Tagged: Germany

So Long, Farewell- my last few weeks in Munich

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies

It was time for me to go back to Munich, and I was feeling pretty deflated and sluggish- not just a direct result of mass turkey consumption. The novelty of abroadness was, truth be told, wearing off, and two weeks hadn’t been long enough for me to see all the people and do all the things I’d wanted to; yet it had been long enough for me to have got back into my old life, which was why I was feeling awkwardly displaced. Returning after Christmas is always the hard part, I’d been warned- and sad to say, it’s true. The permanently dark and dismal weather didn’t help (and considering I come from Cardiff, that just tells you how grim it must’ve been in Munich.) There is also such a thing as too much snow. Trust me on this one. I had bought heavy-duty winter boots which I wore from mid-September onwards, and by the end of February I was getting increasingly soggy socks as the soles wore through. Not ideal.


My birthday was drawing closer alarmingly quickly, and aside from work, I really wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Although it wouldn’t be my first one outside the UK (I had my 4th birthday with family in the Philippines), it would definitely feel different. Finally I decided to spend the day itself in a laid-back fashion- going for sushi and a late-night swim at the Müller'sche Volksbad, a beautiful public swimming baths with quaintly old-fashioned changing cubicles. The building reminded me of the Roman Baths with its elegant arches and pillars. The next day, I summoned everyone I’d befriended and we ate, drank and were merry.


My boyfriend came to stay for intersemester break. We took a guided tour around the main sights of central Munich, almost contracting hypothermia in the process- but it was worth it to learn that the people had once attempted to put out a fire in the theatre with beer, with disastrous consequences; and that the police apparently stole the airport’s maypole and only gave it back once promised great quantities of food, beer (no surprise there) and a party! Wahnsinn...


We also visited Dachau, which was a thought-provoking and sobering experience.


And for any Discord-goers, I have but one word to say: Rockstudio. And, oops, another two: Go there. The night we went, the guitarist from Marilyn Manson was choosing the set- there was an interlude which consisted purely of Irish jig-type songs. You will never see anything funnier than black-clad German goths in their heavy studded boots and curtains of hair linking arms and riverdancing. Really.


There was also Fasching to look forward to- officially a celebration of the dawning of the (so-far non-existent) spring, in practice, an excuse for shops to sell their Halloween stock in February and an excuse for all Münchners to have a half-day, dress up ridiculously and party with friends and copious amounts of... yep, BIER! Clouds of confetti littered the snow, a brass band blared from a stage on Marienplatz, and the whole city centre was a glorious, teeming chaos of colour and sound.


It was a triumphant end to my time in Munich. I arranged to see all my friends one last time, did  my final open mic evening and got myself abgemeldet. At times it had been stressful, it had been hard, but it was also a wonderfully enriching experience. I’d felt completely at home there, and was sorry to have to leave. But I’m sure I’ll be back.


Bis bald, München!

 

Mozart, Markets and Myriad Monsters- Munich is invaded by the Krampus

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies

Even scarier than me in the morning...

Even scarier than me in the morning...

With the dawning of December, Munich put on its Christmas hat, and instantly became magical. Shop windows filled with tinsel and baubles and heavily-adorned trees, an enormous tree appeared in Marienplatz and strings of glowing star-shaped lights marked out the territory of the Weihnachtsmarkt. Later in the month, an ice-rink was built (free entry once a week if you wore traditional costume!) and finally, several Christmas markets opened up, selling all sorts of gorgeous things- brightly-painted wooden figures who ‘smoked’ if you put specially-shaped candles in their pipes, pick-and-mix style decorations ranging from the gaudy to the sublime, lace, ceramics, chocolates, the world-famous gingerbread hearts, sausages, candied nuts, fluffy plumes of candy floss, baked potatoes with sour cream and chives, and a Bavarian staple, Käsespätzle, which are very short egg noodles absolutely smothered in stringy cheese, and which are delicious, certainly life-shortening and make you want to hibernate for at least a week until you’ve managed to digest them. The nearby Odeonsplatz market had a fairytale theme, complete with Red Riding Hood, Santa and his elves and brightly-coloured Nutcracker soldiers as tall as me. Brass bands braved the cold and performed carols. It was all positively frolic-inducing.


