Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Friday, August 17, 2012

An American in Germany / Part # 4 / KKG School

GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
Life at König-Karlmann-Gymnasium

 Lightning Strike Outside my Window
My first night in Tüßling was a little rough...  Despite being awake for almost 24 hours straight and feeling exhausted, it was difficult to settle in for a night of restful sleep.  I usually run a fan on for white noise, it was a strange bed, unfamiliar pillows, there was a severe thunderstorm, and then there was the freight and passenger trains that rushed past my open window every few hours... They sound a lot more loud and scary in the middle of the night when you are half asleep... Twice, I thought we were under attack.  Andy's wife Angela later told me it took her three months until she could get a good night's sleep after moving in due to the passing of the loud trains at night.  However... I was up, showered in my slanted bathroom, bumped my head three times, dressed, packed my backpack, bumped my head once more, and headed downstairs for breakfast.  The whole family was assembled around the table to share a meal before the hectic day began.  It would be a pleasant ritual each morning that I enjoyed sharing with my host family.  Breakfast was a sit down meal that consisted of various fresh breads from a local bakery, sliced luncheon meats, small sausages, sliced fruits, butter, jam, and freshly brewed coffee.  Every morning we all watched little one year old Amelie eat and eat and eat... Her favorite activity at any time of day.  It was a joy to watch and a wonder where she could put it all!  Breakfast was delicious, especially the fresh baked breads, including Bavarian pretzels called brezels.  They resembled a soft pretzel at room temperature made from scratch each morning that had a settling effect on your stomach.  Like many people in Bavaria, I ate at least one everyday!

Tree-lined Road to Altötting
Now it was time to depart for school, including Leo, whom we would drop off at his preschool located near the König-Karlmann-Gymnasium where Andy teaches and I would be assisting Wendy with our students in the exchange.  We loaded Leo and our belongings into the car and headed out of Tüßling toward Altötting.  As we sped toward our destination through the narrow twisting roadways of the Bavarian countryside, I couldn't help but notice the large robust trees bordering the road on both sides.  I asked Andy why they would plant trees in a location that would seem to be an obvious driving hazard to motorists.  He said it was ingrained in history, like everything else in Germany.  Apparently long ago, the Count of Tüßling frequently traveled the road to Altötting in his carriage and wanted to be shaded during his trip.  So the community planted shade trees along the road's edge and within a few years, the Count was cool and comfortable.  Since they traditionally had always been there, they would remain despite the potential danger.  It made sense when you were traveling six kilometers per hour in a horse drawn carriage but seemed to be a different story in a modern automobile going eighty.   Incredibly, accidents are rare.  It is a major undertaking to get a driver's license in Germany, requiring a minimum age of eighteen and a long training protocol that can cost over two thousand dollars.  Sounds like a good idea to me!   

 Have a Great Day at School Leo!
After arriving in Altötting, we dropped Leo off in an older section of town where a long line of interconnected buildings ran along the right hand side of the street, which appeared to predate World War II.  It seems everything that exists in Germany is connected in some way to the most significant period of time in the country's history as either in existence before or constructed after the Second World War.  We walked Leo to his classroom and then drove a short distance to the KKG teacher's parking lot and then entered the building through a side entrance.  Immediately, I noticed the lack of security measures with outside doors not only unlocked but propped open.  Teachers and students flowed freely in and out of the building in multiple directions at will.  We entered into the large lobby-foyer that was open to the second floor ceiling and seemed to serve the school as the nerve center of the building.  We then went into the teacher's lounge nearby that was a beehive of activity.  It was a large room with every teacher having a personal station of space at one of about a half dozen large tables.  This was where the teaching staff started their day, checked their mail, and received their schedule for the day from an overhead monitor that slowly scrolled downward. Their schedule changed everyday as each teacher did not have his or her own classroom but rotated to whatever room was assigned to their class each period.  The students converged in the lobby-foyer to watch a much larger version of the schedule monitor to know what room number they would be assigned today for each class period.  In the faculty room we met up with Wendy and were introduced to several friendly faculty members and then it was off to meet up with our students.
 Our Host School / KKG Entrance
As we walked up to the classroom that would be designated our academic home base for the next three weeks, we passed by several colorful signs welcoming Warwick to KKG and Bavaria.  The school building was broken up into two separate sections that appeared modern in design.  We passed by many large orange windows, some of which opened onto well maintained courtyards with green trees and colorful plants.  The school was three stories tall and our classroom would be centrally located in a room at the end of a hallway on the second floor.  This is where Wendy and I would meet with the students each morning during first period for what we would call an extended homeroom.  It would be a time for us to discuss how things were going with our kids, concerning their host families, foreign language questions, and working through assigned activities.  Andy started things off by delivering another friendly welcome to our group and handed out a bag of informative maps, brochures, and chocolate!  The candy was instantly devoured by all and with everyone's sugar fix satisfied for the next few minutes, we could all concentrate on Andy's introduction.  Everyone, except me of course, because Andy's speech was in German... So I looked in my bag again to see if I missed any stray chocolates! 

