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We (me and the bike) are ready: the bags have finally arrived, and I’ve (almost) packed everything in them, the paperwork is (almost) sorted, I’ve had half a dozen holes poked in my arm to immunise me from various ailments, including a couple so obscure the nurse had to read up on the details before she injected me, but that just serves me right for wanting to work in a children’s ward; the tickets are here, I have a placement at an ambulance station in Stuttgart when I get back and I’ve finally got a mobile phone, which has just enough technology in its little grey case that I can call people and send texts: I’ve embraced mobile technology, albeit from the 1990′s. It also has a torch, which I assume is for morse code.
All I have to do is get on a train at silly O’clock on Monday and go off to north Germany for 21 days. Which means I have to deal with the problem at the back of my mind since I applied.*
I am an introvert: quite an extreme introvert in fact, I really don’t do new places or people very well. I like people, but I don’t like dealing with people I haven’t met, in big groups, and in places I’ve never been before.
I think you can see the problem here.
I’m being stupid of course: this time next week we’ll all have got to know each other and I’ll be fine, and the other people are probably more nervous because they’re all a lot younger than me, so they’ll have teenage angst to deal with as well. I just have to get through the first couple of days and then I can relax.
That sounds good, I’ll stick with that.
Time to stop whining and get packing, methinks.
The internet connection in the school may be a bit awkward at first, so if the next posts have a feel of having been written some time ago and posted automatically it’s because they were. Or rather they will have been.
*Apart from it being a self-catering course and I can’t cook: anyone have some very, very simple recipes before I have to live on Salad for a month?
I’m busy getting my last-minute panicking started nice and early, and incidentally doing a few other things, which unfortunately aren’t very interesting when written down:
- I’ve been fixing Bike N + 1, which went fine until the seat post broke: I have no idea how I managed that.
- I spent some time buying a pannier/bag luggage set which when delivered was missing the panniers, so I’m trying to contact the company and see if they’d like to send me the rest of it.
- I filled in paperwork informing the Job Centre I wouldn’t be at home, so they sent me more forms, and then had a hissy fit and said I’m showing dangerous levels of initiative and I’ll be away longer than paupers are allowed, so they will reduce my unemployment payments while I’m in north Germany. They then demanded a different form which has to be delivered a week after I leave.
- I spent a day applying to thirty different hospitals and ambulance stations trying to get an internship, and several more days being inundated with refusals and worrying that I’ll have to go somewhere else for that part of the course which would mean (a) Not being with family, and (b) either losing all my unemployment benefit, or being naughty and not telling the Job Centre.
- I watered the seedlings.
- I ordered the train tickets with seat and bicycle reservations. I can get from here to within 30 kilometres of the school in one day, whereupon I’ll stay overnight in a bike-friendly bed and breakfast before riding the last bit.
- I bought a map so I can find my way on that last bit, and a German-English medical dictionary, and then realised I didn’t understand half the English words either.
- I’ll have to buy a mobile phone for the first time in my life so I’ve been getting advice, some of which I actually understood.
- I’ve been dispensing hugs to The Boys, who have been staying noticeably close this week.
- I was (rather suddenly) interviewed and offered a placement in an emergency room at a major children’s hospital as long as I don’t get in the way too much (I’ll have to wear a white uniform. Beautiful Wife finds this hilarious)
- I read the electricity meter.
- I lost some files on the computer, made a mental note to sort it out and forgot about it three minutes later, several times.
- I collected our seed potatoes.
- And a few minutes ago, I was offered an internship at an ambulance station, subject to an interview next week.
So things are happening fast, and I’m about to do something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but the process doesn’t make for exciting blogging.
I’m going to the school in Daschow to learn how to be a Rettungsanitäter, or Emergency Medical Technician. I had to think about this a bit as it means committing spend a month away from the family, but I got a lot of encouragement, not least from several readers of this blog, but the deciding factor was that Beautiful Wife felt it was a good idea. As she’s the one who will have to look after three highly energetic boys while I’m away, I wasn’t about to go and try without her agreement. She reckons that as long as she’s known me, I’ve wanted to jump on passing ambulances to go and help people, so it’s about time I actually learned to do it*. I have a fantastic wife.
