Leaving Lörrach

Leaving Lörrach

It’s my last week in Lörrach; I finished work at the school at the end of the school year in July and holidayed with my parents in Corsica for the first two weeks of August. These few remaining days have been spent packing up and saying goodbyes, reminding friends that they can always call on me in the UK and cycling through the forests and villages one last time.

I am probably getting worse at goodbyes. I never had particular problems when I was younger, but I suppose that was chiefly naivety at the world. I still had illusions about how easy it is to return to places and friendships. I dearly want to return to Lörrach and the beautiful countryside around here; I’ve made a home and built up a network of friends young and old. But I am aware that the carefree years are beginning to wane and I suppose I ought to be more sensible, realistic and dull. Think about a career, find a steady job, consider family and morph into one of those strange creatures called ‘adults’. Hmph. 😒

On the bright side, I will be leaving life in Lörrach with a host of new skills and relationships, a far better grasp of German, French and Arabic, and invitations aplenty to return and visit.

I know that I could fairly easily find jobs teaching English, working with kids, working in activity centres or mountain huts, or doing more admin-style work in Germany or Switzerland. I’m blessed with a love of things academic and practical, and the happy ability of generally making friends and enjoying life whatever happens. So, whatever God’s plan for my life is, I know I could come back.

As a sort of quick summary, here are a few statistics from my time here;
– 3,739 km cycled (total height : 36,213m)
– 7 pieces of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte eaten
– 116 laugenstange eaten (rough guess based on average in last months)
– 9 weekend trips outside Markgräflerland (eg. Freiburg, Paris, Bobengrün in Hof, Tübingen, Düsseldorf)
– 6 fruit crumbles baked
– 36+ postage stamps bought
– 141 tutoring sessions given
– 4 cycle rides in three countries

Here is also a pretty map of nearly everywhere I’ve cycled this year (courtesy of Strava and a nifty website). Given that I’ve only been out cycling at the weekend about four times, and the rest of the routes are detours home after my 8 hours, it’s fairly impressive!

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At least it’s quite clear in which country I was living! (and those commutes…)

My brother arrived on Tuesday and has been theoretically helping me pack. In reality, his main help will be with my suitcase and bags when travelling back go to the UK. On Wednesday we went for a last visit to Lukas in Zürich, cycled around part of the lake, climbed the Freitag tower and made calzone and pizza. I also said goodbye to my bike which I am leaving with him, and picking up in September for my cycle with Zara – but that’ll be written about on our shared travel blog here – JoZa Travels.

We returned back to Rötteln close to midnight, and were somewhat surprised to see that Julian and his friends were still up enjoying drinks by an open fire; their plan was to set out at 5am to start the Westweg through the Black Forest. They woke and actually left a bit closer to 11am!! I had packed that morning, so after waving them off we cooked a sort of brunch with the left-over perishables in the fridge. Anyone hungry for Nutella toast with fried egg, followed up by a pork and veg stew?

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Last quick trip round my castle…Burg Rötteln in the early morning 🙂

Packing up had been moderately stressful, given Eurostar permit just 2 large items and 1 handbag, but by the time it got to Thursday evening I was basically panicking about the fate of one singularly large watermelon, staring menacingly at me from the fridge. Whilst I happily nibble the odd slice once a year, this melon was a quantity too much for me to cope with, and I had no idea what I should do. Leaving it wasn’t an option; it was the wrong side of ripeness and would probably have sprouted legs within a week, and my conscience would not have permitted such an awful crime.. I tried gifting it to friends, asked Facebook contacts if they wanted it, and even wrote a little note to pin to it and then leave it in the street for a passer-by. Fortunately a neighbour happened to call in and drop off the organ console keys, and we were able to dispose of it with some semblance of dignity.. I wonder why my host family hadn’t taken it with them?

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Can we carry these? I hope so…

Anyway, I’d better leave it here since I have a train to catch and a platform to find. Congratulations to those who have been faithfully reading each blog post; your statistics have not gone unnoticed! It’s been amusing writing a nearly-weekly summary of my life in Lörrach; I look forward to seeing how the rest of the future pans out!

Ciao x

The Last Round

The last week of school, the last tutoring sessions, the last Scouts, the last… It’s been odd over the previous 10 days or so, as if suddenly the table has been flipped, or the resistance on a cycle machine suddenly switched off. Everything somehow faster and more frantic.

