Jul 292011

Finding Durmstrang, A Continuing Saga

When last we left our merry band we had just discovered a local group whose mission is to help the immigration and integration process of local boys.  Friday, David and DS made a trip on over there and learned more.  The group is dual-sponsored by the German Government and the Catholic Church.  They aren’t really religious, have outings and get-togethers, and, yes, they did know a school that might serve DS’s needs.  In Offenburg is the Schiller Gymnasium- a bilingual English school for local brainy German kids.  Perhaps they would be a good fit for DS?  Only issue was that school was scheduled to end very soon, so we needed to make sure that we spoke with them ASAP.  Also, it would be a great idea if DS could work hard on learning German.  Er, yeah.  Working on it!

So, Monday DH faces down his growing phobia of German Phones and gives them a call.  He gets through to a secretary and explains the situation (in German).  He is looking for a school for his son because we just moved from America and our son doesn’t speak much German, yet.  The Boy’s Integration Group suggested that they might be a good fit.  The secretary explained that the person he needed to speak with would not be in until tomorrow and suggested he call back.  Ok, fair enough.

So, the next morning David once again dials up the school.  The same secretary answers and recognizes him immediately.  She quickly connects him with the person who can help us, who turns out to be….. the manager of an Auto Repair Shop!?!  German Phones have defeated us again!  Apparently David had  gotten the wrong number the first day and the secretary had thought that he was looking for a JOB for his son (who didn’t speak much German).  He and the auto-shop manager had a good laugh, but we were no closer to making contact with the school- and even the auto-shop manager warned us that school was out for 7 weeks!

Now, as it happens, this particular school is just around the corner from where my physical therapy and doctor’s office are.  We often see students going to school as we drive to my appointments.  So, we figure we will stop by he school after my appointment the next day- which also happens to be my birthday!

Long story short, we get to the school the next day and it is locked up tight as a drum.  The teems of students we usually see have vanished.  School was out on Tuesday, and we are there Wednesday.  DOH.  There are some custodians doing their rounds inside, but all the doors are locked.  Feeling a bit discouraged, David emails the lady from the Boy’s Integration group and asks for advice.  She responds by calling back a couple hours later to let him know she has set up an appointment with the principal of Durmstrang, er Schiller, and that David and DS should go down there at 9am the next morning.  Hooray for helpful, take-charge German Women!

So, that brings us to this morning.  Around 8, we get a call letting us know that our appointment has been moved to 11.  This is trickier for David, but he takes the car to work, then returns home to pick up DS and toodle on out.  Once again the school is locked tight, but they manage to follow someone else through a door and begin asking the German janitorial staff where to find the principal.  After several false starts, a kind woman takes pity on them and leads them up through a labyrinth of closed doors and stairwells, dropping them off upstairs and telling them they need room 252.  After some wandering they discover 252 is the teacher’s lounge!   One of the teachers then ushers them to another closed featureless door that leads to the school secretary’s office.  The secretary greets them and asks them to go sit in the hall.  Which they do.  For 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, this proves a harbinger of things to come. Once they get in to see the principal, it becomes clear that he does not think this particular Durmstrang campus is the best fit.  First, the German laws have recently changed and parents can now choose whether or not to send their students to the Gymnasium, when previously this was a decision made by teachers.  The Gymnasium is the highest of the German secondary schools and the place to go if you intend to go to college or get a high end job.  As a result, all the Gymnasiums are suddenly overcrowded.  His is particularly overcrowded.  Some of the other Gymnasiums in town might be better.  Additionally, while in most of Germany the students are taught English from an early age, here on the French border, everyone is taught French first. They don’t start English until later on.  So, effectively DS would be in school entirely with English Newbs, which might make it tough for him to communicate, and certainly would mean that the teachers were not teaching very much in English at his age.  On the other hand, there is a town to the south about 15 kilometers where they DO teach English from an early age.  He called the principal there (we will designate it Durmstrang South) and set up an appointment with her on Monday.

He also strongly advises that DS learn German ASAP.  Yes, Working on it!!! He suggests that we hire tutors (a little pricey) and then points us in the direction of a potential German Language school(in other words a school specifically for teaching German) that will take younger students than the ones that I have spoken with will.  So, I guess he was useful after all.  But, wow this is a slow process!

On Strasbourg, Bühl, Trampolines and Other Adventures

Ok, so that was a long story.  I will try to be pithier about the rest:

We live on the edge of a village called Bühl.  But, it is not the only Bühl in Germany.  In fact there are several.  And one of the larger ones is only about 30 minutes away towards Karlsruhe.  We decided to take a little trip up last weekend and check it out. Turns out it is a charming town with a picturesque stream running though it and pleasant English-speaking shop owners.

As an aside- If you have the option, I would stay away from bottled “smoothees” in Germany.  I ordered what I thought was orange juice and was treated to something at least as thick as applesauce that was some sort of combination of orange and mango pulp.  Not really the refreshing beverage I was looking for!  

Here are a few photos from Big Bühl:

Nice Church- Much of Bühl seemed older than Offenburg.  My guess is less war damage.

Statue in the square- the kids were feeling impish

No clue why there are rocket statues here.
moderne fountain
Some of the few German Language graffiti we have seen

This is more typical- something cheeky- or just incoherent- in English.  This one says “Also wet at night”
Sign means “Jewelry for the legs”- who knew “schmuck” meant “jewelry”?!

I don’t think that means what they think it means.

The next day David took the kids on a forced march through Offenburg to give me some time to do some work.  They had fun photographing many of the funky art objects that they passed- and on the way back made a transcendent discovery.  Our local park has: a trampoline!!!

kid art at the park

Monster Mural on a school

The arch to nowhere

Trampoline- in a park!  Yes, you could actually get hurt if you weren’t careful!

Art at the park

A few days later, the kids and I took a trip into Strasbourg to check out a Mall we had passed a couple times.  A nice, actual regulation-sized mall!  90 stores and restaurants.  Sweet!  Unfortunately, when I got there, my French momentarily failed me.  I tried to tell an attendant that the light was out in the bathroom and wound up telling her there was no bed in there.  Whoops!  But language glitches aside, we had a good time exploring and buying a few delicacies at a pâtisserie and a chocolatier.  The most striking thing about the place, though, is that it is right along the waterfront- and people come often to feed the Swans!  French folks save up their stale leftover bread loaves, then stomp on them to break them into swan-friendly clumps.  One toddler was there with her dad and kept neglecting this last step and HURLING large, rock-hard (but light) french bread chunks at the swans.  The large birds didn’t seem phased, but I felt sorry for the scavenging ducks and pigeons. 

Swan Feeding Frenzy

Random Shots from Home:

Johannis beeren AKA red currants.  REALLY tangy

Sunset over corn

Getting golden!

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