Hiking in Franconian Switzerland

My third week of teaching English in Germany is over and I’ve almost completely settled into my school; I now know the locations of all of my 12 classes and have spoken to all 11 teachers I’ll be assisting, and all of them are more or less approachable and amicable (though I can’t say the same about most of the teachers in the other departments).

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My flatmate, Annette, with some delicious, homemade Apfelkuchen (apple cake)

What I find particularly interesting is how different the teaching style of each teacher is; some of teachers consistently do things in the classroom which would horrify my CELTA trainers, such as getting students to read texts aloud in class and singling out weaker, struggling students. A few of teachers consistently make mistakes in English. This can be quite frustrating for me as I have to decide whether to inform them after class and so far I’ve avoided correcting the ones who seem highly stressed and wouldn’t take it well if I did. In any case, dealing with the teachers is a little bit more difficult than dealing with the students. However, a couple of the teachers have quite a good rapport with their students and it’s quite enjoyable participating in these banter-heavy classes.

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Autumn colours from our balcony

Sometimes the English teachers get into little tiffs about the correct English term for something or how to best translate a particular German word or phrase and I always get pulled into the argument, which amuses me as much as it annoys me.

On Saturday I considered visiting the Frankfurter Buchmesse but decided against it knowing full well that I would spend an enormous amount of money on books, so I ended up visiting Nuremberg and doing one of those free city tours which I’ve always enjoyed in the past.

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Nuremberg is nice

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good tour. Clearly one of the English-speaking tour guides was sick because a Spanish guide, who normally did the Spanish one, took the tour and her English wasn’t particularly easy to understand; her German wasn’t great either. It was also quite bizarre since most of the people on the tour were German. I actually got quite frustrated with the tour and left early and, after an extended nanna nap, ended up playing volleyball and “viking chess” (the proper name is “kubb”) with my flatmate, Annette, and a bunch of random German uni students.

If there’s one thing to note about German people, it’s that they love playing games: card games, board games, lawn games, with or without drinking. This can actually be quite fun when they are not arguing about the rules or taking the game so seriously that it becomes tedious. “Viking chess” is actually quite enjoyable and I could imagine it becoming quite popular in Australia if it somehow incorporated drinking.

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Secret Jewish cemetery

On Sunday I was invited to go hiking in Franconian Switzerland by one of the English teachers, Sabine, and her husband, Walther. Franconian Switzerland isn’t actually in Switzerland; it’s just called that because it’s very scenic with loads of mountains. It has the highest density of breweries per capita in the world and is a triangular area of land formed between the cities of Bamberg, Bayreuth and Nuremberg. Anyway, since Walther couldn’t really speak English, I had to speak German the entire time, which actually worked quite well. Many Germans do not know how to (or refuse to) grade their language when talking to learners of German, but these two spoke quite articulately and I could understand everything they said, so we spent the afternoon discussing Franconian culture, religion, politics and Australia.

Sabine and Walther took me to a hidden Jewish cemetery and told me the history of Jewish settlement in the area. The cemetery is hidden from the general public so that Nazi gangs (which are a minority but definitely do exist) don’t deface the gravestones. We stopped at a traditional restaurant (Prütting-Brendel) about 8km east of Forchheim for some traditional Franconian food, roasted meats with potato dumplings (Klöße), savoy cabbage (Wirsing) and, naturally, some Aktien Kellerbier brewed in Bayreuth.

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In the woods

Throughout the German-speaking countries and the Netherlands, there is a dialect continuum, meaning that, when one ignores the official, standardised dialects, it is quite difficult to pinpoint where exactly one dialect ends and a new one begins. There are linguistic features that may belong to only one small village which aren’t shared by any of the neighbouring villages. This was clear when we stopped at a pub, Gasthof Richter, in Pretzfeld and neither Sabine nor Walther knew what “Urrädla” was, even though both have lived their entire lives in Middle Franconia. This is because Urrädla, which turns out to be a deep-fried doughnut, similar perhaps to Schmalznudel in Munich, is only found in Forchheim and the surrounding villages. Walther also told me that Nurembergers in particular have a very strange dialect because they’ve incorporated many features (such as diphthongs) from Bavarian into their native Franconian.

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Schweinebraten mit Klößen u. Wirsing (Roast pork with potato dumplings and savoy cabbage)

Anyway, I tried to order a small beer at this pub but they insisted I get half a litre of the local Hetzelsdorfer Vollbier, which looked like a Landbier to me. Beer terminology is a bit vague around here, and many of the Landbiers I’ve tried around Middle Franconia are dark, malty brews which are very similar to Vienna Lagers (eg. Trumer Pils). One of the Kellerbiers here in Erlangen is filtered and is therefore a complete lie. For me, at least, a Kellerbier must be an unfiltered lager which ranges in colour from gold to amber. Sabine and Walther also got me a shot of Zwetschgenbrand which is a schnapps produced from these little weird plum things that don’t seem to exist in any English-speaking country.

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Beer heaven

Today is my off day so I’ve been bumming around the apartment, cleaning and researching Franconian cuisine. Some of the stranger dishes involve lots of blood and offal. There’s even a city in Lower Franconia where there’s a traditional dinner ritual which involves a group of people eating seven courses of different pig bits off a wooden table without plates. But I’m probably not game enough to go that far. In any case, another week down and I’m looking forward to going to the Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz) next weekend because I’ve the dialect spoken there is utterly incomprehensible, even to Franconians.

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