Twenty one days in the Black Forest
PASCH Language Exchange Programme, Germany, 2009
Mostafa Monowarul Haque
WHEN I applied for the PASCH Language Exchange Programme, last year, I could hardly have imagined that I would be chosen. Even today I refuse to believe that I had been selected and that the entire thing was a dream, an ultra-realistic, sweet, memorable dream- the kind that makes you want never to wake up again.
Before my trip I had never seen mountains and from what I read or saw on T.V. I had expected them to be rocky, steep and jagged with minimum flora and fauna and an overall inhospitable cold climate. How happy I was to be proven wrong by the world famous Black Forests. Now before you start thinking that I have gone mad, let me assure you that the Black Forests are indeed a mountain range an extremely beautiful, lush green, mountain range with a very amicable climate, but a mountain range nonetheless. The first time I saw the view of the grand forest from the window of the plane that flew us from Frankfurt to Stuttgart. The sheer beauty of it captured my imagination. With its rolling hills, forested slopes and quaint, little isolated farmsteads the great Schwarzwald (Black Forest) really is quite a marvelous place.
Though the bus journey from Stuttgart airport to our destination was several hours long (Germany sure is a big country) it wasn't unpleasant at all! Seriously! The roads in Germany are nothing like I have seen before. They were so clean! So Wide! There was not a hint of rubbish anywhere. And the beauty of the vista on either sides of the road was breath taking, to say the least. And there was absolutely no traffic at all. Add to that, a few “super high-tech” buses resembling airplanes more than buses back home and you get a recipe for awesome road-trips. When I found out that there would be road trips during our stay in Germany I became quite excited indeed.
You are maybe wondering what our destination was? It was a boarding school named Schule Birklehof situated near the village of Hinterzarten. Now before you start thinking that this was a cold, damp rural school without internal heating or indoor plumbing let me tell you that Schule Birklehof was none of those things. It was a collection of several buildings spread far and wide over a wide tract of mountainous terrain surrounded by the Black Forest, complete with rolling hills, a small creek and even its very own “haunted” Wooden Cabin (unbelievable as that may sound). There were 5 individual dormitories (3 for girls 2 for boys) and one central “Haupthause” (main building) built in a truly classical East European style and several other detached buildings such as an Auditorium and a Studio.
I had the good fortune of not only getting a room in the dorm nearest the forest but also one with a window facing the spectacular view of rolling hills and a few distant mountain ranges rising ominously above the mountain mists. Even though we spent all our free time the first two days by simply exploring the school grounds, we were often surprised by some spectacular new discovery while wandering the premises.
The purpose of the Language Exchange Program was as the name implies, learning the German Language. Every morning we used to wake up at around 7.30 A.M. and go down to the Haupthause for breakfast. At precisely 8 A.M the doors of the main dining room of the Haupthause would be thrown open by the cafeteria lady to greet all the hungry diners (students and teachers alike) waiting outside. At 9 after breakfast we would leave the dining room and take the winding, slightly elevated path from the Haupthause to our respective classrooms.
It must be mentioned here that we didn't learn the language by listening to old folks blabbering away in a monotonous voice in dingy cramped classrooms. No, we learned the language in a much, much more interactive, enjoyable way. More often than not our lessons would take us away from the school to local markets, gardens and farms to actually touch and see the various items whose German names we had been taught in classrooms. It was more enjoyable than I can possibly express without even counting the numerous supplementary educational trips and our teacher, Kinga's, charismatic, caring and overall entertaining approach.
At 11.30 classes would have an intermission and everyone would venture back into the dining room to enjoy a few snacks before classes resumed at 1 pm. Classes continued until 3 at when lunch would be served. Sometimes we had classes in the afternoon but usually the afternoons were set aside for recreational activities like playing football, singing or exercising all of which were voluntary. At 6 p.m. dinner would be served and all recreational activities would be forgotten as teachers and students alike rushed to the dining hall. Why, you ask? Well not only was this the last meal of the day but it was also the BEST! Special mention must go to the quality of food we were served in Schule Birklehof. It was, to put it mildly, awesomely delicious! From the cheesy lasagna to the spectacular mutton curry to the crunchy meat balls each item was prepared with great care and attention paid to the flavor.
Even though dinner was the last meal of the day it did not technically take place at night at all. That's because sunset was actually at 8.30 pm. Thus it was not uncommon for the recreational activities and sports to persist well after dinner was done.
As stated earlier, frequent journeys were an essential part of our curricula in Schule Birklehof. Every few days we would go on trips to a variety of places. We toured to the picturesque town of Frieburg with its medieval churches and grand canals, visited the grand Zeppeline Museum of Friedrichschafen, stood in awe on the banks of the Great Lake Constance, marveled at the technological masterpieces inside the Museum of Media Technology in Karlsruhe and saw history come to life before our eyes in the Karlsruhe Museum. We also hiked up the highest mountain in the Black Forest range and had fun in the waterfall situated near its peak.
Towards the end of our stay we were taken to the famous Europa Park - the largest amusement park in all of Germany, and it was SPECTACULAR. Occupying an area almost half the size of Dhaka city and having more than 10 roller coasters, Europa Park was truly an epitome of humanity's success in entertaining itself.
Aside from the trips and lessons we also did many more interesting things. We had disco parties almost twice a week (not counting the special “Crazy Dress” party) in which we almost literally 'danced till we dropped.' But by far one of the most interesting things that happened was the Cultural Week in which representatives from every nation had to put on a performance showcasing an aspect of their nation's culture. Oh what fun we had singing “Dhitang Dhitang Bole” while waving our countries national flag! It was truly an unforgettable experience.
However it wasn't the trips that were the best part of our stay in Germany, nor was it the amazing food. The best thing about it was the people we met there. I had expected foreigners to be scary and uptight but from the moment I saw the smiling and welcoming faces of our Betrauers, (camp counselors) Dirk and Stephanie I knew that I had been afraid for naught. It was not only Dirk and Stephanie who were friendly- every single one of the Betrauers and teachers were friendly and helpful beyond imagination. One of the two Betrauers in charge of our dorm, Thomas, helped me carry my luggage even before I asked him to. Every night before going to bed the Betrauers - Thomas and Buchan- would gather us around in a common room by the stairs and chat about their day and tell us what awaited the next day. Even though I didn't speak a word of German when I first got there, I could still understand what they said.
The memories of my short stay in Germany are still vivid in my mind and I doubt if they'll ever grow dim. I thank Allah for allowing me to experience such a bliss in my lifetime. I would also like to thank my school, Oxford International School and our Principal G.M. Nizamuddin Sir for giving us this opportunity, the PASCH crew and Goethe Institut, my friends Brishty, Tiothy, Shomith, Chishty, Nawal, Nabila and Niljana for keeping me company and our guide, Mrs Ayesha for guiding us through the hard spots, especially through the airports. Finally I would like to thank my English teacher Hemu sir, without whose suggestion I would never have signed up for the programme in the first place!
(The writer is a student of Oxford International School)