Tuesday, July 6, 2010

School Visits in Borna and Neuruppin, June 19-25

School Visits, June 19-25

I visited two schools to explore exchanges. I specifically requested two schools in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). I hoped that I would be able to ask teachers what their experiences had been during “Die Wende” or turn that ended the East German regime and led to Germany’s reunification in October 1990.

The first school was in Borna, near Leipzig, in the cradle of East Germany’s brown coal mining region. Ms. Constanze Hahn and her husband Jens-Ulrich were wonderful hosts who treated me to a traditional 70th birthday party for Jens’ aunt and to a tour of the Tagebau (strip mined areas) and Colditz castle, site of many World War II escape efforts by British and Canadian prisoners of war.

The school, Gymnasium am Breitem Teich, was founded in 1873 and now has over 800 students. I toured the school and presented to English classes about Milwaukee’s German past, the German roots of the University School, and Milwaukee and USM today. Students were especially interested in the racial make-up of present day Milwaukee. They were also very curious about sports at American high schools and the daily schedules. Both German high schools that I visited had block scheduling, with 90 minute periods punctuated by 30 minute or longer breaks. Teachers have to cover for each other’s classes (no substitutes), and everything must be signed for each daily lesson plan. I also met with the head of the school, Dr. Schade, who encouraged Constanze and me to work on an exchange.

The last night in Bad Lasick, Constanze and her husband had friends over to celebrate Jens’ birthday. I was treated royally and I hope to get the opportunity to reciprocate.

The following day, June 22, I stopped in Leipzig for five hours before continuing on to Neuruppin. Leipzig is a simply beautiful city and was the focal point of anti-government demonstrations in 1989. I visited the permanent historical exhibit on the GDR and the turn, as well as enjoying a wonderful, sunny day viewing the squares and architecture of this beautiful city.

My next stop was Neuruppin, which is situated about 50 kilometers outside of Berlin. My hosts, Olrik and Sandra Priesemuth and Heiko Haschke, treated me as if I were a long lost brother. I had a fun day at the school, where I took in a student play (Tod fuer Anfanger) and presented in two English classes followed by a tour of Neuruppin, the home town of author Theodor Fontane. Heiko and Angelika took me on a tour of Berlin, where we watched soon-to-be-vanquished England play soccer, before we hustled back (200 kmph+ on the autobahn) to wathc the German national team at the high school. After the German victory, I participated in a shoot off of 11 meter shots in the first ever night time use of the playing field at the school under the new lights. (Leider, habe ich mein Elfmeter verschossen).

Again, the signs are good for a long-term relationship between USM and the Evangelischen Gymnasium in Neuruppin. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca, “This looks like it could be the start of a beautiful relationship.”

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