 Welcome Signs in the Lobby / Foyer
Following first period, our students would attend classes with their host students, learning about the routine life of someone their age living in Germany.  But first, Andy led our students on a tour of the school building and accompanying grounds.  After fourth period the entire building takes a break known as the pausa (pause) where they could sit in common areas or go outside.  Students do not have a lunch period and are often finished with school by one o'clock.  As a result, the pausa is a time to grab a bite to eat, something packed by mom earlier that morning or bought from a food kiosk located just off the lobby.  The students were very well behaved and mature during this free time, as there were no teachers officially supervising.  Even our students were impressed, admitting that American students back home could never handle this level of freedom at school.  There were 800 students roaming in, out, and around the building and to our surprise, there was no one chasing someone else, no screaming or yelling at the top of their lungs, food was not flying through the air, no fights broke out, no mean girls dissed anyone, and no one warranted disciplinary action of any kind.  How could this be?  In general, the Warwick consensus was that overall, German kids have a lot more freedom than their American counterparts and most appear mature enough to handle the responsibility of that freedom.  I'm sure there are exceptions but it was just a general observation shared by Wendy and I and most of the Warwick students with whom I discussed the topic.  Freedom!

Hallway Student Seating Area
The public school system in Germany is mainly controlled by the individual states with the Bavarian Educational Ministry centered in nearby Munich.  The Bavarian system is a complex model offering a variety of choice and career paths.  In fact, there are thirteen different types of schools depending on each student's interests and ability level.  All students enter elementary school and complete grades one through four together.  At that point, they are evaluated by the teaching staff and along with the input of the individual student and parents, one of four school types are considered.  Students who struggle academically may enter fifth grade at a remedial level school to receive instruction focusing on improving their basic reading and math skills.  Middle level students may attend hauptschule / mittelschule who are interested in vocational, industrial, or even various apprenticeships.  Students interested in attending university may opt for a more challenging academic setting known as realschule and the top academic students attend the highest level school known as the gymnasium.  Students wanting to achieve gymnasium status must meet minimum requirements based on a point system.  Students have the freedom to move from one school type to another, if they have the academic record and the support of educator recommendations to back up their request.  König-Karlmann-Gymnasium is classified at the top level of the Bavarian school system pyramid structure.   

  Warwick Student's Homeroom Period
Our classroom, like most in the school building, had an entire wall of windows that could be opened to let in the fresh air from outside.  One thing that became immediately apparent to a lot of us... especially me... was the lack of air conditioning in Germany.  Ironically, we were visiting during the warmest 2-3 weeks of the year... meaning, two hot weeks in a year does not equate the practical need for air conditioning.  In fact, there was no mechanical air ventilation systems in any building I encountered during my entire visit.  It seemed our German friends naturally adjusted to the warm temperatures but it was a stark difference for many of the Warwick crowd.  Andy told me that he always gets sick from the cold temperatures of air conditioning when he visits America and his students comment about it as well, especially inside stores, like the frigid mall.  We also soon noticed that there were no water fountains in the school.  German students bring a beverage from home, most commonly carbonated seltzer water, a very popular drink in Bavaria.   Many of our students yearned for plain old boring tap water but Apfelsaftschorle was a nice compromise of apple juice combined with seltzer water, equating to apple flavored soda.  I shared my trick with the kids of saving a plastic bottle and filling at the tap in our classroom or at home... I was adapting to my new environment.  

Group Portrait of our Kids and KKG Partner Staff
The most stressful time for senior students about to graduate at KKG is when they have to face the difficult final examinations known as the Abitur or Abi, which have the power to make or break a student's academic experience at the gymnasium level.  The exams are notoriously difficult and must be passed to receive the highest educational certificate available in the German school system.  The exams are in essay and oral format and each may take several hours to complete.  Students who do not pass the Abi may choose to complete a thirteenth year and attempt the exams again or they can decide to stop their formal education to seek an apprenticeship or enter the workforce.  The Abi is seen as a distinguished achievement of academic success and a fast track to acceptance at the university level of education.  Following Abi exams in early June, the graduating students celebrate the end of testing by having a relaxing school day of fun, music, and pranks known as the Abistreich.  A few days later when the Abistreich took place, it was a little nerve racking as we attempted to walk into the school building flanked by students throwing buckets of water on everyone.  I stuck close to Andy, who seemed confident they would hold their fire against him... Was it time for the American teacher to be initiated into the faculty?  Thankfully, we were both spared!  Following the test, the senior students are finished with school, while the younger grades continue until the end of July.  German students have a shorter summer but have longer holiday breaks throughout the school year.

 König-Karlmann-Gymnasium Abistreich 2012
Finally, a semi-formal dance called the Abi Ball is held, similar to our prom in America, to celebrate the end of their secondary education.  The legal drinking age in Germany is 16 and since most students graduate between ages 18-20, alcohol was served at the dance.  A sight that was very foreign to the Americans in attendance.  All Warwick students were required to sign a pledge not to drink alcohol during our trip.  We wanted them to experience the German culture... but not completely!  Please continue to follow and respect the American legal system despite your present surroundings!  The Abi ball was held in a new banquet hall, which of course, didn't have air conditioning or a ventilation system.  It was a hot night and even the Germans were minding the high temperature inside.  Several staff members commented that it was an oversight not to install ceiling fans in the new banquet hall. Most vacated the ball room to seek relief outside on the veranda, some taking their shoes off to cool off by standing in the outdoor fountain.  I was thinking to myself, if I could open a retail store selling fans over here, I could retire in a month!
Cooling off in the Fountain at the Abi Ball
Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!



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