I had a six month living experience in Halle, Germany. Halle is a town in the former DDR, German Democratic Republic near Leipzig and just a few hour train ride from Berlin. I had a freelance job teaching English as a Second Language position here. I had been in the DDR when it was still divided from West Germany, and in the Checkpoint Charlie days. I was curious to see how and if there had been changes since the wall came down.

Halle
Photo via Flickr

Halle is a town famous for the birthplace of Handel, the great Baroque composer. Wandering through the old town and the narrow streets in Halle puts one in the mood for Baroque. There is a music festival in Halle, but the cost for that festival was unfortunately above my budget.

I rented a cozy room about a half hour walk from the school, which had a bathroom with modern fixtures, and a small kitchen which was fully furnished with pots, pans, cutlery, and the like. Upstairs was my colleague from Brno, Czech Republic who also taught at the same school I did, and a bunch of guys, which I gathered due to the licence plate on their lorry that they were from Belarus, sharing the basement below. A heavy cigarette cloud always bellowed near and around their door.

In my classes I had the responsibility to teach the “arbeitsamt” clients, those who were preparing to return to the work force after being unemployed, and realise they needed English for their new job.

I had a group of three students who were over 60 years old for English conversation. The class was 4 hours a few times a week. After the second class they always managed to bring in a bottle of nice champagne and a nice chocolate ( they learned that I could easily be bribed using any form of chocolate, and it worked!) cake or other kinds of nice cakes. Those were the most fun and memorable classes! The champagne improved their English conversation as well as my classroom presence for each class and the four hours flew by quickly each time. I had a 60 year old German man dancing around the room showing air guitar gestures, and one 60 year old having a conversation with another 60 plus student continuously asking the question: “How long have you been wearing that wonder-bra?” Many times it was so challenging to keep a straight face in those classes with them.

Another class I had with a young woman who had an ambition to open a new wine shop in Leipzig had to make a presentation in English about her new wine shop. She brought in many bottles of wine to demonstrate the different kinds of wines she might be selling. She had a wonderful presentation and all of us ended up floating out of the classroom that day, luckily it being my final class for the day!

As far as meeting other guys while living in Halle, Germany…I had only a few special friends. I met one German man (his name will be kept anonymous!) who came to my flat from time to time. He was not a student of mine but I became a student of his rather.

His father was a pastor of some church, and he found it horrible that I was so ignorant of the Bible, and I had to learn the writers of the Bible and the different chapters of the Bible in order, and for each time I had the chapter wrong I would get a spanking. We were having wine so I agreed to play this fun game.

Not having a good knowledge of the Bible, I had been over his lap, and my pants, then undershorts, down to my bare, stinging red behind knowing the shape of that guy’s hand! This man was my only local friend apart from my Czech colleagues from Brno living upstairs from me, A bible study group I went to from time to time (no this group didn’t spank me!) and a nice Syrian man whom I had met and went out for coffee a few times with.

I had a ritual of my own which I would on Sunday morning, wander through the old part of the town to a small cafe where I would have a hot coffee and chose a different cake, and join mostly elderly folk out to the outdoor tables to watch pedestrians, or when raining, a place in a booth inside the cafe somewhere.

In my opinion, from my experiences and observations, although Germany is reunited and socialist rule is gone from the Eastern half, the scars of the past are still visible. Many abandoned buildings and homes, high unemployment, and I felt that the locals were more standoff, suspicious, avoiding eye contact, and very much frosty shall I say, than their Western German sibling. I hope as the two societies continue to melt into one that the life in the Eastern part of country which I had called “home” for a while would see more sunshine and smiles!

About the author

Jim is the author of Vagaybond.com. Vagaybond travel journeys show you the extraordinary lives of our gay community, their supportive family and friends with blog highlights about culture, food, drink and experiences that celebrate life.