At work, the office chocolate fairy visited and left Nikolaustag gifts on our desks on December sixth- chocolate Santas. We all exclaimed in delight, then proceeded to bash them to pieces and devour them. And since I was on a chocolate theme, I went to the Milka Welt shop and got an advent calendar, because you can never be too old for one! It wasn’t too difficult to catch up on all the missed days, oddly enough. The Germans, like the Swiss, don’t skimp with their chocolate. The sleighs, parcels and snowmen inside this one meant business.


My mother came to visit, and I proudly dragged her to my second poetry reading and choir concert in the Gasteig concert hall. Dressed in black with hints of festive red, we performed some Mozart, some Biebl, a couple of traditional carols and a Christmas medley which really put everyone in the festive spirit. One of our songs was aired on the radio, which was another really great experience. A couple of weeks later, we shivered our way through a Christmas market in temperatures of minus seven (!) and were rewarded with free Glühwein. I took what I was told was a cherry Kinderpunsch, but even inhaling the steam coming off it made me cough. It tasted like Calpol plus extremely concentrated Ribena, and I was forced to admit defeat, much to the amusement of my choirmates.


One weekend, I was minding my own business in Marienplatz, browsing the winter sales and admiring the markets once more, just enjoying the festive atmosphere. It was growing darker and colder, and the snow was beginning to fall anew, so I was about to set off home when I heard a steadily augmenting din of what sounded like cowbells clanking together, drumming and cheering. A stream of people was filing out of the market into a side-street, and I got sucked in and sandwiched between tourists, peeking out through gaps. Was I really seeing a parade of strange furry creatures with shrivelled faces, horns and beards, clutching drums and sticks, with enormous bells hanging from their bottoms, leaping out and growling at the children? Apparently so. This was the Krampuslauf, an ancient tradition, and these creatures were the Krampus, kind of an anti-Santa entity, whose mission it is to punish children who haven’t been well-behaved during the year. Eeep...


The crowd snaked through the streets, persistent in spite of the blistering cold; trailing the creatures through the markets, finally ending up in a field alongside Marienplatz. There the Krampus rounded on each other, roaring and brandishing their sticks, leapt up and down to make their bells jingle in unison for the amusement of their audience, and were kind enough to pose for photos, looking like something out of the Lord of the Rings films. You have to hand it to the Germans- they uphold most traditions, no matter how bonkers, exceedingly well.


A friend took to me to a painfully indie gig in a tucked-away little club. The first band gave out bananas to the crowd, as you do, and the second was a whole orchestra crammed onto a tiny stage, and a masked singer who had put a filter on the microphone so that when she sang, she sounded like something out of Doctor Who. That was a pretty strange night.


After a lot of patient waiting and also a lot of rather less patient waiting, it was finally time to go home for a couple of weeks, for the first time in six months. Excited didn’t even begin to cover it!

 

Roaming and Reading- ticking one more thing off my Bucket List

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies

munichreadrey

The forum turned out to be highly useful for spotting events around Munich. I was able to attend several meet-ups, join a choir, go to an open-air book fair along the River Isar and get restaurant recommendations. I also went to the gorgeous though peculiarly-named Englischer Garten, which has beautiful lakes for rowing, beer gardens, a massive Chinese Tower in which a brass band plays on Sundays, restaurants, monuments and a Grecian-style temple affording a breathtaking view over Munich, among other things, and not the slightest bit English. It is absolutely enormous. Every time I went there, I feared I would forget which direction I’d come from and still be there several years later, utterly lost, living in a tent made out of my coat and some branches, and spit-roasting squirrels to survive. It is a must-see, especially when the first autumn leaves are crisp underfoot and everything is rich with colour. Another sight not to be missed is the lovely Schloss Nymphenburg, which has several beautiful miniature outhouses scattered around the grounds.