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Monday was chiefly marked by icecream at work (‘ensuring fridges and freezers are empty’), the primary school musical and a meal at Martha’s with Daniel. The musical had been entirely written by two school teachers, and what was lost in terms of rough corners of stage-managing and sound tech was more than made up by the kids themselves. I was so proud of my little 1st and 2nd years bobbing along to their songs, or my older pupils who had whole lines and songs to themselves!
The meal with Martha and Daniel was also good fun, if at turns slightly awkward since we had only really socialised in the staffrooms before. The ensuing salad was astonishingly good, given that half of the fridge ended up in it!

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Lisanne and I found more icecream on Tuesday, and attempted to stop the guerilla warfare breaking out in the Gymnasium and Werkrealschule, as class delegates fought over the remaining cleaning supplies we had lodged in the staffrooms.
In the afternoon we celebrated a goodbye ceremony in the Nachmittagsbetreuung, for the 4 leaders and 9 kids who will not continue in September. It was sweet to see what the kids had written in our photo albums; my favourite was from a little chap who commented ‘it was good you swept the floor after we played by Lego. Thank you for rescuing my hands and heads’!!

In the evening I scooted up to Waldkirch by train to see some wonderful friends there. We chilled over some icecream and then headed back into Freiburg for dinner. It’s always nice to  up with Marja-lena, Frederik and Rodi, and I need not worry about saying goodbye – I know I’ll see them somewhere around in Europe!

Cycling out of the school for the last time felt a bit like riding down to the Grey Havens and catching the ship into the West. Despite heading in the opposite compass point and to a different destination, the same feeling of ‘It’s over’ and of leaving precious friends behind was present. We had our staff meal at a very happy Chinese restaurant; the Manager was so proud that the house was full that he kept videoing and taking photos! I’ve not had much experience with Chinese or Asian food, with the result that I ended up pouring some firey orange sauce over fried banana and baked squid.. It was nice to have the chance to briefly literally bump into and speak to half the staff and tackle the important questions of ‘Is that Tabasco, or is it peppermint sauce?’.

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Thursday through to Sunday was then taken up with more personal goodbyes, last minute shopping and hectic packing. It was sad to meet my Syrian families for the last time – I’ve seen them for nearly 9 months and in that time they have settled so well here! I’m still working on getting bikes for them, so if any local readers have any ideas…?!
Julie and I managed to fit in a quick brunch together; I taught Beatrice how to make scones (and accidently whip milk past cream into butter..); met up with Lisanne and Nicolas for an open air cinema viewing in Weil am Rhein, and went to Scouts for the last time.

Yesterday was a nice normal church service in Rötteln, after which I travelled to Bad Säckingen and spent a happy, albeit thundery, afternoon with them in the Hotzenwald by Solfelsen. The Solfelsen is similar to the Wolfschlucht near Kandern; a mysteriously craggy past of a forest, with a huge rounded cottage-sized rock perched precariously on a stack!

I’ll see my host family again in the middle of August, but we had a lovely bbq in the rain as a small goodbye. All of them had provided too much food, so we staggered to bed in the early evening moaning that Julian’s Frikadellen were too good or that Beate’s vegetable skewers were too tasty!

I’m writing this on the train to Marseille; I had an early start to get to Basel SBB for 7, and about to meet parents for a short holiday abroad. Why do I always end up doing too much? I think I had originally planned for a quieter summer.. but that won’t happen this year!

Prayer Points
Thanks for a wonderful year, and the people who I have met. Thanks for the support network of friends I already knew close by, and the amazing people I have got to know
– Thanks for everything I have learnt here; new skills, new habits and a good grasp of the language!

The days fly past

The days fly past

I’m sitting up on the Feldberg as I write this, with the remains of a hefeweisen beer splashed across the wooden bench (clumsy) and my bike throwing a bit of shade over my head (helpful). Today I worked 7-14:30, and decided to make the most of my free afternoon with a spontaneous cycle up the biggest mountain in the Schwarzwald. Maybe spontaneous is misleading; I’d planned it since my lunch break and knew my route roughly in my head (Wiesental up as far as it goes; Todtnau, Fahl, Feldberghof). Most of my routes are planned as I’m on the road, pedalling past inviting signs to new villages or passes within stretching distance.

