"Das ist wie Liebe auf den ersten Blick"
This is my report about student exchange visit in Oldenburg - a magnificent German town with which me, my colleague Veneta, and 9 Bulgarian students fell in love from the first sight and where we found many new friends.
Day 1 03/30/2000 (Thursday)
Day 2 03/31/2000 (Friday)
Day 3 04/01/2000 (Saturday)
Day 4 04/02/2000 (Sunday)
Day 5 04/03/2000 (Monday)
Day 6 04/04/2000 (Tuesday)
Day 7 04/05/2000 (Wednesday)
Day 8 04/06/2000 (Thursday)
Day 9 04/07/2000 (Friday)
Day 10 04/08/2000 (Saturday)
Day 11 04/09/2000 (Sunday)
Day 12 04/10/2000 (Monday)
Day 13 04/11/2000 (Tuesday)
Day 14 04/12/2000 (Wednesday)
Day 15 04/13/2000 (Thursday)
Part 1: The bus saga
We left Varna in a beautiful sunny morning. The train was reasonably dirty but I didn't care much - my clean clothes were destined to change their present state very quickly - it was just a part of the pleasure.
Eight hours later we arrived in Sofia and get depressed by the constant flow of people in every direction. It is not that bad but we were hardly moving with our heavy bags. Our students encountered the normal for ticket checkers in Sofia rudeness when one of them didn't manage to perforate her ticket before the checker showed up. A small scandal rose and the checker was forced to step out of the bus. There is such a solidarity among the passengers in this big city. In Varna tickets are sold in every bus and you don't need to buy them beforehand and then perforate them in the bus.
Anyway, we reached our hotel, where we were going to stay for the night before the big trip. There we were surprised that the running water had stopped because of some accident. We were assured that the problem would be fixed by 6p.m., which should been interpreted as 10p.m., so we left our bags in the hotel and went out for a long walk and shopping for food. Happily when we got back the water was also there and we didn't need to buy spring water for placebo bath. Everything seemed now perfect. Veneta and me went to our rooms but our students gathered in one of the rooms and spend long time talking and laughing with excitement.
03/31/2000 (Friday) - 04/01/2000 (Saturday)
The next morning we left on time and managed to buy bottled water for the two-day trip. The students were thrilled and very happy. At 9 a.m. the bus was successfully launched. Only an hour later we reached the border with Serbia. At the Bulgarian side our luggage was examined, which took more that an hour. We found that waiting will be our destiny from now on. At the Serbian side the waiting was just for stamping our passport but this 5-minute procedure was extended to one hour. We noticed that our drivers were giving small packets to custom officers which probably was shortening the waiting time :)
Slightly exhausted by this border crossing we began our journey through Yugoslavia. For the next 9 hours we traveled without incidents. Yugoslavian land didn't differ from ours - same hills and roads. Only road signs and houses in villages reminded us that we are in a foreign country. Most of the houses weren't painted but left brick red. We were looking for scars from the recent war but have seen them only in the capital Belgrade. Some of the buildings were black from last summer fires. Some were missing their windows. Another sign that there was a war were the outside blinds of all windows. They were used during bombings to hide the light inside. We expected more ruins but even those we've seen were enough to make us feel sorry for people at wars.
We arrived at Hungarian border soon after dusk. This time our luggage was checked at the Serbian side. The officer was calling one person at a time to open his/her bags while the others were sitting in the bus. Our students were the first in the list so they had the high honor to experience this adventure. They were joking all the time while some of them was at the "interrogation" table near the bus and made it easy for the rest of us. Soon the officer get bored and decided that a vague hope to find cigarettes or alcohol doesn't worth staying up and let us leave. We forwarded just 10 meters ahead and stopped by the Hungarian booth. Here we spent the remaining hours until midnight - 3 and a half in all.
This time we could've easily see that the land belongs to more prosperous country. Even though we crossed Hungary during night we mentioned that the roads were broader and full of light.
With the first sun rays we reached Slovakia. We waited for an hour at both sides as usual and then crossed the country for another hour. We passed along Bratislava and mentioned that the panel buildings are all over Europe, although they slightly differ from country to country.
