Tag Archives: geek

Vienna: Days 4 and 5

18 Aug

The past few days I have been in the school for the morning and in the afternoon explored the city a bit.

Although the themes in the class haven’t been anything more advanced a few topics have come up that I needed some extra practice on anyway.

In one of the classes someone asked if we come watch the German film Die Welle (The Wave). I had never heard of the film before but it was based on a real experiment that happened at an American school. The basic premise is that a teacher tries to prove to the students that, despite all the lessons that we think we have learnt about fascism, there is still a real danger that a dictatorship could once again happen in the western world.

Of course, the students all think that this couldn’t possibly happen but before they know it they are beginning to give the teacher (who assumes the role of the Dictator) the status of an idol and do whatever he says without questioning him. It soon turns into destruction and death.

Apparently the real experiment happened over 3 or 4 months and not a week like the film depicts and there was a bit of destruction but no death.

It’s an interesting topic to think about anyway but perhaps more so when I think about our friends over the Atlantic and the similarities that have been drawn between Trump and other famous dictators.

There is also a book of the same name which I will try to read in German, even though I much prefer to read the book before the film.

On Thursday afternoon we walked around the city. The city isn’t so big and it’s easy to work out all the different routes and shortcuts. I’m still really impressed with how beautiful the city is. The building are so elegant and the white marble against the backdrop of an electric blue sky with no clouds makes it even more impressive-looking.

The heat in the city is incredible at the moment and it was uncomfortable to walk around so much so we came back to the apartment to read and try to cool down. In the evening we ran to Schloss Schönbrunn again. We went a bit further than on Tuesday and it felt a lot better as well.

On Friday we had lunch at the apartment and walked to Schloss Schönbrunn. When we have run there, the grounds were already closed so we couldn’t have a look round.

The grounds surrounding the building are huge and it must take a lot of people a lot of time to keep the grounds looking so nice. It was a nice afternoon so lots of people and children were milling about.

In the picture you can see Schloss Schönbrunn and the surrounding area. Wandering around the grounds you would never realise that you were so near to a large city. You can barely hear any traffic noise. You could be anywhere.

The temperature is still in the 30s so it will be a hot evening tonight. Lucky (and only a Brit could say this) tomorrow it will rain! Yes! It needs to cool down a bit, especially as I have promised to go for a 10k run with my training partner/boyfriend tomorrow.

Vienna: Day 2 and 3

16 Aug

Day 2 in Vienna turned out to be a little unexpected. It turns out it is a public holiday here which meant I didn’t have to go into school. The holiday is to celebrate the Assumption of Mary, a holiday that is not celebrated in England not in Zurich (because it is not a catholic canton) but is in other parts of Switzerland.

As the weather was nice we went to the city and had a wander around. The city is different to what I expected. Firstly, there are so many tourists that it is hard to look at things or walk around without finding yourself inadvertently appearing in someone’s holiday snap. Secondly, the architecture is amazing. I am not sure if all of the buildings are original but they are magificent to look at.

The weather was around 32 degrees which was a bit hot for me so it was important that I kept drinking something. After a look around the city centre, we took the underground to Prater. I had never heard of Prater before but it is a large fun fair just outside of the city. Considering it was a public holiday it wasn’t overcrowded and it was nice to have a wander around and see what rides they had.

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Later we went to Donauinsel which is an “island” on the Danube. It was really cool there were lots of wide-open spaces for running, walking, roller skating and biking as well as places to bathe along the river and places to have a drink and something to eat. It still amazes me that countries have these facilities – it would never work in England. Ok, perhaps it would for one day when the weather is nice. The rest of the time it would be deserted and the deck chairs would have found legs and moved off to someone’s back garden.

In the afternoon, we came back to the apartment to go some work. I started to read a German book. I chose this booked because the chapters are no so long so you can just dip in and out of the book. Also, the story is made up of smaller stories belonging to different characters so you find out bits of information as you go along. I was surprised that I didn’t have to look up so many words and a lot of the book I was able to read without much difficulty.