A grumpy bus driver ensured that I started from Zell rather than Todtnau, 20km further downhill than I’d wanted, and my own stubborness meant that despite a lack of food (except a pack of haribo and a brezel) I kept going up to the Feldberg pass, with the cheery result that I felt like a rather exhausted shell when I finally found myself at the Haus der Berg! I’m planning on whizzing back down again and continuing along the river Wiese (which has it’s source on the other side of the col) until it hits the Rhine. I daresay Strava will tell you if I made it there on not…

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I’ve not written for a while, and been worse than usual at keeping up with people over the last few days. So firstly, apologies for that. My only excuse is that I’ve been living more in the day here, and trying to avoid the rather unpleasant thought that in a few days I’ll wave goodbye to my friends, colleagues, primary school kids, and tutoring families for the last time. And my wonderful, chaotic and very eccentric host family who have adopted me so easily these past 11 months.

The temperatures soared again and each day has become a challenge of keeping cool and yet still achieving everything at normal pace. The obvious exception is when cycling, where the challenge changes to ‘how far can I go and explore before sunset?’. My colleagues at the school seem generally unperturbed by the glaring sunshine but I’ve been looking forward to a bit of drizzle and the cooller mornings again. I can’t stop discussing the weather. But I suppose it’s a sure sign that I’m still British.

Here are a few of the highlights that spring immediately to mind, listed for everyone’s convenience in bullet-points (I am not currently in the mood for attempting to link them in some flourishy way).

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Julie’s lunch tray… she won’t starve.

 

Schokopudding
Julie and I have had further Schokopudding adventures; the kitchen staff in the Mensa have gifted us with boxes of the sickly stuff and extra portions practically daily for this last fortnight! A bowl every now and then is indeed nice; a refreshing and welcome change from grießbrei or unripe pears, but last Wednesday we finally pleaded mercy from our nth portions and they acquiesced. I still need to return the tupperware containers though…

Skerryvore
Three weeks ago now I went to see Skerryvore live at the Weil am Rhein Bläserfest with a friend from the school. I wasn’t sure what I expect from the festival, since it was advertised as ‘Scottish punk rock with bagpipes’, but I think that description only really half-fitted Manran, another group which also performed earlier in the week. Skerryvore were brillant fun to listen to, and that they themselves also enjoyed playing was clear. There’s something infectious about watching musicians who are having fun with improvised solos and messing around with the bass line and chords! They had bagpipes, whistles, a fantastic fiddler alongside more standard band instruments, and managed to get even the stoic Germans into a party atmosphere! (The Gutedel and other local wines may have also helped).

Mr X?
Monday evenings are usually taken up with badminton with staff after school, but last week I ventured into the city centre during a rainstorm in order to play my role as the elusive Mr X. One of the Martin Luther VCP scout groups had organised a real-life Scotland Yard game, and it was my task to move around the city centre on foot and by bike without getting caught by the 30 scouts. I WhatsApped photos of my location back to the group, and left chalk or paper notes as tips to where I might be heading next, but they still needed 2 hours and 40 minutes to catch me. Had it been 3 hours I’d have won. Next time, perhaps, I won’t get stuck in a restuarant delivery dead-end…

Burg Rötteln
Last weekend I discovered that a Syrian family with whom I work had never visited Burg Rötteln, so the very next day we marched (slowly… the poor kid got tired after 8km) up from Brombach to Haagen and to the castle via Rötteln. Despite the fierce sunshine we spent over four hours clambering around the ruins and re-enacting medieval battles with wooden swords and apricot stones. Ghosun also received good news of her sister whilst we were up on the tallest tower; she and her family had reached Istanbul! We celebrated, yelled congratulations via WhatsApp and ate a good two kilos of apricots.

Meals with Martha
I’ve also had the opportunity to spend more time with a wonderful teaching friend, cooking together, praying together and going for night strolls. It’s been lovely getting to know Martha more, and swapping stories and recipes into the evening. Our first meal was very experimental, the ‘what-do-I-have-in?’ kind of meal which turned out a huge dorito salad, vegan sausages and toast! The second was more planned; I had brought large quantities of garden berries and whipped up some schlagsahne, and Martha fried fish with smashed potato, alongside some rather fun salad.

BBQs, Abschiedsparties and bowling
Last Thursday was the Abschiedsfest from the Nachmittagsbetreuung, held up in Salzert at one of the children’s workers’ house. This was a semi-formal affair, with very nice food indeed but quite a strange atmosphere, probably to do with the fact that whilst we all get along at work, only a few would actually choose to meet up outside of the school… Anyway, that evening Lisanne realized it would be the last weekend all five of us Praktikanten / FSJleren would be in Lörrach, and we quickly made plans to meet and go bowling on Saturday. In the end, Julie and Januya were both busy, but Lisanne and Nicolas and I had a brilliant afternoon lobbing heavy balls into skittles and then feasting on pizza, baguette and more fruit with cream!

