Schlamm & Sand: a weekend in the Upper Palatinate

Another week, another blog post.

Things are getting a little repetitious at school since not only classes in the same year level are learning the same grammar but the different year levels are all basically doing the same stuff. It’s quite strange going from a year 10 class and teaching “how to describe a picture” and then doing the exact same thing with a year 7 class. I was actually expecting a higher proficiency of English, which I probably would’ve seen at a Gymnasium (grammar school) since they focus on academia and preparing pupils for university. My school is a special case as it has pupils from both the upper and lower tiers of the  education system and prepares them for “business”. So, instead of diving into poetry analysis and English literature, they learn how to write CVs and business letters. Interestingly, only one of the 240 or so pupils I’ve taught thus far intends to go to university. I think this might actually be a good thing since in Australia and other western countries there is an irrational amount of pressure for all students to go to university.

One of the teachers was away on Tuesday so I got to take her year 8 English class by myself, which is technically not allowed, but German schools seem to be quite relaxed regarding this. I definitely prefer it when I have more control over the class rather than being a walking dictionary or only interacting with students during monitoring. A fellow assistant discovered that many of the English teachers at his school did not want an English assistant in their class due to the fear of being corrected in front of the students by them. It’s really quite nice when the students chat to me in English in the hallways at school because it’s clear that most of the other teachers at school would rather die than chat to me in English (or even German). The difference between generations is evident.

Anyway, that’s enough about the weekdays, now for the weekend. My housemate, Annette, invited a fellow English assistant, David from Manchester, and I to her family home in Freudenberg in the Oberpfalz (Upper Palatinate) region, which is about one hour east of Erlangen. So, on Friday evening we took the train to Amberg, where Annette attended high school, and David picked us up in his car, with steering wheel on right-hand side since he’s from the UK, which definitely makes for an interesting experience. Once in the small village of Freudenberg, which has over 1000 residents, Annette’s super hospitable family welcomed us and she took us on a brief bike tour of the village, which included an old preserved mill with an eerie backstory, and her friend Sarah’s place, who is also Annette’s cousin, where we tried the village beer. Afterwards, we had dinner and then drank more than a few beers which we had bought on the way.

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Freudenberg in the Upper Palatinate

The Oberpfalz is famous for a beer known as Zoigl which is closely related to the Kellerbier, Landbier and Zwicklbier of Franconia. Real Zoigl is brewed in the north of the Oberpfalz in community brew houses in which local families work their cervisial magic on a rotating basis, but the best I could find were two bottled versions of Zoigl to probe: one from Amberg and one from Kulmbach (Franconia). Interestingly, the lush, cloudy Franconian brew was far superior to the dry, unbalanced offering from the actual Oberpfalz. I also tried Tegernseer Lager, which is a very popular beer amongst (Southern) Germans, brewed in Upper Bavaria; however, I came to the conclusion that it’s not as good as Augustiner Edelstoff, which might be the finest Bavarian Helles Lager I’ve ever tasted.

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Gatnschmie: The house of Oma Schwarz
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Annette, the farm girl

On Saturday, we went carp fishing after a succulent lunch of Annette’s Oma’s homemade Apfelstrudel. Annette’s family have their own Weiher (pond) where they breed and fish Spiegelkarpfen (mirror carp) annually. The carp are fed from the waste barley, yeast and hops from the local brewery and are a delicacy. Unlike in Australia where carp are noxious pests and not considered a table fish. Anyway, the process of carp fishing involves draining the pond so there is a small volume of water and all the carp are crowded together and then trudging out into the mud in waders and scooping the flailing, feeble fish up in nets. Once caught the carp are put in barrels of clean water and later eaten. Unfortunately we weren’t around long enough to get to eat any. The process itself was a very muddy and awkward experience; I stood for too long in the Schlamm (mud) at the edge of the water and it took me 5 minutes to get unstuck. During the process of scooping the carp into the nets they flail about wildly and spraying mud everywhere. It was certainly a new and memorable experience for David and me.

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The Weiher

After a short foot break, we hiked up a hill, Johannisberg, with little statues marking the Stations of the Cross spread throughout the trail, to reach a cute little church at the top. Later that evening we spent a couple of hours playing card games after dinner and then got dressed up in our finest as Sarah was taking us to the Ehenfelder Kirwa, a folk festival held in a small nearby village. At that point, David and I had already experienced two (quite different) German folk festivals, the ridiculously touristy, crowded Oktoberfest and the very market-like, family-friendly Fürther Kärwa.

The Ehenfelder Kirwa was easily the most authentic and enjoyable German festival experience I’ve experienced thus far; a real rural event in a village of just over 600 people. What I found particularly interesting is that beer was generally served in half-litre mugs (though you could still get a 1 litre Maß if requested). There was also a band on stage playing a continuous barrage of German songs to which the locals were singing and dancing. Annette coaxed us into getting up and dancing but our limited knowledge of the lyrics was obvious. But perhaps this is a good thing because, as I’ve been informed, the content of some of these famous folk songs can be quite vulgar and even horrific (see Donaulied).

However, as the night went on, it was punctuated by more and more English songs and I became thoroughly animated when the band started playing a few classics by AC/DC, for which I thanked them enthusiastically later on. It was a very enjoyable night and I hit my limit after drinking three litres of beer, a couple of Klopfer (these little bottles of liquor one must tap a certain number of times on the table before sculling) and throwing a foul, overly salted pretzel into a bush.

The next day we were parched and groggy, but after a scrumptious lunch of Rinderbraten (roast beef) with Knödel (potato dumpling) and vegetables we managed to hike up an enormous “mountain” called Monte Kaolino made from kaolin leftover from the production of porcelain and boasting a host of facilities including a ski resort. Due to the softness of the sand the hike up was grueling but for the same reason descending was great fun. After coffee and cake we departed on Sunday evening and I’m now back in Erlangen positively exhausted after such a culturally rich and interesting weekend.

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Rinderbraten for lunch

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