The arrangements sounded suspicious: “Catch the 9.15 train to Müllheim from Freiburg. There’ll be a blonde lady waiting in a black VW van just outside of the station for you.”
This is how the band of current English-speaking exchange students from the Freie Waldorfschule St. Georgen were informed to get to Müllheim so that we could speak some English with a very eager and excited Class 7 class.
Their teacher, Ann, had assembled a mixture of English speakers for small groups to talk with and show around the school. There was also the thought of a prize: the group who made the presentation about their guest in the coming weeks will win a silver cup. I hope the group I was with wins.
The collection of English speakers was a range. One exchange student from Canada, one from New York state, one from San Francisco, me, an old fellow from New Zealand who was wearing sandals (not that it was sandals weather), and a very proper, RP-talking, BBC-listening, very Home Counties, British woman – who you would say was “of the old Empire”.
For about two hours we ate, talked, were asked questions and shown around. Verbs were misconjugated and sentence structure was in many cases ignored – but who cared? We were actually communicating – speakers of two different first languages.
They told me that they liked English, but found it tricky. I said that it was tricky, but they should keep plugging away. “You’ll get there,” I said.
I was taken to see the school’s garden, which is about a five minute walk from the school. We headed off into the streets of Müllheim without saying anything or supervision. I asked them whether this was OK; they said it was perfectly fine.
On the way I was told about dream jobs and travel plans. It was had greater depth than what I’d been told to expect: favourite colours and foods and books and films.
The school’s garden teacher, who the kids said could get a bit grumpy, was an older gentlemen who spoke fluent English. He told me to give his greetings to Australia. “Everyone you meet for a year, shake their hand and say greetings from me!” he said. We both laughed before he waved me off – “You can’t just talk to silly old men all day, you’ve got to see the garden!”
The garden was a jumble of huts and vegetable patches and a plastic glasshouse and subterranean water tanks and wood stacks and a gypsy caravan-cum-classroom.
Back at the school, the lesson finished up, the goodbyes were said. Ann then took the group of exchange students to the school kitchen for a chat for the last half an hour before the black van returned.
We talked about education, Steiner-vs.-Normal, A-Level students, O-Level students, the Arbitur (the German “I want to go to university” school exam), language learning, the principles of education, how to teach well, play in the classroom and the fact that all things aren’t either true or false – as exams might have you believe. At the end of the conversation we agreed we’d come up with the principles for a fairly utopian school. “Well, you know how to contact me when we can make this happen,” Ann said, smiling.
Very shortly the black van arrived again. We thanked Ann, said our goodbyes and climbed in. Despite the suspicious nature of a black van in a foreign country we felt OK after having seen a box set of Edith Piaf CDs. No child abductor would have such good taste, would they?
ON THE CURFEW
I have been asked about Germany’s curfew on the youths on the streets at night. I mentioned this in my post on April 6. Perhaps I could have explained it a little better…
It’s really very simple. At 10 o’clock at night everyone under the age 16 who is unaccompanied must be off the streets, otherwise the police, if they find you, will take you home. Those over the age of 16 but who are not yet 18 have until midnight.
In reality it isn’t such a big deal in Freiburg, I’ve been told. The Polizei aren’t really very bothered and you don’t see that many of them on the lookout. What it does do, however, is instil fear and concern into the youths who, when it’s past their “bed time”, will do whatever they can to get home as quickly as they possibly can.
The idea is a good thing, I think. People know when to go home. At this age we don’t need to be rolling around the streets this late and it gives the police a legal foundation on which they are able to spring off into action. They have the legal ability to take young people home. It might be considered “annoying” but it fits into that seemingly endless backing of “being for our own good”.
The more intellectually inclined contingent of the “youth today” might carry on about it being a reduction of civil liberties and freedom of movement and blah, blah, blah – but we’re not quite adults yet. And that’s something that, although we’d like to ignore it, justifies such a clever idea such as a curfew. Besides, if an adult is willing to accompany us, we are allowed out.
So, it’s not such a massive problem that inhibits your nightly movements.