We realised that Schönbrunn Castle is only about a mile and a half away so in the evening we jogged there and back. I say jogged but I was almost crawling at the end. It was a bit deceptive because at the start it was downhill but back it was uphill. I am used to running on completely flat surfaces, although I know that running uphill will get you a lot fitted than running on the flat. The run actually took it out of me. I haven’t run for around 10 days and I could still feel that I wasn’t 100% fit after my illness before I came to Vienna. But I managed it. Onwards and upwards!

Today (Wednesday) I was back in school and I was ready to complain. I explained that I wasn’t happy with the level that I had been placed at and I wanted to go into another group. I was just told that I would need to take the test that I had already taken again and see if I did better. I didn’t want to do this because I have a certificate that demostrates that I have already completed this level and at a high standard. Plus there is nothing from stopped them from not remarking the test and staying at the same class that I was in. At this point in the day I was thinking about asking to change to private lessons but I knew that this would mean a lot fewer lessons and would mean that I end up not interacting and speaking with many people throughout the day. This is definitely not the point of taking a holiday to come here and improve my German.

I went to the lessons while I was thinking about what to do. In the second lesson, the teacher ask me how I was finding the group. So I told her. I actually learnt a lot in her lessons (she takes the conversation group) so we learn a lot of new words and can speak a bit freer. I told her I had already spoken about my misgivings and she said that she could give me additional tasks to do while in her lessons. Thank goodness someone else has recognised that I shouldn’t really be in this group! She also asked what specifically I wanted to work on and she will bring me some things to do that I can do additionally.

For the moment I have decided to stay doing what I am doing and I can do the additional things as well. If I drop out of the course and take private lessons instead I will just isolate myself and not interact. I have been a bit unlucky with this happening to me for the second time. Luckily, my boyfriend is here to help me a bit outside of school. For this I don’t have to pay anything… at least I hope not!

In the afternoon we had a nice traditional Viennese lunch of Knödelsuppe (dumpling soup), Knödel und Eier (meat dumplings and egg) and a Viennese beer.

We also went to find Hundertwasser Haus. Friedensreich Hundertwasser is a very famous Austria artist who died in 2000. Until recently, I hadn’t heard of him. I was introduced to him when my German teacher in Switzerland gave me a copy of one of his pictures and asked me to describe it as part of an exercise. I really like his work. The Hundertwasser Haus is a house that he designed in a unique style. The outside is very colourful and I was surprise by how many people were there. The strange thing is that the house is actually inhabited by real people so you can’t go inside. It must be strange to live there and have so many tourists outside looking in. His art is in the nearby Kunst Haus Wien. By then it was getting late so it wasn’t worth paying to go inside. I will do it another day before I go home.

And just like that the day is almost over. Time for a bit of homework, a bit of relaxing. Then it is already Thursday.

Vienna, Day 1

14 Aug

When the alarm went off this morning, it was time to go back to school. The school is about 30 minutes away from where I am staying so I wanted to be there a bit earlier in case there were any delays. One of the problems of living in Switzerland is that you get used to everything running perfectly on time. So when you go somewhere else it is a bit of a shock when the train does not arrive at 12.32 exactly.

The school was easy enough to find. I bought a weekly ticket for the transport which is just over 16 EUR, which is pretty good value for money.

When the school said that we should be there early to have a speaking assessment, I thought that there would be able 6 to 10 of us lined up waiting. It turns out there was about 60 or more. It was crammed with people. After filling out a form (even though I had already done this at least twice for the school), I had an oral test to find out which level my German was. This was in addition to a 60 minute test I had already submitted online. I realised that this exercise was largely pointless because they had already divided students into groups.

As happened in Munich, I don’t think that I was put into the right group for my ability and level. I was willing to stick it out for a day and see how it went. The first hour and a half was a lesson focusing on grammar. I had already done the exercises to death but I did learn a few things and one or two things were a lot clearer. It was clear that some of the other students were less confident in their abilities. I really am not the most confident of people when it comes to my German ability but I can at least read something out loud with a certain degree of confidence. I have worked hard at this over the past months in my lessons in Switzerland.

The second one and a half hours was with a more motivated teacher and the focus was on conversation. The whole lesson was spent talking about emotions and different words to describe them. This was really useful. I have a huge list of new words to use and it was a good way to increase my vocabulary.