Scrolling through the forum’s events page one day, one post in particular leapt out at me- an ‘Open Mic’ evening at a English-language bookshop, The Munich Readery. I tried my hardest to ignore it, but a little voice persisted, getting steadily louder, just like your alarm seems to at stupid-o'-clock in the morning until you throw the clock at the wall. This one said: “You know that it’s long been a dream of yours to read your poetry out to an audience, and now here’s your chance handed to you on a plate.” And (here goes my street cred- what street cred?- oh, never mind) it was true. I assumed the facial expression of one ascending the scaffold to hang, picked up my mobile and rallied a troop for moral support- friends who wouldn’t let me chicken out, and would physically drag me in there if need be.


If that seems a tad dramatic to you, let me explain further. Imagine being stood before a large window, on the other side of which is a crowd of strangers with magnifying glasses, torches, binoculars and telescopes, all pointing directly at you. Imagine, if you will, being naked under this relentless scrutiny. Not nice, is it?


That, ladies and gentlemen, is how I feel and have always felt every time I have been asked to share my literary works in person, even if it’s just with a bored class who isn’t paying the slightest attention anyway, or a friend on the bus. WIthout the veil of internet anonymity to hide behind, the silent scrutiny, the feeling of being judged is terrifying. With every word I read aloud I feel as though I am warding off an impending army of lions in tanks with a sheet of tinfoil. This was no different.


The days rolled around with startling rapidity until we were sat in neat rows between bookshelves, and the American couple who owned the store opened up the (metaphorical) stage. I leaned back in my chair, affecting nonchalance, and silently wailed Why am I doing this to myself?


A couple of old dears read lengthy, sweetly-accented accounts of their summer holidays and getting to grips with Skype (a pair of German guys next to me sniggered into the science-fiction.) A nervous-looking student rather like myself read some gloomy but atmospheric poems. A flamboyant actor/writer barked out a few line-long poems which were more like the punchlines to jokes and festooned the baffled audience with leaflets advertising his next play. Then I looked all around to see if I could possibly put it off any longer, but I couldn’t. It was my turn. I perched on the desk at the front and read to my shoes (I don’t think they appreciated it all that much.) I did get some great feedback at the meet and greet afterwards though, so I suppose I did something right.


Plus there were crackers. Everybody loves crackers.


Me and my Musketeers (grammatically incorrect for alliterative effect) befriended the sniggering Germans and exited with them, into the dark, damp and slightly blurry night.


Blurry? Yes, the snow had finally begun to fall- worth mentioning, because I would barely see the pavement again during my remaining time in Munich. We went to an Irish bar to ward off the sudden chill. Ah, multiculturalism.

 

Events, Tents and Experiments

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies

2012-09-21-logo_tag_der_deutschen_einheit

The next week, there was a public holiday- the Day of German Unity, which explained the profusion of white tents which had been popping up on the stretch from Universität to Odeonsplatz. The day itself dawned bright and clear, arches of black, red and yellow balloons fluttered merrily overhead, and the world and his wife came to see the festivities, including, somewhere, Angela Merkel. Each tent represented one of the Länder- the Berlin tent even had a mini Brandenburg Gate to pose by for photos. Jolly whiskered Bavarians beamed over their accordions, the scent of Bratwurst and the clinking of tankards filled the air, and in the evening, everyone gathered in solemn silence to watch a documentary of the events leading up to reunification, projected onto a large screen.


I also went to a gig that week, at Backstage, which is like Bath’s Discord, only more so- and was lucky enough to see OOMPH!, a German rock band from which Rammstein got their inspiration, or so it is rumoured- had an amazing time in the front row (until the singer and guitarist started crowdsurfing, that is) and definitely felt the after-effects the next day, sleep-limping through the drizzle to work.


“I’m sooooo tired,” I moaned to a colleague in barely coherent German, thunking my head down on the desk while my neck twinged painfully.

“Yes, sometimes it’s hard,” my French colleague agreed. “But we’ve got a safeguard.”

“And what’s that?”

He smiled sweetly, came into my office and opened the cupboard under the dictionary shelf to reveal a secret stash of bottles representing the alcohol aisle of a supermarket- vodka, brandy, whisky, still sealed (mostly) and waiting for that day when one of us would finally snap over ridiculous deadlines, tetchy customers and demands to create rhyming couplets over the phone (yes, it’s happened to me.) Even as a non-drinker, I had to laugh.


