Wednesday, April 24, 2013


It turns out that fifth graders make everything into a competition. Today one of my classes was learning about the months, which sound rather similar in English and German. After we'd established that Januar = January and Mai = May, I asked a few students when their birthdays are. The first two students both had birthdays in August and high-fived over the fact. The next two students both had birthdays in September and did the same to a chorus of "nooooo!" from the August pair.

The spark of a plan.

I proceeded to ask the birthdays of every single student in the class and kept a tally. Every time one of the months with many birthdays got another tally, the students with that birthday month cheered and everyone else cursed their luck in a ten-year-old's vocabulary. With the inclusion of the teacher, September and August tied at seven birthdays each, setting off a minor celebration among the students who shared those months.

Somehow these students, despite having no control over the month of their birth, were incredibly proud of being part of the majority. The little exercise turned into a competition. It was short-lived and no one went on to bully the only May birthday in the room, but still. I now have another data point to define fifth-graders, along with squeaky voices and a tendency to ask "write we a test today?!?"

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Daily chuckle #6

Sixth grade students still struggle with the verb "do" in questions:
Student: Where did you were on your holidays?
Me: Careful, we already have the past tense in "did" - what needs to change?
Student: Oh! Where did you was on your holidays?

My request for a sample gerund (verb ending in -ing) led to a slightly ominous response:
Student: I suggest having fun

My request for more samples led to a bit of an example argument:
Student #1: Instead of playing football, you should be learning.
Me: Very nice. Another example?
Student #2: I can learn by playing.
Me: Probably true. More importantly, correct use of the gerund.

An eleventh grade student had a hard time expressing himself and ended up sounding like Malthus:
Student: If were are being realistic, it is better for us if people in Africa die because that will make the income gap smaller.
Me: I...suppose that's true. It would also be tragic and a problem, right?
Student: Right.
Me: Phew.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Traveling hither and yon, part 3

The second week of my spring break, D and I made a four-day trip to Bavaria. We chose Munich as our home base and made a day trips to the cities of Augsburg and Triberg to get the complete Black Forest/Southern Germany experience. Also, because a friend was born in Augsburg and wanted some pictures.

Happy to oblige.

Odeonsplatz, Munich
There's a Jesuit church just to the right of this photo, and we stumbled upon a service inside. Naturally, we joined in and received a blessing (non-Catholics, both of us, so no Eucharist) from a very on-the-ball priest. Often when I attend Mass and go up for a blessing, the priests seem confused. I think mostly if you're not Catholic you don't go to Mass. I like to think I'm adding a little spark of interest to their days.

In this same Jesuit church we saw the schedule of which priests were available when for pre-Easter confession. Along with each priest's schedule was the languages he understood. Some were "just" German and English, but a number had four or five languages listed. Very impressive.

Schloss Nymphenburg, the palace of the kings of Bavaria

Inside the palace, very...frenetic.
Just one of the coronation carriages.
Baroque/rococo has never been my favorite architectural style. I find it very busy and rather overwhelming. The artists, architects, and rulers of Bavaria clearly disagreed with me based on the way they decorated their palaces and conveyances. It does make for a splendid museum, if a visually exhausting one.

The Munich Rathaus, or town hall/elector's palace
The clock tower here has a little tableau that plays at 11am every day. Regrettably, since the figures are protected from nesting pigeons by a net, it can be kind of difficult to see. But look, a pretty old German building!

A view from on high
The Chinese Tower, in the English Garden.
The permanent wave in the English Garden. Very dedicated surfers.
The English Garden is especially popular in the summer when all is warm, green, and sunny, but it was also pretty in the quasi-winter of our visit. Rather cold - I wouldn't have wanted to spend hours wandering around - but lovely nevertheless.

Augsburg's Golden Hall
We made a day trip to Augsburg, the third-oldest city in Germany and the site of the Treaty of Augsburg, which ended the Thirty Years' War. The Thirty Years' War was fought between Catholics and Protestants in Germany for (you guessed it) thirty years and was very destructive to both humans and buildings. Between that war and World War II, it can be difficult to find original buildings in a number of cities and Germany isn't known for it's towering old churches or palaces the way that France or Italy is because many were destroyed at least once, if not twice.

Triberg Waterfall
We ended our Bavarian trip in the town of Triberg (which isn't actually in Bavaria, but ssssh!), a quintessential Black Forest establishment that is home to Germany's highest waterfall and the original Black Forest Cake. We ate the cake (Schwarzwaldkirschtorte) at the cafe that claims to have come up with it. Yummy! Cake drenched in cherry schnapps was just the way to finish everything off.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Traveling hither and yon, part 2

Backtracking a bit - the day before I went to Aachen, I went to a city called Trier with my friend D. I'd been to Trier previously and seen the major sites like Porta Nigra and an absurd number of churches. This time, I got to experience the other part of Trier, namely, its wine culture.