As I had joined for an intensive course, I then had a small break before another one and a half hours with another teacher. I thought that this hour and a half would be another lesson with a structure of what we were going to study. It turns out that it is more of a lesson to recap what we have done in the morning and we were expected to come with topics that we were not sure about. In fairness, I can do this on my own in my own time, rather than paying for it. It was nice to meet with other people and be able to practice speaking a bit but overall I didn’t really think it was worth it.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed. The exercises were not as challenging as I wanted or need. I have decided to go to the school and air my views and ask if I can be moved to another group. It doesn’t make sense if I don’t learn as much as I could and these two weeks are holiday time that I have taken off work. I need to make sure that my time and learning is maximised. And I love complaining in any language. Let’s see what happens.

By the time I had finished school it was already 2pm. I came home, went shopping and then made my way to the train station to pick up my boyfriend who was arriving to come and stay for a week. With him being here I definitely feel as though I am on an intensive German course. I think I have only said five sentences in English today. At this rate I might start forgetting how to speak English.

On the Road again

11 Aug

Today I set off to improve my German for two weeks with a holiday/German lessons in Vienna. I have never been to Vienna before but people have told me it is a great place so I am looking forward to it.

Of course, for a normal person two weeks away in one country would be more than enough. I am not normal. I fly to Vienna and then I take a bus to spend two nights in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. The bus only cost 5 Euros and it takes an hour so I thought it was a good opportunity to explore another country, especially as the German course does not start until Monday.

I don’t know a lot about Slovakia but I am looking forward to trying the food and exploring!

If you have been reading my blog for some time you will know that in January I went to an extremely cold Munich for a week to learn German. Although my intentions were good, it didn’t work out as I had planned. The school did not have a group who were the same level as me so I was forced to change from group lessons to individual lessons. This wasn’t the aim of my week there because I would happily chat with the teacher for 1.5 hours and then I was in the city alone. The idea was to meet fellow students in the school and be able to go for coffee and so on with people and be able to practice my German with people.

The school in Vienna seems a lot more rigid and, although they haven’t 100% confirmed it, I get the strong impression that they have the level that I am currently studying. What is a bit strange and is concerning me a little is that they haven’t accepted my B2 certificate as an indication of my level, even though I only took the exam last month. They have made me take a test which lasted more than an hour long to put me in the correct group and when I arrive on Monday I need to have an oral test to doubly confirm what group I should go in.

Although it is thorough and I am confident that they know what they are doing, I am a bit nervous that I do not yet know when my lessons will be. How well or badly you do depends on whether your lessons take place in the morning or in the afternoon. I just want to do enough that I can have the lessons in the morning because that is so much better and it is when I can focus the most. A lesson in the afternoon means that there is much more of a temptation to laze in bed in the morning and then my productivity will suffer.

As I have learnt from last time, I have also packed some exercises, vocab lists etc so if I am not placed in the right group I at least have some additional work to do.

I am sure that the rest of the time will be filled with sightseeing and more local food sampling!

My boyfriend is also coming for a week to spend some time with me. In my post from yesterday I mentioned that we will be running a half marathon at the start of October. He will be about an hour or more faster than me! By chance he has found a 10k run to take part in while we are in Vienna. So the training really will be getting a kick start them. I would complain but in the evening we will be going to a restaurant to eat a huge schnitzel. So in the end it will be worth it.

As I did last time with my German learning experience, I will be taking my laptop and blogging all the way. Check back soon to see how I am getting on.

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Good news

24 Jul

To start the new week off I have some good news. I actually found out on Saturday after coming back from my trip with the Bernina Express but I didn’t have time to write about it. I passed my B2 German exam!

I am not sure that it was so much of a surprise because I had a good feeling about the exam on the day and I was well prepared for it. The surprise was that I had done less-than-expected in the writing part of the exam than I had hoped. I think that this could be partly due to the fact that I might have “over-practiced” this part and, as a result, I was probably too focused on trying to crowbar in specific grammatical phrases and structures, rather than focusing on the question that was asked. It is irrelevant though as I did comfortably pass that part any way and, as far as I know, no one is interested to find out the marks that you got in each of the four parts of the exam (reading, writing, listening and speaking).

