An early German Christmas; and Portsmouth comes to Hannover

Work here in Hannover is a little short of what I got used to in Seoul, but it is fairly hectic. Especially as I’ve been teaching the same guy for the entire week, nine hours a day. Fortunately he’s really nice, and incredibly determined to learn English. Between grammar and speaking exercises we talk in depth about German culture, the problems with Angela Mercke (many, allegedly) and exactly what is the best kind of Wurst (Curry Wurst, if anyone’s interested!). Today was our last day, and he bought me in a 2 litre swing-top bottle of hand-brewed beer from his home down (an hour from Hannover, which shows just how determined he is) and a very luxuriously presented Stollen (marzipan bread). I think I’ll resist the temptation to find out what happens if I consume both of those in an evening.

One of the perks of teaching intensive courses is eating out everyday. Whilst my student and I started out with the nearby restaurants Berlitz recommended, we soon branched out to steak houses, Bavarian bars and various other places that really stretched the 40 Euro lunch budget. In amongst the steaks we slipped in plenty of German traditional food: Weiner Schnitzel, which is great but really not a whole lot different to a breaded Turkey kebab; pancake soup (made from beef stock, excellent!) and even traditional soft drinks – like apple mixed with gassy water – that’d you’d never see at home. Between my student and host family I’ve really been given a fantastically warm welcome.

Thursday saw Hannover inundated with Portsmouth football fans, here for their UEFA cup game away at Wolfsburg, which is half an hour down the road. Apparently the fans were much better behaved than expected, committing only minor offences, but there’s nothing like a bunch of English football fans to ruin the atmosphere in a foreign city. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m as English as they come, but if there is any bigger bunch of idiots anywhere in the world than the English on tour than they’re hiding in a corner of the world I haven’t made it to yet. I’m finding it hard to overcome my overwhelming feelings that my home country has very few redeeming features beyond an ‘access all areas’ passport. Before the bad vibe picked up too much me and a couple of other Hannover teachers had snapped up some cheap ‘Pompey on tour’ t-shirts with the intention of making a big night of it cheering on the English boys. We quickly changed our mind on that one.

The English apart, Hannover’s been a good experience so far. The atmosphere around town is great, especially with the Christmas markets, and the Hannover Berlitz teachers are really quite impressively welcoming. Every day I munch on beautiful baked bread from the ‘Wir Backen, Sie Packen’ bakery (which will feed the third world for the price of a croissant in Dublin), smile at the near prehistoric Frau Grunt (I kid you not) at the coffee store and hop on the fifteen minute tram back to a friendly family and a couple of kids who want me to race them on the Nintendo and teach them new English words. If only I had my beautiful fiancé here with me, everything would be perfect.

The sixth of December is a special Christmas countdown day in Germany. I came home from work yesterday to find Annika and Justus sat on the living room floor cleaning their shoes with what looked a lot like a very hard bristled toothbrush. Each had chosen the largest pair of shoes they could muster, and they placed them by the door when they finished. Later in the evening – having sent the children to bed – Oliver and Mariele explained to me that St Nicklaus (who in Germany is often thought of as a small child) comes during the night bearing gifts for the children, these are left in their shoes, unless the shoes aren’t clean, in which case the children are instead whipped with a part of the Christmas tree. It sounds a lot like a slightly satanic version of that bearded dude to me, but then I think we can safely assume no one ever actually gets whipped!

I’m looking forward to having a good look round this weekend, Hannover seems to have a lot to offer, and I may even make it out to Hildesheim for a bit of a messy one with another teacher as well. It’ll be a good one!

James x

Note: if any of the Dublin teachers happen to be following this, you’re VERY wrong about Hannover. The locals are very aware of their ‘dull’ reputation; they just don’t care. Why? Because it’s seriously ill founded. This city has plenty to offer, it just lacks any of the big events and tourist attractions the other major cities in Germany have. Based on my experience of tourists here so far, I’d say that’s a good thing.

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