Hamburg Exchange 2009
On 23rd October 2009, an army
of empty German vocab books (complete with a complement of obedient
owners) boarded a plane to Hamburg, Germany. Excited at the prospect of
being shown an environment more colourful than a dusty UCS German folder,
they keenly awaited their arrival at the Heinrich Heine Gymnasium in
Poppenbüttel, the exchange school. The students, perhaps it should be
added, were rather excited too…
We were greeted by warm German counterparts eager to treat us to Hamburg’s
many delights and distractions. Before long, we were being shown around a
pitch-dark mini-city, armed with nothing more than a cane and the wisdom
of a blind man at Dialog im Dunkeln ('Dialogue in the Dark'), sampling
Hamburg’s famous fish market at the in the fresh German small hours, and
cruising the city’s beautiful rivers – described by one vocab book-sceptic
as 'sehr Baum' (‘very tree’). After an incident the following day in which
the same sceptic reported that the next train carriage was full of 'Schwuhle'
(nearly the right way to spell 'gay men' in German), as opposed to 'Stühle'
(chairs), he was an emphatic convert.
Visits to neighbouring cities in the remaining days offered some cultural
variety. In Berlin, we were first greeted by offers of free coffee, an
Israeli-born UCS boy having spotted a sign in Hebrew offering some to
anyone who could read it. An amusing exchange, but a chilling prelude to
our visit to the holocaust memorial, a moving installation covering 19,000
square metres. A visit to Checkpoint Charlie followed, along with a tour
around the Olympic Stadium, an architectural feat of awesome magnitude
(we’ll forgive it the extortionately-priced gift shop).
We were also treated to a tour through the birthplace and heartland of
marzipan, Lübeck. Bursting with almandine delights of all shapes and sizes
(some politer than others), it is truly the marzipan-lover’s paradise.
After an apprentice-style exercise in which Dr Plow and Mr Underwood sent
us out in teams to buy various city-specific items – in some cases, I
might add, written in archaic German that only an eighty-year-old fruit
dealer could understand – we felt satisfied we had experienced Lübeck in
all its charming nuttiness.
For these reasons and others, the Hamburg exchange was a tremendously
enjoyable experience, both in culture and in company. But for me it was
far more than that – it was a powerful kick-start to my learning of
conversational German and invaluable in the understanding that I picked
up. I’m certain that I wouldn’t be doing A-level German next year without
it, and very glad I will be – thanks to Dr. Plow and Mr. Underwood for
their masterminding of the trip. My vocab book and I certainly appreciated