Raphael Hogarth

Hamburg Exchange 2009

On 23rd October 2009, an army of empty German vocab books (complete with a complement of obedient owners) boarded a plane to Hamburg, Germany. Excited at the prospect of being shown an environment more colourful than a dusty UCS German folder, they keenly awaited their arrival at the Heinrich Heine Gymnasium in Poppenbüttel, the exchange school. The students, perhaps it should be added, were rather excited too…
We were greeted by warm German counterparts eager to treat us to Hamburg’s many delights and distractions. Before long, we were being shown around a pitch-dark mini-city, armed with nothing more than a cane and the wisdom of a blind man at Dialog im Dunkeln ('Dialogue in the Dark'), sampling Hamburg’s famous fish market at the in the fresh German small hours, and cruising the city’s beautiful rivers – described by one vocab book-sceptic as 'sehr Baum' (‘very tree’). After an incident the following day in which the same sceptic reported that the next train carriage was full of 'Schwuhle' (nearly the right way to spell 'gay men' in German), as opposed to 'Stühle' (chairs), he was an emphatic convert.
Visits to neighbouring cities in the remaining days offered some cultural variety. In Berlin, we were first greeted by offers of free coffee, an Israeli-born UCS boy having spotted a sign in Hebrew offering some to anyone who could read it. An amusing exchange, but a chilling prelude to our visit to the holocaust memorial, a moving installation covering 19,000 square metres. A visit to Checkpoint Charlie followed, along with a tour around the Olympic Stadium, an architectural feat of awesome magnitude (we’ll forgive it the extortionately-priced gift shop).
We were also treated to a tour through the birthplace and heartland of marzipan, Lübeck. Bursting with almandine delights of all shapes and sizes (some politer than others), it is truly the marzipan-lover’s paradise. After an apprentice-style exercise in which Dr Plow and Mr Underwood sent us out in teams to buy various city-specific items – in some cases, I might add, written in archaic German that only an eighty-year-old fruit dealer could understand – we felt satisfied we had experienced Lübeck in all its charming nuttiness.
For these reasons and others, the Hamburg exchange was a tremendously enjoyable experience, both in culture and in company. But for me it was far more than that – it was a powerful kick-start to my learning of conversational German and invaluable in the understanding that I picked up. I’m certain that I wouldn’t be doing A-level German next year without it, and very glad I will be – thanks to Dr. Plow and Mr. Underwood for their masterminding of the trip. My vocab book and I certainly appreciated it.