Tag Archives: germany

The incredible dryness of cold

Frosted gingerbread roof

I’m not about to express surprise at the fact that it’s cold in winter. By the standards of a LOT of people I can think of, the temperatures we’re facing this week – an average of about -7°C during the day – are temperate, mild, even balmy by comparison with quite extensive other parts of the world.

But what never ceases to amaze me in Southern Germany is just how dry cold can be. Having spent my formative years in the insular climate of lowland areas of the UK, especially on the coast, I’m used to cold being accompanied by wet. I expect a daytime thaw even when there’s snow on the ground, and so the fact of the snow just staying the same for days on end, simply because it remains frozen and can’t go anywhere or change its consistency, is quite weird. It strikes me as eerily Groundhog-Day-like, so maybe it’s appropriate that I’m writing this post today of all days!

What’s struck me particularly today is that even though there is absolutely no snow or visible patches of ice on the streets here in the middle of the city (the picture above is of the North-facing roof of the house), the street surfaces nevertheless have an odd look to them, a pale, dusty, almost mildewed-looking grey. It’s like a thin salt crust or sprinkling of talcum, very dull and matte, and not in the least slippery. I’m guessing the tiny moisture droplets in the air are simply freezing on contact with the frozen ground and causing this strange effect. It’s definitely not salt as it darkens and then disappears if you warm it.

It’s odd how little details of a place’s climate can astonish you even after many years of living there, but at the same time it’s pleasing to be able to marvel at something that must strike many other people as ordinary or insignificant.

Postscript: Following on from a discussion of this with Rolf on Twitter, I have now been reminded that this phenomenon is called deposition or desublimation – in this case the direct transformation of water vapour (i.e. gas, not droplets) into ice in sub-freezing conditions. Thanks Rolf!

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Filed under Intercultural & interlinguistic, Out & about

Five more things…

My friend Kavey suggested a new Five Things meme in which you tell someone else what you associate with them, and ask them to elaborate. So, here are the things she came up with for me.

1. (Foreign) Language and Literature

I’ve always loved language in general, and especially the way that the systems of different languages relate to one another. It makes for a complex puzzle of logic, with a degree of illogicality thrown in to keep it interesting. I have done languages not so much to increase my chance of communicating around the world, but more for this systematic / systemic approach and the window it gives you into different thought systems in different cultures.

Doing foreign literature was initially a necessary evil rather than a choice, but I did enjoy aspects of it. Favourite sorts of literature experienced include the Expressionist poetry and drama I did a course on during my BA, and the wonderfully named MA module “Sex, Lies and Manuscripts” in which we looked at medieval antifeminist (and protofeminist) literature from France, Italy and England.

I ended up doing a PhD on medieval German poetry. I’m not too sure how I feel about that at the moment – let’s say that it sometimes has something  albatross-like about it in both conversational and vocational terms – though the title “Dr” comes in handy occasionally.

The best move ever was to do A-level English literature. I cursed it at the time, but it taught me a lot more about my cultural heritage than anything else I have done (with the exception of O-level history).

2. Germany

Germany is where I have lived for the last almost 12 years.

Why? OK, I studied German, but that is only part of the story. There were family connections and school / orchestra exchanges that also influenced me positively when I was growing up, plus we had an excellent German teacher at school, ergo German outlasted French in my education.

Actually moving to Germany was not an entirely conscious choice. In 1997 my PhD scholarship was running out, and my supervisor suggested I go for a teaching job at one of our partner universities, Tübingen. Got the job, breathed a sigh of relief in financial terms, swallowed hard in emotional terms and told myself it was only for two years and that it might look good on my CV…

I’m not going to go into a “what I like / don’t like about Germany” excursus at this point. If anyone wants to know anything specific, you can ask me :)

3. Photography

I had very, very little interest in photography until May 2006. I was recovering from an icky bout of depression at the time and looking for new impetus creatively and socially, plus my then partner was into photography. I tagged along (I choose that expression deliberately) to one of the get-togethers organized by Kavey in London, armed with a point-and-shoot that my Dad had given me, to try to disguise the fact that I was a hanger-on. It was a daunting experience in the sense that I was still somewhat nervous around strangers and the technical talk went over my head at a million miles an hour, but everyone was so lovely and I suddenly found myself on an exciting treasure hunt, looking around for things to take pictures of and takng time to compose my shots. To cut a long story short, I was soon hooked. Here is one of the shots I took that day.

I pursue colour, detail and form in my photography, very much aesthetic goals rather than photojournalistic or purely technical ones. I like my pictures to look like the kind of paintings I like – abstract, expressionist, colourful. Occasionally purists will rail at me for boosting the colours beyond what looks natural. But hey, they are my pictures and they portray what I want to see / be seen.

4. Wales

I guess I’m one of those people who feels a greater attachment to where they are from if they are further away from it. I never felt particularly Welsh when I was living in Wales, but these days I sometimes feel very Welsh, depending on what is going on (be it a rugby match, exposure to some annoying Little Englanders, hearing a particular piece of music or whatever). Don’t ask me to define how this feels – it is neither static nor entirely definable.

It can be tough being a Welsh person in Germany. You find yourself sounding like a broken record when you tell someone for the nth time that no, Wales is not in England. Likely outcomes of this is that they think you are some nutty insular equivalent of a Bavarian separatist, you are a pedant, or you are indelibly marked down in their memory as That Exotic Welsh Person who is wheeled out on social occasions to provide quaint Celtic charm and required to give the Welsh angle on everything under the sun.

I wish I could speak Welsh better, as I said in a recent post here. For the first few years at school, we were subjected to a trendy, apparently antiauthoritarian approach to language teaching that omitted the grammar bit. Disastrous for me, as it meant I couldn’t extrapolate anything and didn’t have my beloved linguistic system to lean upon. The upshot of this was that I was far more resistent to speaking Welsh than to other languages.

5. Teaching

This is going to sound boastful, but I am proud to be a part of the fourth generation of teachers on both sides of my family, and the second generation of university teachers.

Having said that, until I was 26 the one thing I could say with any certainty that I most definitely did NOT want to do for a living was… guess what! The thought of having to be authoritative, knowledgeable and command people’s respect and attention was something I thought I simply didn’t have in me.

And then I ended up in a full-time teaching job in Tübingen, as mentioned above, and to my great surprise loved it from day one. It was a combination of things: the students were around my age so there was a peer-group atmosphere that we all enjoyed rather than a scary hierarchical relationship. They seemed dedicated on the whole, and to my great surprise they seemed largely to appreciate what I did for them, even expressing enjoyment at times. I, meanwhile, was on a very steep learning curve in terms of both subject matter and teaching methods, but I loved the challenge and the feeling that I was imparting knowledge and skills in a subject area that really mattered.

Nowadays, of course, the students are younger (!) and the atmosphere in class perhaps not quite so matey, but I value the fact that students tend to comment on the positive, motivating atmosphere in my classes, and they seem to continue to enjoy what I do (within reason – there are boring bits that I still need to work on). It’s a hugely rewarding job for me.

What about you?

If you’d like to leave a comment on this post, I’ll be happy to nominate five things that I associate with you, which you can then expound upon in your own blog (or we can find some other solution, if you don’t have a blog :)). Also, if there are other things you associate with me more strongly than these things, I’d be intrigued to know and would be happy to comment on those.

Do please provide a link to your blog if you do your own version of these five things.

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Filed under Books & reading, Intercultural & interlinguistic, Photography, Up close and personal, Work stuff