I was starting to realise that I could really do with some more friends, and so I joined a forum for English speakers living in Munich (it wasn’t cheating; Germans who wanted to learn English were members too!) The first meet-up I went to was in a pleasant bar with good music, extremely long sofas (a good thing too, looking at how many people turned up over the course of the evening) and a football table. But of course, as is the case with any gathering of slightly-drunk twenty-somethings, it did turn into a bit of a speed-dating circle, whereby you got steadily more uncomfortable, politely excused yourself and found yourself lumbered with a new well-meaning but completely misguided stranger.

“Do you believe in destiny?” said one beaming Mexican.

I was like, Really? Do people actually say that? I had to laugh, but he laughed too, which was weird. Did he realise his chat-up line was appalling, or did he just like to mimic his target for reassurance? Either way, I made my excuses. I also took advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity- that of speaking Finnish to a real live Finn. Doubt it will ever happen again, but hey, it was fun while it lasted (read: about two minutes, while I used up my rather scant knowledge of basic greetings and realised I couldn’t shoehorn any colours in.)


I bonded especially with an English au-pair. We agreed to meet up on the weekend to visit an art exhibition advertised on the forum. When the time came, we took one look at how tiny the gallery/shop was and how knowledgeable and arty all the other visitors looked and stood around in the rain trying to be inconspicuous until someone spotted us and beckoned us in. Luckily the art was all very accessible- we didn’t have to make up highbrow comments about it, it was all genuinely pleasant to the eye, and you could tell what everything was supposed to be. We admired the use of light and shade, painting techniques and the skilful interposing of photographs into paintings, where you could barely see the painted-over edges, and generally felt grown-up. A band played jazzy covers of English songs in the corner. Quietly my friend slunk to the refreshments table and politely toothpicked a couple of cubes of cheese, crackers and chocolate hearts, washed down with an artistic wine glass of Prosecco. On the return journey we achieved the rare feat of getting hideously lost and disorientated in a city where there are U-Bahns on virtually every street, entered a bar to ask directions, got chatted up by a middle-aged Münchner (the waiter said he should either buy us a pizza or leave us alone) and parted at Hauptbahnhof, promising to do it all again (minus the getting lost) soon.


So, in case you’re still expecting this blog to be vaguely advisory, that would be another Handy Hint. Get involved- there’s always heaps of things going on, if you know where to find them.

Oh... and don’t fall for creepy chat-up lines.


Unless you like that sort of thing, of course.

 

Tracht und Pracht- how my apron told the world I was widowed

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies, Uncategorized

Oktoberfest

Every year, round about the end of September through to the first week of October, Munich, the Bavarian capital, is hit by an internationally-renowned, centuries-old phenomenon which completely changes the city’s character from a pleasantly cultured air to an alcohol-fuelled haze of sea-shantying, swaying, beer-swilling madness. Locals call this ‘die Wiesn’. Some call it ‘ein Chaos’ and make plans to be out of town for its duration. The rest of the world calls it Oktoberfest.

It all kicks off with a parade of national costume groups from all over Europe, waving flags, dancing, blowing horns, riding horses- there was even a carpenter carving wooden sculptures on one of the floats. They all walk through the city, up to Theresienwiese, the site of the main festivities. Some lovely old ladies, pitying my shortness, let me stand at the front of the teeming crowds lining the street, opposite the Bayerischer Hof (“I’ve translated for the Hof!” I couldn’t help thinking smugly.) A thrilling addition to the proceedings involved whips... men in scarlet waistcoats stood in formation (everyone cowered) and simultaneously struck the ground with a din like gunshots.

