Hector Johnston-Stewart

Hamburg Exchange 2008

When Mr Underwood first told my German set about the Hamburg Exchange, I was ready to follow in my brother’s footsteps and take a Hamburger and introduce them to our glorious culture while teaching them English and making some new friends. It had been a long time since I had received a letter from my exchange Lisa and I’m sure we were all apprehensive about the coming week with our partners from the Heinrich Heine Gymnasium (Grammar School, not gym). Once they had arrived, they would spend the school day exploring London, then return to school where we would take them home, and discuss at great lengths (and great dictionary usage) what they had done that day. Then at the weekend we would each take our exchanges to see such famous sites as the London Eye, St Pauls Cathedral and the spectacle that is the south bank break-dance squad. Before you could say Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, our time together was finished, and after the infamous exchange photos had been taken, they went home. But it was not over yet…

Finally, after a gruelling winter half term and an amazing week on the Battlefields tour, it was time for me and a select few others to embark on the now legendary Hamburg exchange with our respective Austauschpartner. So we woke up much too early and were at Heathrow shortly after. When we touched down in Hamburg we were greeted by our exchanges, and finally met our exchanges’ families. I was staying with a local pastor and his family in their house by the church. I was shown around town by my exchange and her family, going for boat rides in the huge harbour, running up the 700 stairs of St Michael’s church and not being able for walk for half an hour, and getting a real taste of German life. After some brutal Britain/Germany ping pong matches over the weekend, it was time for Herr Underwood and Herr Doktor Plow to show us Germany. We went round Hamburg (up St Michaels AGAIN!), Berlin and Lübeck taking in the sights, the shopping and the curious cold fish burger. Mr Underwood would give us occasional challenges to keep us on our toes, such as bizarre shopping lists on a limited budget to interact more with the locals: My friend Leo and I spent 20 minutes desperately searching for apples, oranges, chocolate, postcards with pictures of varied painters, local newspapers and stamps. (My team did win, and the prize was delicious.) As much as I hated having to stop exploring this wonderful country, I was always excited to return to my partner’s house and feel truly welcome. In a week long frenzy of scrambling for phrases such as “why is my fish burger cold?” and negotiating the price of fake watches with a deaf shopkeeper, experiencing at the hands of our tutors the wonders of German Culture and language, and desperately trying to destroy the controversial contents of Alex Stewart’s camera, we learnt more than just proficiency in a modern language, we also became part a foreign social group, made new friends and had a great time.