Sunday 29 December 2013

Oldenburg: a gem in the marsh

It's been a monumentally long time since I wrote anything for this blog, but I didn't feel it suitable, as I've been back in old Blighty for many months. However, I found this the other day, and realised I had never actually posted it. If I had, then I may have written more for this blog. Oh, how the present is defined by the past! Anyway, here is a little article on the town I called home for 10 months...

Hello all!

I've been working out how long I have until I am ripped away from this enjoyable teutonic limbo, and it comes out at approximately 5 weeks. This is scary in the sense that I am becoming trapped in my self-reflections on time and mortality. Or in other words, time has gone really fast, hasn't it?

Having lived abroad in the same place for 8 months now, I believe I am sufficiently qualified to both describe and analyse the place I have called home for a substantial time. This place, as you will have guessed from the title, is a small town called Oldenburg, west of Bremen on the Great German Plain.

Never a very important town, due to the proximity of Bremen and various plague epidemics and fires through the years, Oldenburg nevertheless has a distinct air of the royal. At one point home to the Kings of Denmark, the town retains the neoclassicist elements laid down in the late 18th Century. This is most obvious when walking into the Innenstadt from the south, as before you looms the impressive bright yellow facade of Oldenburg Castle. The Castle today houses the county museum for art and art history, along with a chronicle of the history of Oldenburg trailed through plush deep red, oak and gold rooms. Well worth a visit, if not for the history of Oldenburg but for the various interesting art installations held, the prices range from free for children under six, to €5 for a full paying adult.

I am a handsome castle.

Just south from the Castle, crossing the ringroad that connects all the major ports o
f call in Oldenburg, you reach the Schlossgarten, a public park looked after by the local Carl von Ossietzky University. The spacious gardens offer pretty vistas and a wide array of plant-life, including a sizeable botanical garden, open 11-4 on weekdays at no cost. The University specialises in inter-disciplinary subjects, and is named after the German recipient of the 1935 Nobel peace prize, murdered by the nazi regime for bravely uncovering german re-armament on the eve of the Second World War.

Walking back towards the centre, you pass a statue of Peter Friedrich Ludwig, the first Duke of Oldenburg, and a few metres on, the largest church in Oldenburg, the Lambertikirche. The church was built using the small bricks so typical of Northern Germany, but has a drastically refurbished interior, with clean, white angles creating a calm, open space. A large prism cross also hangs over the congregation, beautiful in the sunlight. Open Monday to Sunday, 11-6, the church satisfies all tastes.

After the peaceful, spiritual interior of the church, you can satisfy your material needs by crossing the market place to reach the Schlosshöfe, a large shopping mall deposited in the centre of Oldenburg. The mall caters to everyone, with designer shops, restaurants, a pharmacy and a supermarket, and is open Monday to Saturday, 8am - 9pm.

After your shopping spree, take time to meander through the surprisingly bustling streets in the centre of town. The pretty buildings complement the narrow streets well, and there are even more designer shops, along with traditional brands and many different eateries in all shapes and sizes. The Kunstcafe in the west of the town centre has a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere with reasonable drinks prices and a superb crepe menu. If you are wanting to keep on your feet, there are plenty of quick snack bars dotted along the main streets offering most things, from pasta to the traditional Currywurst, a German sausage with ketchup and curry sauce. 

If you ever say anything against this meal, I will fight you.

Walking eastwards along the aptly named Langen Straße, you eventually reach the opposite end of the town centre, a quarter called Lappan. This is Oldenburg's main meeting point for the locals, and the building from which the area takes its name is a large bell tower, first built in 1468, that stood as one of the five town gates. Rather disappointingly, today it only houses a travel centre and cash machine. At Lappan is Wallstraße, a street full of eateries and bars. Restaurant New York New York serves beautiful American-Italian food in hearty and very good value portions, and the walls inside are adorned with thousands of photos of American film stars, singers and general celebrities along with tasteful stained glass depicting various symbols of american life.