What couldn’t have been clearer was that one integral component of the Bavarian lifestyle is traditional dress: Lederhosen with stockings and waistcoats for men, and Dirndls and perky little hats for the ladies. It isn’t just reserved for Oktoberfest; you genuinely will see people of all ages and nationalities wearing them all year round. Around Oktoberfest time (even up to a month before), seeing someone who isn’t wearing it is unusual. It thus became apparent to me that I, a registered Bavarian citizen, could embrace the ever-growing trend myself. I wasn’t a mere tourist, spending a small fortune for something I wouldn’t wear after this visit. No, I was now a Münchner on paper and in affinity. I took a sneaky trip to C&A, along with about half of the western world, or so it seemed, to take advantage of the sale to pick up a Dirndl.

For those who have not yet had the pleasure of doing the same, let me put it thus: Wearing Tracht is like being allowed to wear fancy dress even though it’s not Halloween and you aren’t five years old. It makes you feel special, but not silly, because everyone else is wearing it too; and the special feeling reflects itself in the little spring in your step, the swish of your skirts. I don’t usually get like this about clothes, much to the benefit of my purse- what with that and being a non-drinker, my boyfriend delights in my relatively low expensiveness. But it was just one of those things- I saw it, heavy blue cotton with a print of faded roses, a dainty puff-sleeved lace blouse under it, laced with bright frills and ribbon, and thought immediately, “That one- if I am actually going to do this- is definitely the one.”

What a mad profusion of colours and fabrics and bijoux. Older women wore more sober colours and prints, but their dresses were the genuine article, passed down to them from their own mothers, down through the generations, and they accessorised them with jaunty little feathered hats and jangling chain belts of charms. Most girls stuck to the traditional checkered pattern, but chose lime green, fuschia pink and sky blue, bearing gingerbread hearts and tiny heart-shaped handbags and heavy glass pendants. Thus musing, and now suitably attired, I braved the crush on the train and did Oktoberfest.
What’s it like? It’s a funfair teeming with all sorts of rides and food stalls, but so much BIGGER. It’s a mad mélange of chair-o-planes, Ferris wheels, rollercoasters, candy floss, Bratwurst, pretzels, candied nuts and neon lights. Oh, and everyone is dressed like something out of a storybook, even the ones vomiting profusely on the grass verge. What makes this fair different is the beer tents, built as solidly as actual houses. I went to the red-and-yellow Hippodrome, where a brass band played before the teeming masses- and of course, every other song was ‘Ein Prosit!’, the cue for swigging and tankard-clashing. Furtively I glanced around. All the Münchners had their apron bows tied at their hips, not at the back. I retied mine accordingly.

In work several days later, I brought the Dirndl out again, and a colleague gave me an amused look. “You’re wearing your bow on the wrong side,” she said.
“Again?!”
She taught me the rules. An uncomfortable thought occurred to me.
“So if you wear it at the back...”
“Oh, whatever you do, don’t do that. It means you’re divorced, or widowed.”
Ah well, we live and learn...

So anyway, if you happen to see someone who looks like they’ve stepped straight out of ‘The Sound of Music’ waltzing around Bath next year, full of the joys of spring, don’t be alarmed, and don’t send for the men in white coats. It’s only me. 🙂

 

Getting to know you- Münchners are like chocolates

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies, Uncategorized

And so, my life as a Münchnerin began.

Münchners are like chocolates.

And so, my life as a Münchnerin began.

It did take a while to adjust, I have to say. The train system still had- shock horror- announcements from the drivers, rather than automated ones like in Berlin. Though the prevailing mood in these announcements seems to be ‘bored out of my skull’ (if you are on the verge of slipping into a coma, please do not drive a train!) Often when I hear `Zurück bleiben’, it has been savagely whittled down to two mere pops of syllables- ‘Zük blei’. The stations were different too. My home station, Münchner Freiheit, is a stark contrast to all of the others- fluorescent green tiling, glowing blue pillars and a mirrored ceiling, in which you can see yourself reflected upside-down. No chance of missing that stop.

I had to register as a citizen again, but unlike in Berlin, it didn’t take all day. I did have to get up ridiculously early to queue outside the door, but that was to be expected- Germans’ internal clocks just seem to be set a couple of hours earlier. I was hoping this might rub off on me, and that I would be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, gaily leaping out of bed to embrace the new day with a shout of ‘Guten Morgen München!’

Well... it hasn’t happened yet.

