeter fence and how prisoners would be shot if they’d try to escape, and how some crossed it

Dachau concentration memorial

just to end their own life. I also read (and saw pictures) about how the Nazis would play “games” by taking a prisoner’s cap and throwing it over the perimeter fence, only to make him retrieve it, and kill him in the process. It left quite a heavy weight on me, and many times I just couldn’t wrap my head around how such cruel events could have occurred. To lighten my mood afterwards, I decided to take a walk around the town of Dachau, which was actually a really nice town. I then went back to Munich to spend my last evening with Tony and Dylan before we all parted ways.

On Thursday morning, I took another Blablacar to Berlin, which took another six hours. Berlin is extremely quiet for a capital city, and I was told that this time of year is the busiest that it ever is. I could only wish it would be like that in London! In Berlin, I


was still always able to get a seat on the underground and there were never huge crowds of people everywhere you went; it’s never even like that on a Sunday evening in London! That evening, I felt like I was coming down with something so I decided to take it easy and slept for a solid ten hours. The next day, I went on another walking tour. It ended up being three hours long and by the end of it, I was freezing so I decided to go to a mall and do some shopping in the warmth. I then went back to my hostel, went for dinner with a girl from Belgium to a baked potato restaurant (which was delicious!), and then had drinks back at the hostel. On Saturday, I checked out some of the still-open Christmas markets before trying to get to the New Year’s Eve street festival. However, I found out that we weren’t allowed to bring in any bags, so I decided to go back to the hostel to drop my bag off. I stayed there for awhile and then decided to give the street festival another go. When walking to the metro station, you had to be very careful of your surroundings, as people were lighting fireworks everywhere you went. I figured the safest way was for me to stay directly under the balconies of buildings, as many people were even throwing fireworks off of their balconies onto the streets. It was insane! Anyway, I stopped for dinner and then went to stand in the extremely long line to get to the street festival. Security was obviously at its peak (due to the Berlin events the week before), so there were multiple check points to go through. I stood in line for about 20 minutes and then I was literally about two feet away from the gate when they closed it and said they weren’t accepting anymore people through that entrance. Therefore, I had to walk all the way around the 2-km street festival to the other side and get through there. They had to pat everyone down and check their pockets and then 200 metres later, they’d have another checkpoint and they’d do it all again, and then 200 metres later, they’d have ANOTHER, and so on and so forth. I stopped between the third and fourth checkpoints because it was less crowded and I still had a great view. By the time I finally got there, about an hour

Berlin fireworks!

and a half had gone by since I first stood in line. The Berlin New Year’s show is what any typical New Year’s show would look like in a big city – you have your hosts and then a bunch of performances (including Jermaine Jackson!) until the final countdown. I didn’t know any of the other performers, since they were all German. The countdown and the fireworks were great, and then the party apparently started at 12:30am and didn’t have an end time. I decided not to stay for the party since my flight back to London was the next day, but when I left the park and headed towards a bridge, there were fireworks going off everywhere. Commercial fireworks legally go on sale during the last three days of the year and people go ballistic buying them. I saw some fireworks go off under a police car and then looked over to find a group of about ten police officers holding a bunch of fireworks. Most people just set the firework in a bottle and light it, but you needed to watch where you were going, as there could be a firework going off four metres away from you. It was like a warzone! The non-stop sound of fireworks went on until about 3:30 in the morning. I honestly have no idea how people would even have that many fireworks to last them for so long!

The next morning, I had a few hours to spare before my flight so I made my way back into central Berlin at about 10am. It was like watching a zombie apocalypse, with people slowly staggering through the streets with a beer in hand. The streets were a mess, covered in broken glass, firework residue, bottles and trash. And occasionally

Oddly beautiful

you’d still hear a firework go off every few minutes or so. I went to the Brandenburg Gate for awhile, where they were starting a marathon, and then I spent the morning at the Holocaust Memorial Site. It was a really well-done museum with a lot of information that hadn’t been included at the Dachau Memorial. It also included information about different families, their histories, and their fates during the war. The thing I really respect about Germany is how open they are about their history. The entire world knows their history, and wherever you are in Germany, you’ll always find information about it. Everyone says that the reason for this is so that it doesn’t happen again, but then I sit there wondering why Canada’s not open about their own history. Why the textbooks sugarcoat everything to make the relationship with Indigenous peoples sound like it was only a minor conflict. Why I always have to explain the history of Canada to people I meet while travelling, and they’re completely shocked about the things that happened. And why many Canadian children don’t even learn the real Canadian history, depending on who their teacher is (I was lucky to have an awesome history teacher in grade 12, but I really didn’t learn about Indigenous history in depth until university), while German kids are taken to concentration camps and taught the whole story. It makes me quite upset actually, and I do think it’s somewhat pathetic because I feel like all Canada has done is just swept that dirty past under the doormat to forget that it’s there, when it should be openly acknowledged. I love Canada and everyone talks about how perfect Canada is, but I do have to remind them that we have our flaws as well, and that is definitely one of them. Anyway, after the museum, I headed to one last German Christmas market and ate one last bratwurst before heading back to London. And I returned to a wet ground (of course), once again surrounded by too many miserable people and it was there that I felt at home again. I got home at about 11pm, and went out with my flatmate the following day. Today, I had my first day back at the school (minus the kids) and tomorrow, school starts again. Next vacation is in six weeks! I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays. Happy New Year! Love always

Automatic – The Mowgli’s