At the beginning of August, 2017, I travelled to Augsburg in Southern Germany to complete a month-long German language course for beginners. The Gateway Fund contributed towards the cost of this trip.
When arriving in Augsburg, I was struck by the beauty of the city. Situated near to the border with Austria, Augsburg is somewhat overshadowed by its more popular neighbour, Munich. However, Augsburg actually is one of the oldest, and most historically significant cities in Germany. Moreover, the fact that it is not a major tourist hub is one of its advantages, as it meant that the city was relatively calm, unlike many similar European cities at the height of summer. I was fortunate enough to find accommodation in the city centre, so I was able to fully immerse myself in the history and culture of the city.
I had German class every weekday at a small language school in the city centre, with classes from 8.45am until midday. It was rather daunting at first when the teacher announced that no English was to be spoken in the class by student or teacher. This meant that I could not even ask questions in English. As a complete beginner, this did at times seem overwhelming. However, even after just a couple of days of this full-immersion technique, I was able to pick up some basic phrases, and to better contribute to the class.
After only two weeks in the A1 class, my class was merged with an A2 class. It felt like the lessons were going at lightning speed. Having learnt Italian for many years previously, German also felt very unfamiliar, with unusual sentence structures and grammar. However, I am a strong believer that the immersion method is the best way to learn a language, and despite being difficult, I am confident that I learnt a huge amount over my four weeks in the class.
When it came to learning German, Augsburg was also a great place to stay as, unlike places such as Berlin, people tend to speak to you in German rather than English. This meant that in shops, restaurants and beer gardens, I always had the opportunity to try out the German I had learnt in class.
Being in the centre of Augsburg also allowed me the opportunity to explore the city’s many museums and attractions. A particular highlight was the ‘Fuggerei’, which is the world’s first social housing complex still in use. Established by the merchant Jakob Fugger the Younger in 1516 to house the poor of Augsburg, the complex is still used today, with rent for residents remaining at its original level of 88 cents per year. Yes, that’s 88 cents!
As I was in Augsburg for the whole month, I had time at the weekends to complete a number of trips to locations outside of the city. I visited both Munich and Nuremberg, hiked in the forest on the outskirts of Augsburg, and swam in the gorgeous Kushee lake.
The trip was made even better by the fact that throughout the summer, the weather in Augsburg was beautiful, with only occasional Donner and Blitzen! I was also very pleasantly surprised to find a thriving vegan scene Augsburg, as well as in the other cities in Southern Germany that I visited, with a huge number of dedicated vegan cafes and restaurants. I even visited a vegan donner kebab restaurant in Munich! Times have changed enormously since I went to Germany as a child and couldn’t eat anything but crisps.
Overall, I had an absolutely wonderful time in Germany this summer. The course has given me a great kick-start to my German language learning and throughout my time there I was able to learn a lot about the history of Southern Germany. This is knowledge that I will be able to employ throughout my PhD, and is sure to influence my research in the coming years. Having been afforded this opportunity, I plan now to continue with my German learning through further classes, and I will certainly be making another trip to Augsburg in the not too distant future.