In response to my frustration at finding myself finally able to travel but without a plan for travel and learning for this summer, my awesome friend Alan offered up that “perhaps I could come and be a visiting scholar at his school for a week…or two.” I immediately said “That would be wonderful.” So Alan inquired of his principal and I asked The SAMIS Foundation if I could use my professional development money that was part of my R. Greenberg Master Teacher award for this purpose. Both said yes, and so I am now writing this from a hotel room in a beautiful half timbered building in Eppingen, Baden – Württemberg, Germany.
I arrived on Thursday, 30th June, and made my way from Frankfurt to Eppingen. It was wonderful to be back in Europe and I was quickly reminded of some basic differences between here and Seattle. The bottom floor is 0 not 1. The ground floor is just that, it is not the 1st floor. People smoke here. A lot. Everywhere. Seattle is practically smoking free since you can’t smoke inside or within 25 feet (7.6 m) of the door or windows of a public place. There are cigarette vending machines ala the 1970s all over the place – literally on the sides of streets in residential areas. Crazy!
On the weekends that I am here I am staying in “Rapunzel’s Tower.” This is a tower that is part of the outer wall structure of the 17th century castle where Alan lives. I have always wanted to live in a tower and so am very excited about this. The first night I was there it was windy and raining. There were many loud and concerning noises for much of the night. Once so loud I sat up in bed and yelled “Hello?” I thought someone had broken down the door!!! I told myself it was only trees banging on the roof because of the wind and went back to sleep. The next night Alan and I walked into the local village for dinner and were walking down the drive behind the castle. I looked up and noticed that there were NO trees anywhere near the tower roof. So I was a bit concerned about just what was making all that noise. Alan reminded me of the cute Dormouse I had encountered getting dressed that morning and said that that was the source of the noise. Later we were in the tower and he confirmed that this was indeed the issue. Apparently there are more dormice than the one I saw and they like to party – hard – all night long. At least knowing the source allowed me to not panic when they managed to crash about at 2 am.
Friday I came into town with Alan so I could meet the principal of his school and some of the teachers that I would be working with. It was a day of oral exams for the graduating class and in Germany teachers from other schools come to judge/grade these exams. This meant that some of the teachers at other schools that I will be visiting were here in Eppingen for the day. It was great to meet them and quickly other teachers decided they also wanted me to come to their classes and my “dance card” quickly filled in.
Alan took me to the cemetery right by the school. Of interest in this small plot were a few things. The grave of a Catholic priest who was imprisoned by the Nazis for his defiance regarding their treatment of Polish forced laborers. He allowed them to receive Communion and attend mass at his church and was sent to Dachau for four years. His crime was “offending the healthy national feelings” of Germans. Also buried on the edge of the cemetery were Soviet POWs and Polish forced laborers who had died while in Eppingen during/after WWII. This was particularly interesting to see and think about who had arranged for these prisoners to be given a burial in the city plot.
On Saturday I joined Alan at his school’s graduation or “Abitur” as it is called here. It was a lovely ceremony and I was very impressed with the accomplishments of the students and the prizes given for each subject and for overall scholarship, leadership and the like. The “valedictorian” was a young man who received 898 credits out of 900 possible during his last two years of Gymnasium (college prep high school)!!! Other students were equally impressive winning multiple subject specific prizes, some even in multiple languages. The students do not wear cap and gown, but rather dress up quite formally. The girls in particular were just stunning in their formal gowns and looked as if they were going to the prom rather than graduation. Another cultural difference was the availability of beer at the event and the fact that the graduates are old enough to partake. The ceremony is planned and organized by the 11th graders who also sell drinks (beer and soft drinks) as well as pretzels to raise money for their graduation. It was lovely to meet some of the students, including the valedictorian, who was a modest and serious young man, and his sister who will be in one of my classes this coming week. She told me she was very excited to have me in their class.
Sunday was a low key day of moving into town and wandering around a bit on my own. Eppingen is a lovely town filled with amazing half timbered buildings. It is amusing to the locals how taken I am with the buildings of their town which they see every day and, in my opinion, do not properly appreciate. I was going to go visit another village on Sunday but failed to find the correct platform at the train station. Good news is that I will need to be on that platform on Friday very early and now I know where it is! The sights of Eppingen and some delicious hausgemacht Eis (homemade ice cream) more than made up for missing the train.
More on my first two days with the students in my next post.