Spring Harvest
Sadly not THE Spring Harvest, but it’s really rather nice that my host family have such a large and well-stocked vegetable garden! The salad greens are ripe, the legumes are ripening, the potatoes and root vegetables are sprouting, and the early fruits (strawberries, cherries and rhubarb) have been left to recover for next year. And the berries!! Redcurrants, whitecurrants, blackcurrants, gooseberries (green and red), raspberries, jostaberries, blackberries and grapes… All (except the grapes) merrily ripening in the summer sunshine and simply begging to be eaten. We’ve already made jams and marmalades, we’re currently on the syrups and the remainder of the harvest will be frozen or baked.

Prayer Points;

  • thanks for my dear friends and host family and work colleagues who have made this year so far so precious; pray for continuing relations in these last weeks and that we would still be able to make time for each other!
  • pray for easier contact with family and friends in the UK; more reliable internet and a better-organised schedule – time-management!
  • thanks for the awesomeness of creation! That we can grow stuff to eat, that we can explore and go cycling or walking, that it rains and that the seasons are fairly  regular and that every little living thing is so beautifully or effectively designed!
  • pray against weariness or complacency; for sufficient sleep, good relaxation, exciting prayer or Bible reading times,

Freiburg, steam trains and cherries

Freiburg, steam trains and cherries

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This last week has literally flown by, since Thomas came to visit! He arrived on Wednesday afternoon, so after I finished work we went for a walk up Hohe Straße to Hexenbrünnli and then on down to Hauingen. It was good to chat over the last few months more personally, and to thrash out Brexit frustrations!! We also found some early wild strawberries and raspberries.

I had to work on Thursday, but Thomas came with me and we spent half the morning trying to find a new Spuckschutz set for the kiosk. During the NMB homework time, Thomas waited patiently in the kitchen whilst I (metaphorically) fought the 3. Klasse, and then after work we went cycling along the Wiese (and he headed up to Schloss Rötteln and Tüllinger Hohe whilst I was tutoring).

We spent our evening playing board games, drinking and talking with Daniel and Beate on the terrace and attempting to pick cherries. The two cherry trees in Tumringen Gemeindehaus were, according to local reports, just ripe for picking, although the situation had been rather over-estimated and the riper cherries were naturally those furthest from the ground… Not to be disheartened, Benjamin summoned three of his friends who lived nearby and we discovered a short step-ladder hidden in a cupboard, and eventually succeeded in shaking a fair quantity of cherries down from the branches – including a few ripe ones!

In Freiburg on Friday (o pleasing alliteration!) we wandered around the old town and university for a bit, explored the Münster and then searched the markets in the Münsterplatz for a picnic lunch to eat in the Stadtgarten. In the afternoon we walked up the Schlossberg, avoiding initially the oft-tramped cobbles of the tourist track and instead contouring along the valley and approaching the Schlossbergturm from the north-west ridge. I know the city sufficiently well to be able to give a running commentary on the buildings we passed – thanks chiefly to my Waldkirch friends who have given me tours in the past!

In the evening we cycled to the cinema to watch this years’ FES Abifilm, which some of my friends from the scout group had filmed (and broken collar bones for…). It was a good plot, but the filming was sometimes a little haphazard and the lighting either too bright or too dark. The film drew upon the idea that a teacher had attempted to create the perfect student, but the experiments had gone wrong and turned them into Milchschnitte-craving zombies, who then turned upon the remaining students and staff!

Our carefully laid plans for climbing the Feldberg on Saturday were washed away by heary rain, so we had another leisurely morning. At midday, the clouds stopped their deluge and we set out on a short cycle round Grenzach-Whylen, the Swiss Rheinfelden and then over the Degerfelden via Minseln, Adalhausen and Brombach. That was rather fun, since we found a dam on the Rhine which traps large boughs and tree-trunks and then could feel the shuddering of the dam as we walked across it!

We also went for a sunset stroll up the Tüllingerberg. As we reached the point above Ötlingen, a roar went up from the Public Viewing of the German-vs-Italian EM game in Haltingen; Germany had scored and drawn level with Italy! Someone had abandoned a small wood fire by the Dauerhütte, so we propped it up and kept it burning (rather smokily!) as dusk fell.

On Sunday the normal Rötteln Sunday service was combined with the Haagener kindergarten anniversary celebration, so we all headed down to the Gemeindehaus. It was far less of a service and more of a performance by the kindergarten children, and the church-y bits felt a bit clunky. The majority of folk there would never have set foot in the church building, and when it came to the liturgical responses and blessing, it was plain who knew when to stand/sit and what to say, and who hadn’t the foggiest idea what was expected! But it was overall rather enjoyable; the speeches were humorous enough and the buffet afterwards was very satisfying and sunny!