At the Slovakian/Check border we passed very fast through the Slovakian side but the Checks didn't let us leave for 2 hours as a compensation :) They examined the bus looking for brandy in big quantities because the bus driver gave a bottle to the officer who processed our passports. They found nothing suspicious and we were left in peace :)
We were heading towards Prague and in the midday passed through this magnificent old city. None of the other capitals we took a glimpse at was so impressive. Unfortunately our goal was Oldenburg and Golden Prague was just a bonus.
We reached Germany at the late afternoon and for our surprise border crossing took us only one hour for both sides. But our bad luck soon returned manifesting. We were stuck in a traffic jam in Dresden for more than half an hour. At dusk we arrived in Leipzig and from there on were able to see just the night look of Germany.
At about 2a.m. we stepped out of the bus in Bremen. We've been travelling for 42 hours. Soon our German hosts showed up. We drove for more than 50 miles to Oldenburg and all went to the house of our colleague Ubbo Kühle for short welcoming. Then each student was taken to different host house while me and my colleague Veneta stayed at Ubbo's place. His wife Margret showed us our rooms - we were very happy to see our beds and to remain in horizontal position until the noon of the next day.
At noon on Sunday our vacation began. After lunch we went for a walk in the neighborhood. We were fascinated by the beauty that was opening before our eyes. Neat houses in rows, every which of them decorated as in a fairy tale and surrounded by small cute yard with fresh green grass and different flowers. The air was fresh and the sun was shining as if we were in Bulgaria. Later we found out that we brought the nice Bulgarian whether with us and the following two weeks were unusually dry. At this time of the year constant rain is something familiar for Germans.
We went to the local evangelist church - this area is inhabited by evangelists. At this time some elections were held and our host was elected as a member of the church administration.
The church looked as such from the outside but inside it was a modern building. There were many halls and rooms for different purposes. In one of them there were tables as in café and one old lady was selling there home made cookies and pies on low prices. People were gathering there for little rest and small talk. Nice and peaceful. In the basement they were offering a free pancake for every child. There were people working with youth and responsible for keeping drugs away from this good neighborhood.
Part of the church was a kindergarten. The groups were of 5 to 8 children so the teachers could offer proper attention to each kid. Many things were available there - toys of every kind, small wooden house for plays, rooms for relaxation with couches or even a tent, aquarium with turtles - everything to create an atmosphere of happiness and tranquility. Seeing all this I wanted to be a child in Germany :)
After church we went to the center of Oldenburg by car. It is a nice place for pedestrians free of cars, full of shops and cafés, with wonderful buildings and sites. Everything was fresh, clear and in perfect order. We strolled for awhile and the day was over, and we went back home.
On Monday we visited the school of our hosts. We were introduced to the headmaster and arranged our visit and activities for the next day. After noon Ubbo and Margret took us to one beautiful town with nice architecture and a small lake. We walked for hours, went to the local evangelist church and noticed that this one too, doesn't have paintings on walls to avoid distraction of the people coming there for pray. We visited one ancient house turned to a museum and saw how people lived there with animals in the next room. It was the same all over the world in those times but now it sounds disgusting to us. Then we went to one pub in folk style and drunk some schnapps from a special spoon, which shows that the alcohol was considered as medicine :) It was nice and I get slightly drunk from the beer I also took.
Pictures from that day:
The local evangelist's church
The bell tower near the church
On Tuesday our students and we visited Ubbo's school (BBS II) and joined Germans for some lessons. I joined one English lesson and talked with the students about Bulgaria and our impressions of Germany.
The school was very different from our own - it was much bigger and well maintained. There were signs everywhere so nobody got lost in the building. The students study there to 13th grade to become professionals. Some of them work with metal, others with wood, some learn how to build houses and even have a big hall where they actually build model houses. It was very interesting for us to see all this. In Bulgaria things are taught on paper and our education suffers from lack of practice.
The computer room was enormous with 16 computers disposed along the walls and one big table in the center of it. I've seen 2 more computer rooms and 3 computers in the library where students could work if they don't have a computer at home.
Teacher's room was also enormous and connected with some smaller rooms. There was Xerox machine, which was available to teachers, but they had to pay for the copying.
