From the mouths of babes: Grade-schoolers dish on life in the Vaterland
March 28, 2013
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles called "Insiders' tips for Auslaender," which focuses on ways to make the most of your tour in Bavaria. Look for articles with this tag and email your tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Fifth-grader Mackenzie Miller had a serious look on her on face.
"People think Germans are strict, but they're really not," she said, leaning in close to make her point. "They are so fun. They always have open arms."
And Miller should know, she's lived in Germany for nearly half her life and has taken to the cultural differences, much of what she learned in host nation teacher Elfriede Kean's class at Grafenwoehr Elementary School.
Stepping into Kean's classroom is quite literally like stepping into a different country. The room itself easily creates inquisitiveness and ignites a cultural lesson; German and Bavarian flags dance on the walls while photographs of Alpine villages and Baroque castles scatter the bulletin board; a stuffed bear wearing lederhosen sits upon a stack of language books.
While teaching host nation history and traditions, Kean emphasizes not so much the differences between Germans and Americans, but the similarities.
"We're almost the same except we have a different language," said third-grader Anna Carder, adding that "Guten Morgen" was her favorite German phrase. She clarified by saying "just because it sounds funny."
Even still, moving to another country takes some getting used to. There is always an adjustment period -- although most of the students here embrace their new surroundings seamlessly.
"It's like living in two worlds," said Miller of attending an American school and participating in numerous activities, including ballet, jazz and soccer, in the host nation community. "It can be confusing at times, but it's a different experience and I like it."
When it comes to host nation matters, Kean's students have their feet firmly planted in the German culture with an openness to embrace the unfamiliar, and talking to them about living in Germany lent itself to industry secrets.
Sive Zamcho, grade five, said Weiden is the best place to get ice cream; Skyler Gannon, also grade five, shared that Megaplay, the arcade located in Grafenwoehr, was the best place for Saturday afternoon entertainment, albeit it "smells like sweaty kids." Neustadt is the best place for hiking according to fifth-grader Mary Cate Carder, and fourth-grader Jacob Schultz commented that schnitzel was its own food group.
"By comparison, American food is … eck," said Schultz, making a face to punctuate his feelings.
Gannon disagreed when she said she sorely missed the fast food chain Jack in the Box. The food debate continued with Megan Fife, grade two, saying German gummy bears were far superior to their American counterparts.
What warranted no debate, however, was the common enthusiasm about the celebration of Fasching. Words and phrases like "awesome," "best party ever," "colorful costumes" and "so much fun" bounced around the room.
"It's kind of like Halloween, but not really," explained Fife. "And you get to eat gummy bears while dressed like a princess."
There you have it.
And while Germany and America have their clear differences on a national level, Bavaria outshines both like a lone star.
"Bavaria is like Texas," said Schultz. "It's big and proud and has a lot of old traditions."
"And we have Oktoberfest," said Mackenzie Dillenbeck, grade five, adding that owning a dirndl or lederhosen is a must for any resident of Bavaria.
"I think it's cool that as kids we can still visit all of those fests and beer gardens," said Schultz. "They are so festive. The traditions of Bavaria go back so long ago and it's cool that they are still celebrated today."
And the pastoral backdrop of Bavaria is ideal for the aforementioned hoopla. From the reds and oranges of autumn and the green rolling hills of summer, to the purple flowers of spring and white snow-capped mountains of winter, the landscape of Bavaria remains vivid and picturesque during any season.
"Everyone should bring a camera when they visit," said Zamcho. "There is so much to see and it's worth photographing so you can tell the stories later."
Fourth-grader Josephine Blackham agreed.
"Living in Germany is like seeing a fairytale," she said, and she meant that literally. "The Grimm Brothers wrote a lot of fairytales and they were German."
We can deduce that Cinderella, Snow White and all seven of her dwarfs, along with Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, all trotted the earth and dipped their toes into the same vigor these children are currently wielding.
"It is awesome to think about," said Blackham. "Seeing all of the castles, none of those stories seem made up anymore."
While living in Germany may be a culture shock to some, for most of these students, it's more than a dream - it's an actual fairytale.