Category Archives: german education

Double murder: German watery psycho strikes again!

January has seen one of Germany’s most notorious serial killers back in action after a relatively long gap in activity. On January 13th a tanker carrying sulphuric acid overturned on the Rhine with the loss of two crew members.

The incident happened at the infamous Loreley rocks… a previous scene of similar events in history. As the alleged legend has it, a sinister Rhine maiden sits on the rocks and lures sailors to their doom with her magical singing.


19th century police photofit of the killer

I’m not sure what kind of profile the police are working with to catch this killer, but as an amateur sleuth, I can provide the following information.

Age: Around 210 years old, but definitely looks younger than that.

Hair: Blonde

Eyes: Blue

Distinguishing features: Exceptional singing voice

Current alias: Laura Ley

Clothing: None, not even in January

Last seen: On the harbour wall, looking a little grey…


Police are looking for a 210 year-old female streaker with long hair

If you see this woman at a river near you, turn up your iPod and sail on by. Do not, repeat do not approach this suspect. She is a dangerous psychotic killer.



Filed under About Germany, german art, german education, Life in Germany

Unwort des Jahres – alternativlos

We already had the German word of the year. Now it’s time for the un-word of the year. The Unwort des Jahres.

German has a great way of adding an “un” at the beginning of a word to create a new concept, by the way. For example Kraut means cabbage or herbs… but Unkraut means weeds.   If you receive a cheque you have to hope it is gut rather than ungut.

Anyway… I digress.  This year’s un-word is alternativlos – meaning without any alternative. The reason for the choice, according to the jury spokesman, was that it is a debate killer. It implies that there is no point in discussing the situation any further as there is only one possible solution or course of action. Such argumentation has, according to the jury, been far too common during 2010, leading to greater polemics in political views and less openness to debate and listening to other viewpoints.

The runner up this year was Integrationsverweigerer – an immigrant who refuses to integrate with the native population.  I don’t think many readers of this blog fall into that category at least!

By Christoph Speccius ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The German language is constantly in flux.

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Münster – town of bicycles

We spent yesterday in Münster, helping eldest daughter move into her new super-shiny new studio apartment.

We drove the van with all her worldly goods across town, while she rode her bicycle to her new home.

In Münster bicycles are the main form of transport. There are more bicycles than cars. I sometimes wonder whether there aren’t actually more bicycles than people. You can judge the popularity of certain locations by the number of bikes parked outside. In fact approaching certain buildings can be a bit of an obstacle course as you have to negotiate your way around bikes chained to every lamppost, tree and “Fahrräder hier nicht abstellen” sign.

, from Wikimedia Commons”]What particularly impressed me, though, in the town of bicycles was the ready availability of bike-repair equipment at all times of the day and night. An evening stroll through one of the streets adjacent to our daughter’s new place revealed a late night bike workshop and a “Schlauchomat“, a 24 hour inner-tube vending machine, catering for all the main sizes and gauges of tyre.


The only downside, obviously,  is that that puts paid to the most obvious excuse for missing the first lecture of the morning!


Filed under About Germany, children in germany, german education, Life in Germany

Planet Germany as a university set text

I was alerted this week to a small ad on the Leipzig University notice board. It was from a Russian student and she was looking to buy a second hand copy of Planet Germany.

I emailed her and found out that she needed the book because it was a set text for her univerity English course. She was looking to buy it second hand (and for this she apologised to me profusely) because as a student without a grant or scholarship, she cannot afford all the course books she needs.

Of course I was delighted to learn that Planet Germany is being pored over now by students of English. I hope it turns out to be one of the course books which genuinely gives delight, rather than loathing and last-minute pre-exam panics (what was that quote about the cat and the enema again?)

Of course, I sent a copy to the Russian student – and I hope she manages to sail through her exam with a top grade now!


Filed under About Germany, books, children in germany, german education, German language, Life in Germany

The nest starts to empty…

It’s been an odd week.

Eldest child has started university in Münster this week.  Münster, for those who haven’t had the opportunity of visiting is basically a university with a bit of town attached. Every other building seems to be either a faculty or an administrative building or a hall of residence.And despite having been pretty much flattened in the war, much of the centre has been rebuilt to look as though the allies missed their target completely.

With a very ungermanic disregard for the practicalities, Münster has decided this year to renovate several of its student halls of residence. Of course, this is a good thing. At least in theory. In fact for Münster it’s apparently a one-off opportunity, because some of the funding for the renovation has come from the Konjunkturpaket – stimulus money from the government to keep the economy going through the banking crisis.

Of course putting the best part of a thousand student rooms out of action at the start of a new university year might not have been the most practical solution as far as the University is concerned. Eldest child is still, a week into term, desperately searching for somewhere to live. Along with many hundreds of other first year students. A lot of them are living in hotels or hostels… or like Eldest, relying on the kindness of strangers who have made their spare room available temporarily.

Not every stranger is so considerate though.

Today she had an appointment to view a student room in a shared flat 10 km outside of the city (which had been first advertised yesterday).  She cycled the 10 km only to find a note stuck on the outside of the door saying “Mitbewohner bereits gefunden” (room already let).

I hope she remembered to write an appropriate reply (either English or German vernacular would do!) on the door, before cycling the 10 km back….



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I’m producing a series of audiobooks

Given how many public readings I’ve been giving recently, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I branched out into the world of performing audiobooks.

I haven’t recorded Planet Germany yet (though watch this space…) but I have just launched the first two English language classic literature tapes for children.

Click on the images for more details:

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A secret addiction to German maps

I am addicted to maps. I love them… I collect maps wherever I go. It must be related to ex-patism and travel-buggishness. Or maybe just a need to reduce my ignorance level of the places where I ended up with no prior local knowledge.

Once I bought a giant map at a flea market in Germany. It was one of those enormous scrolls that used to hang in schoolrooms.  I had to haggle like crazy with the stallholder to get it down to a reasonable price… and then spend an evening pacifying my map-sceptic family who wanted nothing to do with this monstrous item which threatened to dominate the living room. I ended up hanging it in a storage room, but whenever I’m going somewhere I sneak off and consult it.

Where are we going today?

On our kitchen wall is an old map of the Rhine which was another flea market find. It shows the Rhine from its source all the way to where it reaches the sea – with pictures of the main cities it passes on its way. It’s a little difficult to read at first, because it is horizontal – so the North is to the right. But you get used to twisting your neck round and trying to visualise which way you need to go.

Some of my favourite maps, though, are in old atlases. These you can often find in second hand bookshops and junk stores. Of course, all the borders have changed nowadays – so often the places you find in the maps are no longer even in Germany.  Regions like Prussia change shape and size depending on the date… and different cities take on new prominence over time.

As for my own little town…well, in this map from 1901, it is not even shown. Was it really such an insignificant place in those days? The village up the road warrents a mention though… even though nowadays it’s relatively much smaller.

Oddly enough we do, however, get a mention in a map around same period showing the region’s coal mining assets. Which is odd… because to my knowledge there has never been any mining in our immediate locality. From all the local history books I’ve read, we have always been pretty much a farming community.

Perhaps I should start excavating the back garden… maybe there’s black gold to be found here after all!


Filed under About Germany, books, german education, Germany maps, Life in Germany