Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Original work

This is original work by German students of mine. It is so good, I thought I'd include it for you to read. I asked them to write something that rhymes. Here is the result:


When spring comes over fields and hlls
with crocus gold and daffodils
with leaves of green and colors bright
with sunshine warm and light
when the birds come back and sing
the butterflies dance with their colorful wings
you can smell the flowers and trees
and see the diligent bees
then our mood will be light, because we are able to see
how beautiful the earth can be.

The Storm

Rain and storm rage against the ship
Like a crack of a whip
A thunderclap you hear,
Flash of lightning's very bright here
Illuminate the ghostly scene

Staggering through the churning sea
Not a star you can see
Only darkness and thick fog
No harbour, no protected dock
For the old ship which moans and groans

In the storm like a cockleshell
Dancing in devil's hell
Falling in a deep hole
Not a mast or sail was left whole
The trembling fishing boat emerges

Through giant waves, under full sail
A pale man at the rail,
A sail boat scratches by
And crosses the fishing boat's way. -
Flying Dutchman! - God save your soul!

Suddenly storm and wind die down
The fishing boat alone
In the sun on calm seas -
In depressing silence and peace
The fisher thinks of cruel fate.

Pretty good, eh? When you think that these people are not native speakers, that they make lots of mistakes when they speak English. There's something about creative writing that brings out the best, and the most creative.

If you live in or near Cologne, you can hear more creative writing in English at a reading of original writing. It will be held on June 9, 2008 at the Bechstein Centrum in the Opernpassage at 7.30 pm. It will be good, and totally creative. One of our members is a pianist and will also be playing original pieces as well as reading original writing. The reading will be followed by wine and cheese.

Friday, May 9, 2008


As a foreigner in Germany, I do what comes naturally in order to help pay the bills. I teach English for a living. Teaching is in my blood, and I enjoy it, as well as passionately love the English language. So I actually sort of fit into my profession and am pretty good at it. One of the places where I teach is a large multi-national corporation. Teaching English is big business in Germany, as more and more of the German workday is held in English. Even the fear of future team meetings in English will send these poor victims running to my classes. Longstanding employees of German companies who conducted all their work in English in the past often find themselves at a meeting in some conference room with ten of their German colleagues. If, however, one person who doesn’t speak German happens to be there, the meeting must be held in English. Arno, one of my students, is very keen to improve his English skills so that he can fit into the modern globalized, English-speaking industrial world.

Recently, Arno was promoted to a new position. One day I asked him about his career path, presuming that he, as I imagined all the other students in my class, had a degree in accounting from some university. Since all are controllers, I assumed that they needed to have a business degree in order to perform their jobs. Germany is very much into degrees as proof of competence, much more so than the US. I was shocked to find out that neither Arno nor any of his classmates has had the privilege of gaining expertise in their field in a university. Arno’s first job was in security, as a guard at one of the gates to the corporation's plant. Because of his pleasant nature, hard work and willingness to work wherever they send him (not a typical German trait), he has been able to work his way up the career ladder.

So today, I asked him how his new job is coming along. "Fine," he said tiredly, "but there is so much stress involved!"

"Oh, really! Tell me about it!"

Arno is responsible for communication between colleagues involved in controlling in Germany, Asia and the States. One of the first perks of his new job was to receive a Blackberry pocket organizer/cell phone/computer. The hook is that he needs to be available 24/7. So, he receives emails all night long, every night. In the morning he wakes up to at least six or seven emails, all in English. Then he rushes off to the office so that he can answer them at 7 am, before the employees in Asia go home for the day. Then he has to be available for the emails coming in from America in the evening, which is afternoon their time. I asked Arno when he goes home. "At around 8 pm," he said. He is doing this voluntarily, not getting paid overtime for any of this.

Arno and all his colleagues have been instructed to work from a 1,000+ page online book of guidelines - in English. The language is so specialized and complex that even I, the English teacher, have difficulty understanding it. If they were to ask the management of their company to explain the differences between the new English guidelines and the old German ones, they would be laughed out of the office.

I live in Cologne. The name of my city stems from “colony”. Cologne was once a Roman colony, and the original Ubii tribe which was settled in and around Cologne, peacefully acquiesced to the Romans, marrying, working with them, losing their identity to become Roman. The pride of Cologne is that their roots as a city go back to Roman times, when they were a Roman colony. To me, the hired representative of the language they are so urgent to learn, they are again vassals of imperialism and I am part of the colonial presence. Cologne, as also the rest of Germany, has once again given up its sovereignty in order to assimilate into the dominant culture. I came to Germany to discover a new culture, but see daily signs of willing submission to a culture they have accepted as dominant.

I hope Arno will be able one day to say, "No more!"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


In our writing group, we recently had the task of writing something about loneliness. This is a subject expats are experts at. We are doomed to experiencing everything about this wonderful (and sometimes weird) culture we are living in, alone, sharing with whoever will listen, but not often hearing the longed-for words, "I've been there and I know what you're talking about." We have to do everything alone! So sometimes we want to shut it all out. Keeping your arms held up before your eyes, shutting everything out, is an exhausting business. But sometimes, when we listen very hard to our hearts, we hear other words, inviting words, words which liberate us, helping us to open up again and move on to a new place. Here is what I wrote:


Standing alone, arms outstretched,
aching for the relief of relaxation,
barely able to hold her arms anymore
against the window crack, after
years of ticking hours,
pushing with all she is
to keep the waters from
gushing, sweeping
her from the floor,
lifting her up from the muck
out the door.

Whoosh! she would swoop
away, lifted to rush
past junk and debris.

She hates her vigil there,
too tired to cry,
no strength left to feel,
she fears more the source,
and tales she has heard of its force.

Whoosh! she would swoop
away, lifted to rush
to spaces unknown.

Her strength spent, she sits
emptied, she waits.
Before her a sound,
behind her a song
pierces a crack in her soul.

"Come, rest awhile,
you need not fear.
I'll take you from here
to the home of your heart."

Not daring to trust,
too weary to balk,
she listens and hears
the sound of her heart,
the warm trickle of drops
dripping, slowly, to ease her way
through the door,
strengthened for the journey.