Life in Oldenburg continues well into the night. Oldenburgers generally begin a night out along Wallstraße, so a two minute walk along the street will find you outside Fiddlers Green, a traditional Irish pub serving everything an Irish or British ex-pat could wish for. There are different drinks deals every night, and a pub quiz runs on Wednesdays. Accompany your quiz with their famous bacon sandwich, reasonably priced and guaranteed to keep you full for the night (and probably a large majority of the next day). There are various bars and clubs on the same street, but look further afield for quality. For example, Loft, directly in the centre (Baumgartenstrasse 2) plays modern alternative music in a relaxed and cheerful atmosphere, and if you're looking for something with a bit more bite, Amadeus (Mottenstrasse 21) has regular rock nights and heavy metal gigs.

For a quieter activity this side of the town centre, head to the connected Horst Janssen Museum and Stadtmuseum, the first of which is dedicated to the eponymous multitalented artist who lived in Oldenburg in his youth. Both museums are full of a mixture of contemporary and classical art through different media, and prices are minimal (5 Euros for entry to both).

Can you spot Horst?

Oldenburg is famous for horse-breeding, with the Oldenburger horse well-coveted by many, and a statue has been erected in Lappan as a tribute to this famous animal. There are other horses dotted around the town, along with two bronze elephants guarding a passageway on Langestrasse. Of course, to see real animals you need only take a bus for ten minutes out to the beautiful surrounding Ostfriesland countryside (regular buses from the Main Station and Lappan), but a long weekend exploring Oldenburg itself makes you realise the sheer diversity and intricacies that many are yet to discover in Germany.

So that's it! Hope it was, if not enjoyable, then slightly interesting. I'd like to call it educational entertainment, or edutainment if you will. If you like it, share it with your friends and maybe come for a visit! It's seriously great. Oldenburg I mean, not my blog post. I would never be that vain.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Goethe's porno stash

I have been in Germany for approximately seven months. During this time I have learnt much, laughed often, and been annoyed almost as many times. One thing I have realised is the sheer ease with which you can change the meaning of a sentence in both English and German. 

I'm not just talking about the classics here, although Rosie did brilliantly say the other day to a German lady that she was "too horny to wear a coat". I'm talking about poetic misunderstandings. My linguistic ignorance in this respect came to a head a few weeks ago, during an eighth class lesson.

I wasn't present when Rosie admitted being steamed-up, but I imagine it was something like this.

I was minding my own business, casually checking the vocabulary books in front of me, when I saw one pupil had written that "Faust" is "fist" in english. I immediately asked the teacher, citing Goethe's Faust as the origin of my doubt. It turns out that Faust does in fact mean fist, and that my linking of this noun with arguably the greatest piece of German literature in history creates very different images to the one Johann Wolfgang had in mind, having basically called his tome Goethe's Fist / Dr. Fistus. This could be interpreted in varying ways. My first image was one of Bruce Lee in 18th/19th century clothing getting his soul back from Mephistopheles one punch at a time. 

Bruce Lee non-plussed by the ending of The Sorrows of Young Werther

Apparently this was not the first thing that came to the minds of everyone else in the room. I would try and find an appropriate image to indicate their interpretations, but I would have to delete my browser history, so instead here's a portrait of Goethe subtly altered. See if you can guess how.

Luckily, most misunderstandings can be laughed away, and if all else fails then plead ignorance of a very complicated but ultimately rewarding language. It's what I do multiple times a day.

P.S. I've written a couple of articles for Warwick Student Newspaper The Boar in the past few months! Here's a link to a Crimbo one:

Monday 11 February 2013

0049-10: The Kohlfahrt

The last time I wrote anything for this blog was December the 2nd. That was over two months ago, and I sincerely do not know where that time has gone. You know all those people who say "if you remember the 60s, you weren't there", as if insinuating they were all at the forefront of a brave drug-addled revolution? They weren't. They were all on an extended year abroad.

A normal reaction to getting 25% off all rail journeys with deutsche bahn

I have been so busy going home for Christmas, getting merrily fuzzy around the edges at various Weihnachtsmärkte, going to Karnevals, not to mention working at a school, that this precious blog has skipped my attention.


Then again, you already knew that, as you're reading a new post. That's kind of taken the gloss off the surprise. Anyway, I've decided that I'll write again, as I love doing it and I have almost reached the landmark of 2000 views. I feel a lot of responsibility to represent my year abroad adequately.

With great power comes a sexy spandex suit. I mean responsibility.

And so I bring to you a tale of tradition and unashamed insanity, North German-style: The Kohlfahrt.