I’ll be off for a month in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, known as Meck-Pom, and about as far as you can get in Germany before falling of the north coast and heading for Sweden. The school is in the least populated area of Germany’s least populated state, and the bus service won’t exactly be every ten minutes, so one of the items on the very long list of things to do before I go is fixing up Bike N+1 so I can actually get about**. Thankfully, between working in the bike shop and my habit of embarrassing Beautiful Wife by salvaging bits of scrap bikes, this won’t be too expensive. A small victory for hoarding.
Hopefully, if I have time and money, I’ll be able to race down to see the family for a very short weekend in the middle of the course, then after my first exam I’ll be home for two months, sort of, while I spend four weeks in an accident and emergency ward, and then another month in different ambulances. Of course I now have to apply for these placements, which means more paperwork, and I still have to finish the paperwork for the carpentry apprenticeship, -or more accurately, for the finance for the apprenticeship- and visit the carpentry school and discuss how many lessons I’m expected to attend, and file an amendment to my original application (with paperwork to back it up) because I’m now working part time at the bike shop, and then another amendment (with different paperwork) because I’ll be away throughout May, and…
We’ve made a lot of progress in the last week, I’m trying not to forget that in the face of all these forms…
*Helping people that is, I doubt jumping on passing ambulances is part of the training.
** “Think up a better name for it” is another job, I reckon…
Last month I got a contract from the carpenter in the village to start training in September.
I’d have liked to attempt a witty yet profound post about this but to be honest I’m still in shock that they agreed, especially after watching me make the ugliest box in Christendom.
Assuming I manage to get the grants we need to pay for our living expenses, I’ll be at school from the beginning of September: the school is only about 20km away, but that’s 20 hilly kilometres. This goes up to thirty if I follow the cycleways which wander in random directions across the map and apparently spurn almost any direct route unless it crosses at least seven tightly spaced contours. What with that and the lack of safe cycle parking I’ll probably end up travelling by bus and train, but I’m sure I’ll get a few good stories out of that.
I’ve got a year of the carpentry school. With German and Maths exams at the end. And this isn’t German as taught in an English school where you can graduate by saying “Where is the newspaper stand?” and “I am fifteen years old” *. My school grade in ‘woodwork’ was even worse than German, but I still think I’d have done rather better if the teacher hadn’t spent most of his time with the prettier female students, and the workshop had included luxuries like saws that were sharp, or wood.
This of course is the ‘other’ reason I’m doing this: I’m a bit tired of the long shadow of a school which mostly taught me I can’t do anything. It’s time to prove them wrong, and incidentally do all the things I wanted to do then but was told I couldn’t: In three years I’ll be a carpenter, with a German qualification, and the ghosts of that school can be firmly laid to rest.**
And when I think about it, I don’t think I’d have done it without this blog, and the generally very encouraging comments and emails you’ve been sending: thanks for coming along on the journey.
Besides, I have a suspicion that nothing the school can throw at me will be half as difficult as the forms I’m trying to fill in for the grants…
*I am not making that up: it was in my final exam. Thankfully one of the few decent teachers I had was my German teacher who is probably the reason I’m here now.
And on to stage two of the plan for World Domination through Training Courses. This time I’m applying for a course as a Rettungsanitäter, or in English an Emergency Medical Technician.
The reasons for this are many and varied and probably very boring to anyone but me. The course is fairly short, so I could fit it in before the carpentry course, but the job carries a fair bit of responsibility and it means I could work in an area that actually helps people rather than being part of a machine. In the (highly unlikely) event of us returning to the UK, the Immigration Service may more readily recognise this than carpentry as ‘a way to support your family’. We may need this because although I’m a British Citizen, I’m married to a “non-EU national” and notwithstanding the hysterics of some people it really isn’t that easy to bring a non-European spouse into the country*.
It may also be connected to the scary morning when our youngest son couldn’t breathe properly. Of course this is slightly ironic in a way as that morning was a major reason we started living car free in the first place, and this training may involve driving. I’m trying to get some practice before they take me out in a big red and white van.