Now the journey continues again. I will be carrying on with German lessons for the foreseeable future but only having one lesson per week instead of two. I think that I can save some money by focusing on areas that I am not too sure about in my own time and aspects, such as increasing vocabulary, I also have to do alone. Sure, a teacher can give me a list of words to learn but I have to learn and remember them myself. In this way, I will have some flexibility during the week to do other things as well as making improvement to my German skills when it suits me best.

I am aiming to speed up the learning process in a few different ways. I watched every single episode of a German comedy series in the run up to my exam, which I think helped me a great deal. The series was called Der Tatortreininger (basically, meaning The Crime Scene Cleaner). It follows the eventful working day of a man who is tasked with cleaning the blood and other bodily fluids from crime scenes one the police have made their investigations. It sounds gruesome but the actual series is more about the people that he meets during his working day and the people affected by the death at the crime scene. It is a comedy so it is very light-hearted and I really enjoyed watching it. I have found a list of other TV series that it is recommended for German learners to watch so I hope that a few of these are as entertaining as my first encounter with German TV.

I am going to try to increase my use of German throughout the day. I have already started to send some email in German, where possible and where I know that the receiver knows that I am trying my best to communicate and improve. There are also a few groups where you can meet with other people who are keen to improve their language skills. I will try to find one that fits in with my schedule and attend. I have also thought about the possibility of finding a penpal or someone that I can have a tandem exchange (where two people meet who have different mother tongues and they help each other learn together) either in person on via Skype. I have had some tandem partners in the past and they have been really beneficial.

In August, I will be going to Vienna in Austria for two weeks for an intensive German course. This is similar to the week that I spent in Munich in January but this time I am hoping that the course that I want to go on is available. I am looking forward to a “working” holiday and visiting Vienna, which I believe is a beautiful place, especially in the summer.

So onwards and upwards. It seems like learning a language is a never-ending struggle but I think I can see that the end is in sight…homework-1735644__340

Finally it’s over…

10 Jul

On Saturday it was time to put the books away and just go for it. Too late to look at any more vocabulary lists or verb tables now – it was D-Day (Deutsch-Day). 

I was disappointed that the weather was completely glorious and that I would be spending the whole day cooped up in an exam room, wracking my brain to remember how to spell things while the weather outside was like this…


Not in the least bit fair, eh?

I arrived early at the exam centre and it was easy to find from the train station. I noticed one of the other candidates must be 60, if she was a day. I’m not sure that I will be still doing language exams at that age. If I am, you have permission to slap me in the face as hard as you can.

The first part of the exam was reading which is by far my favourite part of the exam. Partly because I enjoy reading and I have tried to develop the habit of reading German as much as possible over the past few months. So I find it a little bit easier than the other parts. The section was nothing that I hadn’t expected which was a nice surprise. Although there were some tricky parts, overall it went well. 

Next up was listening. Again it’s not a section that I particularly loathe but it was a bit tricky. When I had answered the questions, I realised on the multiple choice question that I had few too few Cs for me to have got 100% but maybe I’m reading too much into it!

Next up was the writing. Again a part that I find relatively straight forward. I had to write about fairy tales. I couldn’t think of any names of fairly tales in German so I just said I was a fan of the Brothers Grimm stories which, I hope, will not count against me. If it doesn’t, I am happy with my creativity of getting out of a potentially sticky situation.

So then I had a lovely 4 hour break before my speaking part began. I met a friend and we sat by the lake in the sun for a few hours. This was great because it really took my mind off the rest of the exam. I really hate the speaking test. I feel so self-conscious and it’s very obvious if you mess this part up. It’s not just the examiners that you are speaking with but also a fellow candidate. It’s potentially really embarrassing if you forget what to say or get a bit tongue tied.

I had to talk about the topic of reducing the voting age to 16. I managed to talk about Brexit and how this sort of issue impacts more young people in the long term. I finished by saying the issues are too complex for people so young to comprehend and that there must be other ways for them to be engaged in political thinkings. Then I had to discuss with the other candidate about three pictures on the topic “Your Friend – the animal”. These parts of the exam are always daft. The topics are sometimes really vague and it’s difficult to know what to say. Luckily I had had plenty of practice with the other half, so it ended up not being so bad.