Most of the teachers were males because Germany is one of the countries where teachers are very well paid and men are preferred as teachers in upper grades because they induce respect.
German educators allow students more freedom and it was unusual for us to see how students eat during lessons. They were doing this because some of the classes were 90 minutes long and young people are constantly hungry. We also noticed how the students regard teachers as normal people but still respect them. Ahead we had more to learn about education in Deutschland...
On Wednesday we visited a school for young children in Rastede - a small town at 20 km distance from Oldenburg. One of our students' hosts Mrs. Ulrike Heimann was a teacher there and took us to join her classes. The students were in 4th grade and were charming. We didn't expect such small children to be so calm and well behaved - they were holding one of their hands up to signal need for help until the teacher notices them. Nobody was yelling or shouting as Bulgarian children do to attract the teacher's attention.
After awhile my colleague and I were introduced to children and they started asking us questions. They were so active that their teacher had to write down a list with their names otherwise their hands would've been up and sore for the whole lesson. One of the girls was from Kazahstan and after seeing that our names end with 'ova' asked if we speak Russian. She was so happy to talk with us in that language that when we headed to the teacher's room during the break she was following us. Another boy was born in USA and very proudly announced that he, too, could speak English. He asked some questions in that language, which was very cute.
When we came after the break the children told us that the whole time they were trying to remember our names which were written on the blackboard :)
The third lesson was a Math one so another teacher came. He told the children which problems to solve and we all started helping those who had problems. I could offer help just to the Russian girl and to the American boy but both were happy to speak some other language.
There were two computers in one of the corners where groups of 4 students were solving the same type of problems with some easy to use program. At the middle of the lesson another 4 students took the seats before the computers so probably in a week's time everyone touches a computer at least once.
I found out that during the whole 4th grade students solve only addition, subtraction, division and multiplication problems, but they do that with numbers up to 1 million. In Bulgaria in this grade children are introduced to equations with 'x' and as a result they accumulate lack of knowledge. Germans have enough time to understand and to learn the basics of mathematics.
Another surprising fact for us was the number of 45 minutes lessons those young children have per day - 5 or 6 with breaks of 20 minutes long. Bulgarian children have just 4 or maximum 5 40 minutes' lessons and the breaks are of 10 minutes with just one longer break of 20 minutes. So German children remain at school for much longer time than ours.
After school Mrs. Heimann was very kind to take us back to Oldenburg where we walked for couple of hours shopping and looking at beautiful buildings.
At 3:30p.m. we met a colleague from another school where biology is extensively taught as in our school. Klaus Pfizenmaier was charming and very good person which was obvious from the moment we saw him. Our schools are going to work together on some biology project in the near future. We arranged the visit of our group to his school on Friday, talked for awhile before a cup of coffee and then he walked us to the place from which Ubbo was going to pick us. Then we returned home and spend the evening in the company of our hosts.
Pictures from that day:
Me near the local church in Rastede
Me before the oldest building in Oldenburg (now a bookstore)
Lamberti Kirche is on my left in the distance.
Me in Oldenburg that afternoon
In the morning we visited Museum am Damm where we learned about history of people there from ancient times to present days. Our students and their German hosts were also there.
After lunch Ubbo took us (Veneta - my colleague, Veso - our ex-student who studies now in Hamburg and came to Ubbo's house short after we arrived but I forgot to mention him earlier, and me) to some place with stones arranged in 2 rows and because of that called "stone wedding". We walked through the nice wood around for hours and it was very refreshing.
In the evening we all (Bulgarians and Germans) gathered at some cafeteria/bar place called Tarok. Two Bulgarian women married for Germans were also invited. We met some other colleague of Ubbo's who invited us for dinner at his house on Monday. We were surprised as well as were Ubbo because it is very unusual for Germans to invite someone after just meeting him/her. Klaus was also there and as Ubbo was busy at his school on Monday, he kindly offered to accompany us then.