Another thing I learned the hard way is that Münchners do not restrain their curiosity. If you are wearing a brightly-coloured coat or your features are not wholly Caucasian (in my case, usually both), you are likely to incur accusatory stares. Men may whistle or mutter darkly to themselves (thought the muttering might be due to the preponderance of the hands-free earpiece. Either way, it’s a tad disconcerting.)

In my view, Münchners are a bit like chocolates- cold and hard on the outside, but in actual human interactions, the shell cracks and they are actually sweet and soft-hearted. They will give you directions before you ask for them, or start up a good-natured conversation in the lift (us Brits would stare at the floor or fiddle with our mobiles, anything to avoid having to chat!).

One wonderfully quirky Münchner, Ingo Maurer, has a local studio filled with beautiful madness- whole flocks of lightbulbs with wings and lampshades made of glass bottles of cherryade. He designed my neon station too.

So, my daily journey to work goes thus.

I wander round the flat in a haze of exhaustion and throw myself into the lift (not for claustrophobic- there are even scratches on the walls, as if someone’s tried to claw their way out...) The next thing worthy of note is the beautiful St. Ursula church with its pale green dome. If I’m ahead of schedule (or really behind, which I never am, of course) I hear the bell ringing in the quarter-hour. The street connects to an arterial Munich road, Leopoldstraße, home to rows of shops, restaurants and cinemas. Narrowly avoiding death-by-cyclists, I cross into another tangle of side-streets framing the enormous English Gardens. On the corner is a little art shop, whose works I always admire (this means I can let the postwoman on her yellow bike go past without flattening myself against a wall.) In the third window I pass are two little bronze people sat upon a bronze bench, folded like paper- one man and one woman. Between them is a golden apple. The sign declares this to be a ‘Liebesbarometer’- affection portrayed by the distance between the couple. I always peek in to see how they’re doing. Sometimes they’re overlapped, the apple forgotten. But as I write this, they’ve been at opposite ends of the bench, not facing each other, all week. One wonders if things are rocky between the shop owner and significant other...
It never fails to amuse me when I look up from my desk and see a stream of helmeted tourists whizzing past the window on segways with a mild `Bzzzzzzz’.

Sometimes my colleagues and I pop to one of a plethora of bakeries.
“Haben Sie noch einen Wunsch?” said the woman who served me once, handing over the Nusshörnchen.
Did I have another wish? It sounded scarily final. “Yes, I would like world peace with my croissant.”

After work I often wander to Marienplatz, the definite centre of Munich, dripping with high-class fashion and gorgeously gothic buildings, like the famous Rathaus with its glockenspiel. There is a gloriously talented musical group I keep bumping into called Scherzo. Their line-up varies, but most of the time there’s a double bassist, a pianist, a clarinettist (“Please ladies and gentlemen don’t make any video recordings our CDs are here to buy we are taking a short break thank you”) and a violinist, plus a different singer each time. They even bring their own grand piano to wherever they perform. That’s dedication to your art if ever I saw it.
I just had time to get into a comfy little routine before the madness of Oktoberfest hit Munich with more force than the WW2 bomb detonated just down the road from my office, which blew all the windows out and started some fires...

Anyway ... Bis zum nächsten Mal!

 

Willkommen in Deutschland- a crisis, country-crossing and a new career

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📥  Politics Languages & International Studies

'Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit'- gosh, I'm getting misty-eyed...'Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit'- gosh, I'm getting misty-eyed...

I don’t think there’s anything quite like packing for your year abroad.

It’s not like university, where you can pop back over the Severn Bridge at the weekend for things you forgot, or if it’s desperate, nag your nearest and dearest (I still don’t think my father has quite forgiven me for the reading-glasses incident in Freshers’ Week.) It’s not like a holiday, where even if you forget sensible shoes (this time the finger of blame points to Mutti) you can hobble onto the plane and comfort yourself with the thought that you’ll be home in three hours. No, you literally have to think of everything- personal documents, clothes for all seasons, adaptor plugs by the handful- as well as quintessentially British bits and bobs, like Weetabix. (Yes, Weetabix. Yes, I brought a big box of it. It’s funny the things you miss when you’re away. I recently begged a friend for a voice recording, just so I could hear a lilting Welsh accent again!)