In the afternoon, we rode the Kanderli! The Kandertalbahn is a little black steam train which rattles and hoots its way up the edge of the Black Forest to Kandern, calling at some of the villages and weaving along the valley floor. It’s tooted as a fun day out for families with small children, and I am fairly sure that we were the only ones who weren’t accompanied by an under-five, but we still found it interesting! Anyway, we found the steam train halt, meandered our smoky way up valley, and then walked back to Hammerstein via the Wolfsschlucht (a little woodland path through a mossy gorge) and caught the steam track back again to Haltingen. Time was short, since we had also planned a bbq and EM viewing with some of my work friends!

The BBQ was here in Rötteln, and Benjamin, Thomas and I prepared the fire as the others arrived. We had plenty of food, and Januya had had the fantastic idea of bringing corn cobs to grill, since Lisanne is veggie. They worked really well, and are definitely something I’ll have to remember! Nicolas and Natschi both polished off a good number of burgers, schnitzel pieces and sausages. Thomas became Chief Fire-stabber, and Benjamin gamely attempted to start another larger fire in the spare brazier for those of us who like big flames, although his efforts largely resulted in Lisanne being smoked from her place! At 9pm we swiftly cleared away and headed down into Lörrach centre to watch the EM football – France vs Iceland! Despite the football score, it was a lovely evening and really nice to socalise with them all outside of work time.

Prayer Points

  • Thanks for a lovely long weekend with Thomas here; being able to do things together rather than just speaking via skype or google hangout is helpful and something we both miss! Thanks for good weather for most of the week, and that even on the day it rained, we were able to get out and explore, and not remain house-bound
  • Thanks for the evening with work friends; pray that our friendships would remain strong even when we all disappear in a few weeks / months to different places, and that we would forgive and forget the thousand-and-one little frustrations which arise at the school!
  • Pray for the politicians and leaders of Britain and of those in the EU; that sensible and wise decisions would be met, that futures would be secured and that the general chaos and fear surrounding ‘Brexit’ would diminish
  • Pray for a solidarity amongst world leaders to combat terrorism and IS – that nations such as Iraq would be supported and actively helped, and the victims and their families would be held in God’s hands

Feierabend and final concerts

Feierabend and final concerts

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Einen Flasche Hefe-Weisen, einen Butterlaugenstange zu naschen, einen sonnigen Sitzplatz oben dem Tal wo der Falken fliegen und der EM Fußball mit Island gegen Österreich im Hintergrund. Sowas nennt man Feierabend.

I don’t think the British have a Feierabend. I’m sure they’d be happier and less given to sarcasm if they did. Germans here seem to take their breaks and end of shifts seriously; you won’t really find them checking work emails at home or discussing work stuff at lunch. But anyway, I have Schluss for today and although it’s only 5pm, I’m very happy!

 

It’s finally sunny again, though still cool, and I’m resting up in Rötteln. The rain is beginning to go away and the forecast for the next weeks is horrendously hot. Tomorrow it is supposed to reach 30’C by 11am. I am glad, but I don’t tend to cope well in temperatures so high, especially at low altitude. I keep longing for the high mountains of the Alps; imposing, shadowy crags, sunny alms and breezy cols. The Schwarzwald is beautiful, but whilst perfect for cycling, it’s difficult to find isolated valleys that are truly high up. It’s too beautiful and too accessible for it’s own good; there are broad tracks over every major col and a gasthaus or farm too frequently. There is plenty of wildlife; black squirrels tossing themselves from branch to bough and lots of deer and fox, but unless one is stuck in the deepest part of the forests, the rumble of day-to-day life is nearly always heard on the wind.

This last Saturday disappeared in a chaotic muddle of celebrating Julian’s birthday, tutoring a work colleague for her Business English oral exam, an orchestral rehearsal and concert, flapjack baking and then a trip to the cinema to watch the ghastly Jane Austen parody ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’. That film was awful. Really awful. Do yourselves all favours and steer clear; although the concept admittedly had comedy (Darcy as a zombie slayer, the Bennet daughters as Chinese battlewomen…), the realization of the film was laughable.
Sunday likewise vanished in more English tutoring for the Kazakhstani family, an Arabic lesson and more concerts accompanied by the orchestra after-party. It was a good weekend, but tiring, and I was pleased that Monday morning was straightforward Kenzeitbetreuung and kiosk!