Pictures from that day:
At the "stone wedding" - me and Veneta
At the "stone wedding" - me, Veneta and Ubbo
At the "stone wedding" - me and Ubbo
In the woods where the "stone wedding" is - me and Ubbo
In the morning all students and we visited the other school BBS III where Klaus was a biology teacher. After finishing this school students become cooks, waiters, bartenders etc. We were surprised to open one door and to enter a restaurant - this was the place where students were studying how to prepare cocktails, how to serve and so on. Another room was a big kitchen for cooking real meals. I felt envious to these students who can experience all this interesting education :)
After lunch our hosts took us to some shopping mall called Metro to buy some things for the grill party we were going to attend the next day.
Pictures from that day:
Margret and me on one cute bridge
Ubbo took Veso, Veneta and me to visit the zoo in some other town called Osnabrück. We spent the whole day there walking and talking in fresh air.
In the evening all Bulgarians and Germans had gathered on a grill party at one of the houses. We started a fire and talked for some time. I chose the company of one Russian boy who came in Germany 5 and half years ago and now was hosting one of our girls. Dmitrii was a true genius working for Siemens as programmer. His Russian was coming slowly to his mouth but it was perfect for me as my Russian was constantly replaced by English after some words. So we spoke in Russian/English all the time :) He told me that when they came to Germany he was 13 and managed to learn German as a little child - just by listening. Very impressive and clever young man.
Pictures from that day:
Me in the zoo
On the way back from Osnabrück - Veso, me and Veneta
At the grill party by the fire - Dmitrii is sitting at my left
On Sunday we went to Norden - the birthplace of Ubbo and visited his mother there. We've seen what the real wind by the ocean is - it was freezing with 12 C. For the first time we saw a real tide too - our Black see has very small tides. The house of Ubbo's mother was beautiful and very well maintained. Veneta mentioned that we don't need to go to museums, as each house is a museum itself. The mother invited us to a nice restaurant where we ate fish. On the way back to Oldenburg we stopped in one small tourist town and enjoyed the unspeakable beauty there.
In the morning we had an appointment with Mrs. Hiltrud Neidhardt - second after Mayor of Oldenburg, so we all were before the Rathaus (City Hall) on time. Only Bulgarian students, and all teachers were allowed there so German students were joking that they are discriminated in their own country :) We greeted the second Bürgermeisterin (mayor), she greeted us, we exchanged presents, a photographer took pictures and half an hour later we were finished with our mission :) Klaus was also there so after that he was taking care of us for the day :)
At first he invited us for pizza at some Italian place and after that we went to his house in another neighborhood. His car was very expensive one and we were surprised to find out that he looks after some sheep and ponies as a hobby. We drunk a cup of coffee with him and his wife and then went for a walk along the dike - there was a river nearby and because of the flatness of the terrain people build dikes there.
The day was almost over when he took us back to Ubbo's home from where we immediately left for the dinner at Bernt - the Ubbo's colleague who had invited us. Bernt's hobby was cooking and he had prepared some Indonesian meal, which we all liked very much. We spend a nice evening there and it was a good cultural exchange.
Pictures from that day:
Me at the evening at our hosts' home
We spent the morning and the afternoon until 3p.m. at Ubbo's school. Our students presented our country and traditions to German students who were gathered in one big room - in fact those were two rooms connected with each other and with sliding wall between them.
Then Ubbo took us to the center of the town for one more shopping tour. We spend the evening at home. My poor ears were distinguishing already German words but I could understand just those, which had something in common with the English ones. I decided that I need to start learning German :)
This was our last day in Oldenburg so we went into the center once again. I bought the O'Reilly's book "Perl in a nutshell" in English and we went into the park where the residence of count Oldenburg was. It was very nice place for promenades along a lake with ducks here and there. For the first time since we came it started raining. The whether was returning to its normal state for the season.
Pictures from that day:
Me in the park
We packed our bags and at 3p.m. left for Bremen. The bus was going to take us from there at 9:30p.m. but we wanted to see the city. Klaus came with us because he had studied there and knew where the interesting sites are. He took the part of the guide and under the rain we started our tour. I am speechless to express my impressions of that city - it was magnificent and I regretted that we don't have days for it. Next time as Klaus said :)
The bus arrived on time and we very unwillingly left Germany...
Pictures from that day:
Me in Bremen near a famous pig sculpture :)
A look on a nice building in Bremen
Veneta and me, and the famous Bremen's musicians above us