To the non-German speaking contingent, this literally translates as the "Cabbage Journey". Ah yes, I hear you scoffing at the back, saying "what a whimsical name for something that has probably nothing to do with its literal translation". Well, you imaginary scoff-fiend, you are wrong. This has absolutely everything to do with a journey and cabbage.

I have to admit, when I was first invited to partake in this mythical odyssey, at the end of the school day, an hour before the event, I was not the archetypal Bilbo Baggins. I did not shout "I'm going on an adventure!" in a half-excited, half-apologetic tone. Which was probably for the best, as I was sat in a teachers' lounge. I wasn't particularly excited for two reasons:

1) I didn't really know the reasoning behind/ plan for the Kohlfahrt
2) I knew what Kohlfahrt meant, and had been told that we were going to play games. In the forest.

This is where I may get into controversial territory. I am not a great supporter of communal games. I will stretch to a game of charades or pictionary at Christmas, provided I am full of turkey and acceptably making my way through a good deal of Bailey's. However, after the first few goes, even this becomes too much to bear. So whereas you may think of communal games as being full of frivolity:

I choose to think of them more like a little corner of awkward hell:

I therefore finished the school day with a small sense of dread, and caught a lift from one of the teachers to our starting point. This was about twenty minutes away from the school, at a picturesque country inn, where all of the teachers sat down together at a long table, drinking tea and eating cake. I passed the time quite happily sipping at my Ostfriesische Tea until
we were all politely ripped from the table to begin our journey.

We left the inn to be confronted with a small wagon. This wagon was, of course, full of cherry liqueur and beer. We were all then ordered to take a shot glass and have a large portion of alcohol before we began the main part of the evening. It was at this point that I started to feel the Bilbo part of my psyche bubbling to the surface. We were sorted into three teams, by way of each picking a piece of a poem from a bag, and finding other people with the different parts of the same poem. I thought I may get lost at this point, but my degree finally came in handy for something as I picked part of a poem I had studied. I duly shouted this multiple times until the rest of my teammates crowded around me.

Me, shouting "Ich hab' Erlkönig! Ich hab' Erlkönig!"

We all proceeded to venture into the ever-darkening forest, wagon in hand, to play the aforementioned 'games'. They were, as you will have guessed, harmless and great fun. First, we all had to run a spoon attached to some string through one coat arm and out of the other, to create a link between each member of the team. We, of course, won this, as I am violently competitive.

The next game (after relaxing in a now almost pitch-black forest drinking large amounts of beer and cherry liqueur) was more difficult, and involved trying to shoot matches through a straw and into a bucket a few yards away. I unfortunately shamed my family for generations by failing to land a single match of the three given. We came second, and with feelings of regret and remorse, I entered a restaurant, lit up in the darkness by chinese lanterns and fairy-lights, which was to be the end point and climax of our tale.

This is where the cabbage comes in.

The Kohl is actually Grünkohl, a vegetable similar to kale, cooked in various salts and spices. This is accompanied by slices of gammon and Pinkel, a smoked sausage (surprise me) made with oats and bacon. The meal was delicious, and we sat for hours talking and enjoying the food that was on offer. There was a final mini-game where an appointed member of the team had to wind a toy car on a piece of string towards them as quickly as possible, and we won again, meaning the night was ours! I was close to tears through victory, but managed to hold it together.

The final event of the night was the choosing of next year's "Kohlkönige", which was greeted with cheers and singing, apart from by the two teachers who won the privilege, as they are the ones who will have to plan the event at the same time next year.

The scene was like this, but with more gold and slightly more enthusiasm.

We finished the meal late, tired but happy after an evening of cheerful happenings and friendship. I would recommend going on a Kohlfahrt to anyone I meet, as it is a great excuse to have fun, drink and make friends, all the while kidding yourself and those around you that you are only taking part for the cultural experience. I'd like to thank the people who arranged our Kohlfahrt, as it was a lovely, warm and welcoming experience, and one that has helped me to settle even further into a life in Germany. It has also taught me that no matter how tired or unenthusiastic you are about a new experience, try it at least once, as I changed in a matter of hours from this:

To this:
With the help of friends and cherry liqueur

That's all for now!

N.B. I think I may write more posts like this, explaining a cultural phenomenon, as opposed to my daily life. Tell me what you think (if you'd like) by commenting or emailing. Thanks for reading!