It was January 03, 2011 around 09:00 am in the morning. It was my first morning of the first day of my first tour abroad ever, that too in a far away land of Deutschland. I was standing anxious at a platform of Stuttgart Mainheim Station, waiting for a train to Schwaerbisch-Hall Hessental. Anxiety was obvious and may be chilling breeze at minus temperature was compounding that feeling further. But that anxiety or nervousness could not stop me from not getting mesmerized by the beauty of this amazing nation right from word go. And, it all started at Stuttgart Mainheim station. It has such a quintessential old world charm, reflected in its design and architecture, but imaginatively combined with new-age modernity and technology. It has small and big beautifully decorated shops and restaurants around. Also, the glimpses of Christmas festivities could be easily seen and felt in the air. A big, beautiful Christmas tree, decorated in the middle of a station, became a centre of attraction.
Train started at around 09:30 for Schwaerbisch-Hall Hessental. Sitting by a window, what all I could see outside was snow, snow and white covers of snow only, everywhere, from mountain hills to trees to cars to rooftop of houses and factories. I never had seen snow before and now I could only see was Snow. I reached to my destination, Schwaerbisch-Hall station at 11:20am and met my first friend there, a shy, lanky Russian, Artem Soldatov. He had also come for Deutsche language course at Goethe Institute. We decided to walk to Institute (of course, with the help of a map) and honestly speaking, I fell in love for this place at first sight. Schwaerbisch-Hall, a small but amazingly beautiful town, is situated on the banks of river Kucher.
Finally we reached Goethe Institute. It is an old, simple but elegant three storey building located nearby main marketplace of the town. We were hungry enough and could not wait to barge on snacks and juices arranged for us. There are various batches depending on levels of courses, from beginner’s A1 to highly proficient C2. The institute has highly systematic approach to decide upon the level at which one has to be put. It consists of a personal interview, followed by the written test, to test both verbal as well as written proficiency of a student at present. I was interviewed by a charming old lady, Frau Regina Baumann. Her warmth and affection made my all anxieties and nervousness go for a toss. She advised me to join A1 course and assured me that I will be proficient enough to communicate in deutsche by the end of a course, sure enough to fire confidence within me. These small-small gestures and interpersonal warmth are what constitute greatness in real sense, I think. Then, we had been allotted an individual accommodation at service apartment, not very far from the Institute. Fortunately I got a room on the second floor from where I get most panoramic view of a town, as service apartment was on a hillside. First day was a rest day and we were sinking into musings of a new land.
Next day, we reached Institute at 7 am in the morning. After breakfast in the mensa (German word for mess/canteen), we gathered at Institute Auditorium for a welcome address by Institute Director, Frau Barbara Malchow – Tayebi. Though I did not get what all she said, still could get gist of it. She told us about Institute, its activities, its history; she welcomed all of us to the Institute and assured good experiences ahead. To my amazement, there were 92 students from 36 nations (from all continents except Antarctica, of course) and across all age-groups. The youngest in the batch was 18 year old boy from Turkey to 50 plus men and women. It was a truly global class. I was the only Indian among 92 students, representing India. These 92 students were divided into 6 classes from A1-A2 to C1-C2, as per various levels of certifications. Each class has been allotted a class teacher. Frau Irene Lukasch has been named as a class-teacher for our class, A1. She is one of the most beautiful, charming, and energetic person I ever had come across. In her fifties, her child-like effervescent energy was infectious. My class was an assemblage of 12 students of different nationalities. There was a middle-aged American soldier-Dan, a Chinese Mathematician-Xiang, a Russian Physicist-Timur, an Egyptian Doctor-Ahmed, a Turkish lady- Bahar, a young African university student-Nelson from Malavi (West Africa), a Japanese engineer- Hiroaki, a Korean student-Yoghung, a senior lawyer-Marco and two under graduates-Amanda and Victor from Brazil. I was feeling more like a Global Citizen in true sense.
One of the uniqueness of Goethe Institute is its teaching methodology. The teaching schedule is systematically divided into class-room session every morning and various interactive activities in post-lunch and evening sessions. The class-room teaching was anything but boring blackboard-chalk kind of teaching. It mostly consists of small-small group activities and assignments, including role-playing which makes you participate, hook-on your interest and thus, highly successful in its effect. The post-lunch and evening interactive programs and activities were innovatively designed which includes Listening exercises, Phonetic sessions, Guided tour to Museum, Art Galleries, Market-places, local brewery unit & other historical places in the town, get-together session over drinks (Stammtisch), Deutsch movies at Goethe Kino, Parties & games at Goethe Pub, Goethe Choirs, Coffee and cake party, International buffet. There is also one directive that all communication during these activities should be in Deutsche only. All these activities are aimed at application of classroom teaching in real life communication by audio-visual-interpersonal communication and enhance your learning capabilities. And not surprisingly, it has such a great multiplier effect to pick-up language with all its nuances quickly. All these activities were planned and we had been given a detailed day-wise schedule for an entire month on the first day itself. If planning was immaculate, execution was equally perfect. What impressed me most are little intricacies and warm human touch with which all these programmes are designed and executed.