So plan ‘A’ is that if all goes to plan and the carpentry apprenticeship works out, I’ll then apply for this school in summer, and spend May rattling to central Stuttgart and back on the tram (if there’s a safe and convenient cycle route I haven’t found it yet) and then I’ll have a month in an emergency room taking patients off ambulances as they come in. If I haven’t passed out, thrown up or done anything else embarrassing, I’ll spend a final month going out as the ‘third man’** on several different ambulances, and then I’ll come back to school for a week of revision and being graded on resuscitating mannequins and fixing fake injuries.
Graduation is in the first week in August. By mid-August I’ll be in Newcastle on Tyne watching a friend get married and then in September -hopefully- starting a 3 year carpentry apprenticeship.
Meanwhile I’ll be working in the Garden, organising bike tours, trying to ride a century…
Not too much then.
*Told you it would be boring.
** Read: “getting in the way”.
Well, not a great deal seems to have happened this week, but that would be a false impression. It’s just that not a lot has happened that I can make an interesting blog entry out of.* I can’t even regale you with tales of horrific winter blizzards and drifts up to the windowsills because even the weather is just in a big grey sulk like a teenager being forced to do their homework. When you start blogging about the weather being apathetic then you really are short of blogging subjects.
Still, I suspect it’s the calm before the storm, as next week will be my Praktikum, a trial week with the local carpenter, who fortunately for me is within an easy walk of where we live. If I manage to convince the boss that I can handle a week of eight-hour shifts without tripping over, passing out, crashing the van, or amputating my own thumb, I can hopefully start a full three-year apprenticeship in this company in September. In Germany we still have this quaint notion that training people is a good idea, so a lot of people here do apprenticeships like this in just about everything from social work to engineering, and in many cases it’s seen a sort of ‘job for life’, or near enough: we see it more as a “Skill for life” which will mean we can keep working towards our goals. I’ll go on about those another time.
I have been cycling as well, but as it’s mostly been the “drive to school/kindergarten/supermarket/garden” type of trip it’s hardly exciting stuff, unless you count the early morning “Papa Taxi” ride which occasionally means dealing with commuters in a two tonne weapon who don’t know what ‘Shared Space’ means. Last week we were going uphill on a road just wide enough for one car -so of course there were cars parked all down the side of it- when a VW pulled out and started to come downhill towards us. Lacking the abilities of spiderman to climb buildings** we waited until the driver realised they would have to wait for us to pass them. As we walked by the vehicle the driver leaned across and shouted in a you-are-being-told-off-voice that “Your light is really bright.”
With hindsight, “Good” probably wasn’t the most diplomatic answer…
*Not that this usually stops me, of course.
**And I’ll bet even he wouldn’t attempt that with a Bakfiets.
This Sunday is ‘Volkstrauertag’, the German equivalent of Remembrance Sunday or Veterans Day. For obvious reasons it is a bit different here. In particular Germany makes a conscious effort to remember all victims of war, including civilians.
My paternal Grandfather was never in the millitary. This was not because he had any strongly held anti-war convictions, but because he worked on the railways and they needed him to do his job there during World War Two. During world war two, if you were in the south or east of the UK, you were on the front line, especially if you worked on the railways, and three months before the war began my Granddad was made a shunter guard, a “Special Man” -which we suspect meant he was paid as a shunter but worked as a guard- based in one of the biggest freight yards in the Midlands, the industrial heartland of the UK. Freight yards are dangerous places at the best of times, with wagons moving in u predictabledirections, with and without locomotives pushing them. The shunter had to run alongside moving wagons and put the brakes on, then couple wagons together with a wooden pole. During the war there was a strict blackout at night, and all movements were carried out in near pitch darkness, so he would be dodging rolling wagons and trying not to fall over track, run into posts, or trip on point levers, surrounded by several trains full of things like high explosives, weapons, food, oil and petrol, with steam locomotives showing a lovely white plume of steam. And then there would be an air raid.
Beyond the freight yards were factories, each one as likely to be bombed as the trains, and air raid shelters were of limited use right next to a train full of high explosives. In other words, my Granddad spent his working days and nights in the middle of a vast target area, and often the best he could do was put a helmet on and keep working and hope that his yard wasn’t the designated target that night, or that an equally terrified bomb aimer wouldn’t decide to dump his not-very-accurate bombs just as he was overhead so he can try to get home alive.