The concerts this weekend were in Kandern evangelische Kirche and in Lörrach, in the Sparkasse foyer. I had never heard of a bank foyer being used as a concert hall before, and I was suspicious as to how we would all fit, but it did actually work out somehow. The foyer / atrium was surprisingly spacious, with over 500 chairs placed on the ground floor and another five dozen or so peering over the first floor balcony. The concert in Kandern was probably the best one, especially in terms of Schubert, as I suspect everyone else was also tired in Lörrach the next day. But we had a very nice after-party with a buffet provided by the strings, and the ginger flapjack Nina and I made disappeared rather rapidly! I’m glad I joined the orchestra and kept going with it, even when it felt a bit old and dry, because it’s been something familiar and ordinary in the mix of everyday life! I still hope to return to the Dreieckland one day, and it may be that I get to play alongside them once more.

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From Chrischona church to the TV tower. First time up in the sun!

Yesterday was the Mitarbeiterausflug which we couldn’t take part in, since the Betreuung still had to continue. Julie and I had hoped to play with giant Jenga again, but ended up organising a huge treasure hunt trail around the Grundschule building. I
t’s easy to excite children if you show them corridors that they aren’t usually allowed down; they almost start looking for three-headed dogs…

After work I cycled up to Chrischona tower, and then to Rührberg with the aim of heading towards Adalhausen. However, after Rührberg I got horrendously lost in the forest for a good hour or so. In that time I half-cycled half-walked about 6km on tracks which kept petering out, or which turned into small rivers, and had to keep doubling back on myself. I eventually found my way back to Rührberg and cycled down towards Inzlingen, desparately hot and thirsty, in the vain hope of finding a shop. But no, no, the good residents of Inzlingen don’t have shops, so I ended up retracing my wheels back to school.

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“Let us transform our bad moods into empty bottles…”

I’ve been slow again with actually uploading this post, and so here is a quick bit about the EU Ref and Brexit. My host family had laid my seat at the breakfast table in mourning black with a lit candle and a card saying ‘We’re so sorry!’.
I’m quite peeved that the Leave campaign won the majority; I am pleased however that 48% of those who voted recognise the value of the EU membership which we currently enjoy; I am highly cross at the career politicans who have fabricated lies, invented statistics and generally used this entire episode to further their own interests; I am more firmly of the opinion that our newspapers and journalists are partly responsible for the circulation of such twaddle; I am intrigued to see how exactly the Brexiteers live up to their promises and pledges. An additional £350million per year in the NHS would be fantastic, were those who made such promises courageous enough to keep them…

Prayer Points
– Thanks for better sunshine, beautiful hills and shady forests
– Thanks for a good day on Wednesday, despite the enviable workshops, and that the kids enjoyed themselves!
– Thanks for the time I have spent with orchestral members and the friendships there. Pray that the orchestral community would continue to grow and that they would keep tackling exciting music which challenges them!
– For friends starting new internships, roles or jobs – especially for those heading to new countries! That they would settle quickly, meet friendly folk, and enjoy experiencing a new cultural system.
– For our politicians, those in positions of responsibility and leaders in zher European countries, that God would grant sense and wisdom and clarity to work through upcoming issues.
– For the British, and for other EU citizens, that this wouldn’t be the start of more social divisions but rather a place where bridges and links can be reforged and strengthened.

Mid-european Monsoon

Mid-european Monsoon

It’s still raining. The day usually starts drizzly as I cycle o school, increases to a heavy downpour around 8am, eases off somewhat until 12, and then is a constant downpour until about 6pm. The evenings remain drizzly and the only major changes are when a thunderstorm crashes into the afternoon.
The old jokes that as a Brit I feel at home with this weather are beginning to wear thin, and it’s somewhat frustrating to continually keep changing clothes after cycling to school or into town. The rain has also lowered temperatures, so that despite it being the middle of June, I’m back to commuting in a ski coat!
The author of Grüne Hölle, an ironic diary of gardening, refers frequently to the mitteleuropäische Monsoon, something I find quite apt.