I think the year abroad is akin to the university experience in that nothing can really prepare you totally for it. Lecturers can (and will) hark back to their own experiences, and you may have friends who have taken gap years and tell you it’s the same kind of thing, but at the end of the day it’s just one of those things you have to do for yourself. Expect the unexpected- 40 euro fines for not knowing where to stamp a bus ticket, a cheeky opportunist trying to take a photo up your skirt on the U-Bahn escalators… But also expect to have a really, really fun time. It’s not like a school trip, where you stick to your Anglophone friendship group and leave all the admin to the teacher in charge. You do have to do everything yourself, for example, registering as a citizen of whichever city you happen to be staying in, setting up a bank account, getting to grips with the transport networks and visiting the tax office. It’s all a tad daunting at first, especially if you’ve led a rather sheltered existence, but with every little thing you accomplish, you begin to have more faith in your linguistic ability and your general getting-things-done ability. Give yourself a pat on the back. A wonderful thing about the Vaterland is that there always seems to be something to do, and more than likely you’ll accidentally stumble across it, think it looks like fun and join in, pretending you knew it was going to take place all along.

My own year abroad has, so far, been somewhat more stressful than most. I moved to Berlin at the beginning of July, completed training for a placement involving teaching English to kindergartners, started the job and realised it wasn’t for me, which was a real shame, because Berlin itself is an amazing place to live, absolutely teeming with things to do. But I had not realised that on top of my teaching duties, I would be left to shepherd kids into the cloakroom, make them put shoes and coats on, herd them outside, follow them to the toilets, stop them throwing loo roll and prancing around with their pants down- and all this was expected of someone who had never worked with children before. I was there to teach, not to babysit 25 children who didn’t know German yet, let alone English. A particularly attention-seeking little one lobbed a spade from the sandpit in my face. I resigned that evening and madly started scheduling interviews and house viewings, wishing I could sprout about six extra arms and multitask. Sadly, though, this was no sci-fi film, just a big clump of chaos. I very nearly got conned out of a lot of money by someone offering a non-existent apartment- the housing situation in Munich is notoriously difficult, and many unscrupulous people take advantage of that. When I got on the train with my cases and bottle of Müllermilch, I had nowhere to go on the other side.

Finally, just as I was at the end of my tether, things began to look up. I got an interview in Munich. I went to it. I got the job. My boss had found me a place to stay. It was incredible- something that had taken months to organise in Berlin simply fell into place here. Whoever or whatever was looking out for me deserves the biggest Bienenstich cake in existence. (Google it. Beg, steal, buy or borrow it. You’ll thank me later.)

Now I’m a translator in Munich, six hours from Berlin by train. Here, they only throw spades at me when I deserve it.

So that’s my most important piece of advice, really. Always do what suits you best. Ask questions, and if the employer is being deliberately vague or you don’t feel right about it, just don’t go for it. Think long-term, because you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time doing whatever it is you choose. Don’t just take the first job that’ll have you, like I did, thinking my language skills rudimentary at best- you owe it to yourself to make an informed decision in your own time. Remember it’s a real job, or a real course- if you quit, that is your responsibility, as is finding something else pronto. I half expected to be on a plane home, having to redo the year. You might say it was insane of me to change; I probably would do too, if it wasn’t for the small fact that I am me. Actually, forget that. It was insane of me. There.

But you know what? I haven’t been wholly unlucky, I’ve been unbelievably fortunate. I’ve got to know the people, places and personal quirks of not one, but two beautiful cities. I’ve sung ‘Viel Glück und viel Segen’ to Berlin on its 775th birthday in the Nikolaiviertel, and bellowed ‘Ein Prosit!’ with over 3000 merry Münchners at Oktoberfest. I have learned self-reliance, bits of Bavarian and even how to untangle the spaghetti-like mess which is a Tube map. (London, eat your heart out. For complicatedness, Munich wins hands down.)

Now that everything is organised and I don’t have to worry any more, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.