People regularly worked twelve hour shifts and my Granddad fell asleep riding his bicycle home several times. For guards the shift would end wherever they were at the time, so if he was on a train it could be stopped because of a raid up the line, sent back a bit, and then shoved in a siding until another train passed. He could be dropped off miles from home.
Always assuming, of course, that his home hadn’t been destroyed.
This would happen every night. For weeks. No leave, no ‘rest and recovery’ time, just a 12 hour break and the knowledge that next shift he’d have to do it all again.
Granddad wouldn’t talk about the war. Not many of his generation did: they just got on with what needed to be done, and and if they survived they went back and did it again the next day, so many selfless acts by non-combatants were forgotten. I do remember one conversation we had when I was a child which made me think there was more than he would tell. There was an old war film on television and he suddenly turned to me and said: “Just remember, when we see an explosion there, no-one is killed. In the real world it was different.”
He wouldn’t say any more.
I promise this won’t become a political blog, but this is priceless. A comment from the new State Premier, Winfried Kretschmann of the Green party in an interview a couple of weeks ago :
“Fewer cars are of course better than more. We must sell mobility concepts in the future and not just cars. That includes walking, bicycles, cars, trains. We must join these up so well that one can travel easily and protect the environment,”
“If the car industry does not manage to become greener, it will have no future.”
““Porsche and Daimler should not have their names tarnished. Both companies build environmentally friendly cars and sell them not only in Germany but around the world.”
Of course, and this will never change: infinite growth is possible on a finite planet and we’ve got lots of oil.
It must be tough to wake up one morning and find the politicians aren’t going dance to your tune any more…
By the way, some of you may have noticed the posting rate on the blog has increased rapidly this week: I’m experimenting to see if writing more frequent, shorter posts works better than one each week. Picking a week when I come down with a cold and cough probably wasn’t the best timing for this, but there we go.
And so back to the fun and games of Stuttgart 21 (Give the people what they want, etc). The background to the story is here, and some more recent developments are here. It’s German Railways (AKA Deutsche Bahn or DB) and the (then) centre-right state government’s plan to rebuild Stuttgart’s man station and quite coincidentally make some of the most valuable building land in Germany available for sale. Nobody in Stuttgart wanted this except the project partners, who said it couldn’t be stopped because:
1: There would need to be a referendum in Stuttgart. That’s democracy: a small group can’t control everything their way. (except us obviously: see point 4)
2: Oh, wait: there can’t be a referendum in Stuttgart because some of the money is coming from the state, not the city. (and we may lose)
3: The contracts have been signed and it would cost too much to cancel them.
4: Shut up. Politicians make decisions, not people.
5: The dog ate our homework.
6: Go away or we spray you with water cannon.
After the authorities learned the hard way that water-cannoning peaceful crowds of protesters including women and children was A Very Bad Idea, there was a mediation process, and the Stuttgart 21 partners agreed to a ‘Stress Test’: a computer based simulation to show that the new station really could take 30% more trains than the old one.
The agreement was that if the ‘stress test’ showed the planned eight platform station was too constricted, then they would have to figure out how to make a ten platform one instead. (for comparison, the current station has seventeen platforms).
This would cost more of course, but when the agreement was made it was the ‘good old days’ when the CDU were in charge and there was an apparently limitless fund financed by the taxpayer, but now the Green Party are in, and they’ve quickly decided the project will now have a maximum 4.5 billion Euro budget. If it costs more DB will have to pay for it themselves. Currently costs are spiraling and some estimates suggest they will end up on the other side of 20 billion. We’ve already had hissy fits from Deutsche Bahn.
DB won’t let anyone in on the ‘stress test’ claiming they can do it themselves. (this is the company that ‘forgot’ several kilometres of track and a tunnel in their original cost estimates) so the Greens commissioned an independent ‘Stress test’ which reported back last week that an eight platform station can’t work.
Stuttgart 21′s supporters are strangely quiet at the moment.
Now we wait for the ‘other’ stress test.*
*But I bet I know what it’ll say…