Would you believe the moment I finished the exam and stepped out of the exam centre that the heavens opened? Typical, just typical! Even so I managed to go out and have a few drinks to celebrate.

I just had a 4 week wait now until I get my result. I will hopefully be able to share some good news with you soon….

The Art of Escapism

4 Jul

In the past week I have attempted no fewer than 3 escape rooms. If you don’t know what an escape room is, then where have you been hiding? An escape room is a live adventure game which involves between 2 and 6 people being “locked” into a room and a series of puzzles need to be solved in order for the group to escape within a 60 minute time limit. I have put locked in quotation marks because there is always a way to get out quickly from the room if there is an emergency of any sort.

I began on Tuesday with a Prison Break escape room. This was a bit risky from the start because I didn’t know the people that I was meeting. I had come across this activity on the internet platform MeetUp. (This is basically a forum, where people can set up groups and activities so that anyone who is interested is free to join). If you know me, you will know that I really don’t have the patience for people making stupid suggestion and there were more than a few. The beauty of these games is that no specialist knowledge required. Everything that you need to escape the room is in the room. You have to solve puzzles and riddles. It reminds me of the Crystal Maze game which was on UK TV in the 1990s, but instead of an individual having to work alone to solve riddles, there is a team working together.

Part of the problem with playing this game was that we were 6 people. I think this is far too many people. It’s a too-many-chiefs-and-not-enough-Indians type of situation. People are looking at riddles that have already been solved and you have the same discussions with different people about the same thing which is time consuming and means that not everyone is up to speed on with the actual progress of the game. I felt like I did contribute the most – I unlocked a safe by using a code in braille within 2 minutes and I am still feeling a little bit smug about it.

The second game I did was with two good friends of mine and the room was called Steps. I am not sure why it was called Steps. The only logical reason I can think of is that you have to logically work through the steps of the puzzle to get the key and get out. But surely isn’t that the aim of all the games. I was a little bit disappointed that there were no references to the hugely popular pop group Steps in the room. Having said that, I am not sure that their influence has yet made it to Switzerland. Probably for the best.

I enjoyed playing this game because, as the game unfolded, it was clear that our individual strengths were all slightly different. By that I mean that what was instantly clear to one person was not to the others so it meant that we were able to make our way quickly through the puzzles without too much of a hold up.

This was the first escape room that I have ever escape without any help at all. Basically, if you get stuck on a certain puzzle, you can call or walkie-talkie a member of staff and ask them for help. As the game last only an hour and you have no idea how many puzzle there are ahead of you, being able to take a clue can be a huge help. This time we didn’t need it! And we escaped in 47 minutes! It wasn’t a record by a long shot. The record for this room was 28 minutes. I have no idea how people manage to do it so quickly because I thought we were fast. However, I think it was the beer that we had before doing the game that gave us some fluid thinking and creativity.

On Sunday I played my last game of 3 for the week. A colleague of mine has a slight Sherlock Holmes obsession (the BBC TV series and not the Arthur Conan Doyle books) and when I mentioned that there was a Sherlock room, her face lit up like it was Christmas. So I agreed to join her and her husband. The premise of the game was that Sherlock had gone missing and John Watson needs you help to find out where he is.

Using the clues in the room you have to book Watson a flight to the right location, date and time so that he can go and help Sherlock. This was the most hi-tech room I have ever played. We had to make QR code (though I am still not 100% sure what they are) and soundwaves to uncover a message. There was even a printer in the room so that we could use an iPad to print off the ticket for Watson.

The problem with this room was that it was hard. I mean hard as in only 10% of groups make it out in under an hour. We were up against it. We did take a few clues and some of the tasks really were difficult but we managed it! I was so happy – what a team! The best part was that we got out of the room and went to the reception. We stood there for a few minutes because the employees were busy with other customers. When one of the customers noticed us stood there, he looked like he had seen a ghost. I guess that he had already judged that we would not be part of the 10% who make it out. I am know considering applying to MI5 but I am not sure successfully escaping a room will be counted as necessary work experience.

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