Like everywhere else along the Rhine and Mosel rivers, Trier has the perfect climate and soil for growing grapes. Riesling is probably the best-known variety of German wine, and any Riesling you find in the States that is from Germany is probably made within an hour or so of where I live. Trier is one of the biggest cities in the area, therefore, it is something of a hub for wine growing and especially wine selling.

D and I picked out six wines to try - several Rieslings (of course), a champagne, a wine made from a very old variety of grape called Elbling, and a red. The wines were good, naturally, but my favorite part of the whole thing was the man in charge of the wine tastings. Among his proclamations:

About the champagne: "The members of the Swedish Royal Family bathe in this champagne every morning. If you drink it, you too can be a princess."

About the Elbling: "This grape has been grown here since the Romans. 2000 years of growing, just for you. Just for you."

(As part of this venture I learned that alcohols have three parts or stages: nose, palate, and finish. The nose is how it smells, the palate is how it tastes, and the finish is the lingering aftertaste when you've swallowed. The Elbling had no finish. It was very odd. I kept waiting for something to be there, but it was like the taste just cut off after I swallowed.)

About one Riesling, which he called "the sweet highlight": "It will make you even sweeter than you already are. A sweet princess."

("The sweet highlight" was unbelievably sweet. I like sweeter wines because I apparently still have the tastebuds of a teenager, and I was overwhelmed by the sugars. It tasted almost like grape juice. I can't imagine what you would do with it, except pour it over ice cream. It was suggested that it paired well with particularly strong cheeses, so the insane sweetness of the wine would be balanced by the saltiness and savoriness of the cheese. It was delicious, just not anything I expected from a winery.)

And then, randomly, about Obamacare - this part really went off the rails: "Your president is trying to introduce a new healthcare system. You know that when this happens, you will have a chip implanted in your forehead or your hand which will contain all your medical information, and you cannot participate in this healthcare without the chip. Then, in a little while, everything will be in this chip. Your name, your information, your bank account. Without this chip you cannot shop, cannot work, cannot go to the hospital. Without this chip you will not be a person anymore."

(This was all delivered in German, which D doesn't understand. In the interests of politeness I didn't inform the man that he was clearly insane and instead was left to nod seriously and say noncommittal things like "I hadn't heard that," while he told me very seriously that this was happening right now, "in your country." I kept a straight face and when we left was finally able to relay the story, which caused a reasonable amount of merriment for us both.)

Beyond dire Orwellian predictions of the American future, I learned some interesting facts about the way that grapes are grown along the Rhine and Mosel. D had previously commented that it was odd not to see any terracing - the vineyards were planted all up and down the steep hills on either side of the rivers, which often lead to erosion, and it seemed that problem could be solved by terracing the slopes. It turns out, however, that planting on such a steep grade is deliberate. In the early spring and late fall, when the sun spends more time lower in the sky, planting on a steep include ensures that the vines don't shadow one another, as they would if planted on flat ground. This extends the growing season by several weeks. Fascinating.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Traveling hither and yon, part 1

I've been on spring break the last two weeks, and what better way to spend a spring break than traveling? Unlike my fall break, when I fled to England and Wales, I spent my spring break seeing more of Germany.

First up, Aachen. Aachen is northwestish, near the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands. The Dutch influence is likely what gave the city its double-voweled beginning, but our tour guide joked that it was Aachen's attempt to show up first on any list of German cities. I rather like the idea of a name war between several cities that begin with the letter 'a' escalating until you have to stretch out the beginning to turn out on top. Aaaaaaaaaaaaachen. It's like a cross between a city and a throat checkup at the doctor's office.


Aachen has lots of underground springs. Lots of fountains, too.
This beast lives in the underground springs. Scary!

She's holding a Prinzen, a gingerbready cookie.
 Aachen is known for Prinzen, and very proud of them being unique from gingerbread. Our tour guide was unable to explain exactly how they are unique from gingerbread. He did emphasize that we should be aware of the fact, however.

City hall, with window boxes

Inside the cathedral. Mosaics are from the 19th century.
Even though Aachen is very old (it was a city of baths in the Roman period), a lot of it was destroyed in the 1500s by a fire, and also by the Thirty Years War, and also by World War II. Most of what's left is not particularly old, though the city plan is still plenty winding. It also has some impressive textile relics, including Christ's loincloth from when he hung on the cross. They might have to fight with the imperial treasury in Vienna over who has the correct loincloth, since I saw it there too.

Next up is Bavaria and the Black Forest - I'll likely have posts about those in a few days.