The cooler weather does mean that I can go a bit faster up the hills and further along the valleys. That is fun; swapping my 5.7km along the Wiese for an exciting whizz up to Inzlingen or Adalhausen or explore around the little villages in the Kandertal is brilliant, but only until I turn my bike for home and see that Tüllinger Berg and Rötteln are cowering under a thick black thundercloud!

imageLast Sunday was the first of the three concerts from the Oberrheinische Simphonie Orchester, so after tutoring in Stetten I was picked up by Nina, the 2nd flautist, and we drove up to Wehr. The concert started at 7pm but was due to end promptly at 8:45pm – The EM Germany vs Ukraine match started at 9pm!! We played the first Mozart (Idumeneo) and the Weber clarinet concerto rather well, and even the Schubert sounded impressive, but our encore piece (Impressario, again Mozart) was simply too fast and rushed, and left us all somewhat breathless and wishing we had got the fingerings down more solidy… Ah well. It was probably due to the excitement of the final page of F major chords in the fourth Schubert movement. Poor Schubert had written a fantastic symphony and clearly decided that F major was the way to end, but couldn’t decide on the rhythm or orchestration!

Thursday was the Lörracher Stadtlauf! It was again tipping with rain and I hadn’t had the greatest of enthusiasm for it last week. Running or jogging is only vaguely exciting when it is through a forest or across moorland; running in circles around a track or through streets is mind-numbing and should (in my opinion) be stopped as an element of PE curricula. But in a rash moment I decided to sign up and soon discovered my folly. It wasn’t even 5km. It was 2.3km. In other words, I would get soaked to the skin and freezing limbs for just a few minutes of actual running. Hmph!
Of course, once I’d coaxed myself down into town and was talking to an Egyptian chap and a few others at the start line, it was quite fun and I did enjoy myself. I even got a T-Shirt out of it! I cycled home via Ötlingen and managed to warm up somewhat on some nice hill climbs.

Apart from music and the monsoon, lots of little joys have sweetened the week, none perhaps more so than the additional portions of Schokopudding that Julie and I acquired (always good to make friends with the Mensa staff!) and then ate it rather surreptitiously in the bike park. That was a fun Feierabend; afterwards we cycled through the rain via Weil back to her room in Haltingen and nattered away about a hundred and one different things. She is also living with a host family, despite her biological parents living close by, and it was interesting to compare our experiences of living as another family member in a strange family!

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At work, I discovered that you can make a a rather fun Dampfexplosion (steam explosion) in the microwave by diluting washing up liquid and cooking the solution in a mug for 9 minutes. I hadn’t intended on evacuating the staffroom or endangering the security certificate of the microwave, but rather had wanted to experiment with a new method of cleaning it..

Prayer Points
– that the rain would go somewhere it is actually needed, and stop flooding the Rhine
– thanks for good times socially after work with friends from the school
– thanks for the concerts, for good audience turnouts and for the time which the musicians have invested in preparing

Is Brexit actually worth it?

Is Brexit actually worth it?

23rd June. The EU Referendum in the UK.

Politicians, newspapers and TV documentaries have all been attempting to spread fear, lies and misconceptions about what might possibly happen should we leave the EU, and what could happen if we were to remain. The polls appear to swing radically in every direction every time you refresh the page, and it’s nicely confusing for everyone.

The Leave campaign hasn’t got as far as planning for life post-Brexit – their advertising and campaigning is full of hopes and ideals, richly pepped with patriotism and nationalism, but without so much as a crumb of actual policy or strategic thinking. The Remain campaign have been equally helpful with their doomsday fears about an apocalypse and World War Three.

But here are a few thoughts on the matter. I am absolutely persuaded that we ought to remain in the EU and not do anything like a foolish a thing as to leave, but I lay my reasoning out here.

What does the EU actually do?

The European Union was originally a trade market in 1958, which has evolved into being the single market and a political entity, with regulations and policy covering topics from the environment to employment, and health to justice.

It was formed in the years following the two World Wars which devastated half of the continent, and has been a major factor in keeping peace between the 28 nations which comprise the EU, and of the surrounding countries. Human rights legislation, democracy and equality are all imperative for EU countries since the 2009 Lisbon treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is often overlooked; I’ve even read in some articles that ‘we don’t need a peace force in Europe in the 21st century’ which seems incredibly naive. As a democratic institution with a fair amount of economic clout, it’s easier to refuse trade deals with nations who support child labour, or to withdraw licences on products which actively kill off the wildlife (*ahem* Monsanto *ahem).

The internal, single market means that services, products and people can basically move however they like, visa-free and without restriction. It’s a brilliant method of avoiding dozens of little customs dues and hindrances, and mutually ensures that companies within the EU are able to trade freely without additional financial costs. Even the most hardcore of Brexiteers like the single market – it’s basically awesome for everyone. (And I can buy marmite in Basel and Freiburg – win).