Schwaerbisch Hall has a historical significance. The town had come into existence for salt extraction from Kucher River even before eleventh century ‘Hall’ is related with salt in German and Schwaerbisch is the name of that particular region. It has a magnificent church, located centrally, and built in eleventh century. Most of the old buildings around the church exhibits particular architecture. It also has a very beautiful museum where historical artefacts, souvenirs, handicrafts, paintings and information are preserved and displayed. The town also boasts of stupendous art gallery of world famous American painter Alex Kats. Located beside a river, this art gallery has collection of art and paintings of this great artist, especially big wall size paintings are mesmerising. I shop first painting of my life here. The town is also home to one of the most famous beer brands in the region, Haller Lowenbrau. A special visit to its brewery unit was an experience in itself. It is a completely automated plant which produces 10Million litres annually with only four workmen. Geographically also, unique positioning of this town makes it perfect picturesque. It is surrounded by hills on one side and farms on other side. I never got tired of clicking the scenic beauty of this town.
The events like Stammtisch, Parties & games at Goethe Pub, Goethe Choirs, Coffee and cake party, International buffet provided unique opportunity not only to communicate in Deutsche but also to interact with people around the world, understanding their views, culture and sensibilities. Friday weekend parties at Goethe Pub, a small party hall inside Institute, used to be great unwinding time for all of us. Tapping our feet to various tunes especially Brazilian ones was a great fun. Coffee and cake party was arranged by group of friends who have a great long association with Institute. The various German speciality cakes were so tasty that I remember we finished-off those 15-16 different cakes within 20 minutes. There I met a very old lady, Christina, who is a great admirer of India. She had been to India thrice and is in complete awe of this nation. It was heartening to see her love for India and Indian culture. One more event which we enjoyed a lot was International Buffet. Cooking our own cuisine delicacies and serving it to people across the world was an experience in itself. But being a vegetarian, I realised my limitations to taste different mouth-watering delicacies of various regions. Alas!
Every Saturday was a tour day for us. Institute had organised excursion to places like Stuttgart, Wuerzberg and Rothenberg. In a trip to Stuttgart, we also visited Mercedes Benz Museum. Undoubtedly it was one of the most memorable days of my life. The way entire history and evolution of this great iconic brand has been chronicled over seven floors of this hi-tech museum leaves you spellbound. This evolution is wowed with contemporary history of nation and presented pictorially as well. Evolvement of engines, iconic models from 1910s to futuristic concept cars, gigantic trucks, engines for aeroplanes takes us to entirely different world and we realised what makes it a such great and powerful brand. On the other hand, Wuerzberg and Rothenberg are historical towns famous for its Palaces and Churches. We couldn’t take our eyes-off magnificence and majesty of these royal places. I just wonder how much resources and efforts might have been put to make life truly king-size for royal family. I have a great admiration for high degree of professionalism and initiative with which Germans respect and preserve their culture and history and historical places, in turn. It is certainly a lesson for India.
The January 27 was our last day at Goethe Institute. These twenty-five days went-off like few moments, we enjoyed each and every moment of. It was such a great feeling for being a part of this great institution even for a while. Great institutions are not built overnight, but are nurtured continuously and shaped-up by people, their vision, character and values, I realised. Equally I am in awe of this amazing nation. It is not only economic or technological prowess, but it is power of its people and their values. A character of a nation is built through its institutions, governance and leadership and Germany has done it so beautifully. They respect and their art and culture as much as they believe in Science and Technology; they love their traditions as much as they embrace liberalism; They are punctual, disciplined and amazingly systematic in approach still filled with so much warmth and humanitarian attitude. No surprises then, Germany is more than a superpower, a truly a great nation. It was also equally enriching experience to study, interact and share with individuals of various nationalities. We studied, laughed, shared, danced, sang, cooked, ate, toured, clicked and did everything possible to make most out of the opportunity provided to us. I made friends of lifetime. This one month, its moments have become part of my memory, I will cherish forever in my lifetime.