The EU also gives a huge amount of funding to the different member states, across sectors as diverse as fishing, research and urban development. Additionally, small companies and businesses can apply for funding or grants, and the Erasmus+ programme funds young people studying or working abroad. Want to know where most of our membership money goes to? Ask your local council. Ask your friends studying / working abroad. Ask farmers, fishermen and rural businesses.

Members states, like the UK, elect members of the European parliament (MEPs) who meet in Brussels and Strasbourg and vote on legislation and regulations with the Council (which is made up of the governments from member countries). These policies are normally proposed by the EU Commission and are given three chances for amendments before being scrapped. Individual EU citizens can petition the parliament for bills.

Is the EU undemocratic?
A fair number of the Leave campaigners like to yell that the EU is undemocratic – an interesting statement, as MEPs are elected and the Commissioners of each country are practically always from the same elected ruling party of that country (eg. the EU Commissioner of the UK, Lord Hill, is also from the Conservative party). The EU President (atm Jean-Claude Juncker) is also elected; they are nominated by the EU Council (heads of state of members countries, again elected) and then elected by the MEPs. I suppose we could all go Swiss and hold referendums on every single position, but imagine the bureaucracy…

Why should we Vote Remain?

I’ll list the reasons here; I don’t want to turn this post into a dissertation so reasons will be brief!

– we know what will happen; we remain in the EU and abide by the regulations which we help create
– we keep our EU presidency for 2017
– we avoid damaging our economy (and employment figures) further this year
– we keep foreign investers and companies (think of companies like Nissan or Toyota, whose UK factories mean they avoid paying EU customs dues)
– we continue working with EU partners to combat terrorism, promote peace in war-torn nations and offer sanctuary for people fleeing violence
– we won’t pay additional roaming charges on mobile phone contracts in the EU next year
– we won’t need to request a visa for that pre-Christmas wine trip to France or for next summers’ holiday in Spain
– students and young people can take advantage of study abroad (not just Erasmus, many EU universities have fewer restrictions on British students currently)
– we keep the impetus to the environmental action groups and pressure on our country to become greener
– we protect the minorities in our country – whether religious groups, ethnic minorities or the less well off.

…and if we Vote Leave?

We could follow the examples of Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein;
– pay to access the single market,
– allow the free movement of EU citizens,
– abide by the regulations of the domestic market, but with no say in how those rules are made
Is that really more attractive as a set of options?!
The Leave campaign are fond of their slogan ‘take back control’ – but if we were to want access to the advantages of the EU, we would instantly lose control.

There will be financial repercussions and a recession.
It’s obviously unclear how bad it will be, and I’m no financial expert, but the falling of the British pound against the euro since the autumn is an indication of the uncertainty our referendum is causing. In the summer I was getting almost 1,40€ per £1. I checked this morning and for my £1 I’d only get 1,26€. Sounds like only a little difference, but for a student and a tourist, it is enough! How will that have been influencing business speculation and investments? Do we want to still be encouraging foreign investment in London?

There will be a lot of confusion. From things such as mobile phone contracts to border control checks, to the UK creating new laws to replace those which the EU had got covered, to negotiations over business and trade. I suspect the only folk in the UK who will gain in the short term are lawyers, who will have a right mess to sort out and will probably be paid a packet to do so.
Do we really have time to fumble around with this? Could our attention as a nation not be better spent on developing sensible and sustainable projects in war-zones and countries afflicted by droughts or flooding? Have we already become so caught up in ourselves that we forget our role of promoting freedom from slavery and the protection of human rights on the international stage?

Basically, what will we gain from leaving?!

“Britain is the nation of “common sense”, and the British are not a people to duck responsibility and flee difficult tasks. They will hopefully remember that when they vote on their – and Europe’s – future will look like. They have a choice between the 1950s retro-vision of splendid isolation as propagated by Johnson, Farage and Gove, and a Europe that is more ready than ever for renewal. It should not be a difficult choice.’

Der Spiegel, seite 25.

Here are some articles;

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/30/andy-burnham-calls-for-people-to-rally-to-pro-european-campaign-no-brexit

http://europa.eu/about-eu/funding-grants/

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/comment-on-brexit-it-s-smarter-to-stay-a-1096929.html

Just as a side-note… I’m not a professional politician, or sponsored by anyone, or an expert in international relations, economics and politics. But since we still have free speech in this country, I’m going to use it. 🙂

Prayer points;

  • for wisdom for those in positions of authority in the UK
  • for voters to take an active consideration of the arguments
  • for voters to use their powers of democracy and vote
  • for politicians and those in government in the UK and in other EU nations
  • that God will be guiding our country