Monday, February 20, 2012

Surviving the Skiwoche

The story of the class Ski week actually goes all the way back to October, so travel back in time with me to a sunny, oddly warm October day. The head English teacher asked if I wanted to go with on the Ski week. I happily agreed, but emphasized that I did not actually know how to ski. "Ah, go with the young class, then. That won't be a problem!" She said.

Thinking everything was set, I went about my merry teaching adventures.

Now, fast forward to a chilly, sun-less day in December when once again the head English teacher asks me, "Do you want to go with on the Ski week?"
Once again, I happily agreed.
"hmmm, then we will have to find you a teacher to go with. Let me ask around. We need to organize this before the Christmas break."

A matter of minutes later and Helga, the head teacher in charge of EU classes (the all English track courses taught at the school), approached me, saying "You can go with me! I am taking the 2nd class in February and they don't all know how to ski. We are going to Weissensee, so it is not so hard to ski there. The hills are pretty small. Cross country skis we can lend you, but you will have to find your own alpine skis."

I began asking around about borrowing some downhill skis from someone for the week, or just renting them. Our kind landlady mentioned that she had some sitting around the basement unused that I could borrow.
Satisfied, I called off the search and focused on school, parents visiting and leaving, German class, and all the little obstacles of life.

Now, fast forward to two days before February break. I had not seen or heard from Helga in quite some time. We would be leaving early in the morning the day after break for the week and I had no idea where to meet, who else was going, what exactly I had to bring. She had promised to tell me all of that once the date approached. Asking another teacher about Helga, produced the reason why I had not seen Helga of late. She was incredibly sick, had been hospitalized and would not be back for another month or so.

Oh, I felt beyond stupid for not realizing this, but Helga does sit on the far side of the large room from me and she is not one of the teachers I work with on a regular basis.

A co-worker told me to talk to Daniel, as he was going on the trip and was in charge of organizing it. No knowing who Daniel was, I failed to find him.

The day before break dawned and all of the 8th class teachers, students, and I marched over to Bachmann Gymnasium for the Vienna English Theater's performance of the Othello inspired Pitch Black. There, I was told to ask Nelly, who knew Daniel, about the Ski trip. Once we were back at school, she tracked him down and I was able to ask about the trip.

Daniel, of course, had no idea I was going with on the Ski week, but quickly informed me of the details, telling me to bring ice skates, warm clothes, ski boots, skis, a helmet etc. We also traded phone numbers and Daniel told me to give him a call the day before we left, so that he could arrange to drop by and pick me up with all of my bags and then take me to school.

I left school with the feeling that all of the details had been resolved and all was set for the week after break. Back at home, I asked Irene for the skis, so they would be ready and waiting after I came back from visiting Germany. After a massive basement search, she failed to find the old skis and told me just to rent some once I was in the town of Weissensee.

Off I went on the February break, where I practiced cross country skiing and visited Ilmenau.

Once back in Klagenfurt, on the day before we were to leave, I gave Daniel a call and told him about the ski situation. He offered to let me borrow his mom's skis and poles. Ski boots I had from the previous tenant.

Early Monday morning Daniel called again to let me know another teacher would be stopping by to pick me up on his way to school...but this other teacher would be in front of my house in 15 minutes. Quickly, I finished getting ready and pulled everything outside. A few seconds later my carpool arrived and introduced himself as a math teacher, who loved to ski. We loaded everything in the car and off we drove to school.

Soon, we were loading the bus with a string of excited 12-year-olds, wrestling hockey gear, skis, suitcases and duffel bags inside any available space. A good hour of real-life jenga later, and we were on our way, zooming towards the mountains.
As we approached the snow became too thick and the bus pulled over to attach snow chains to the tires, so we could continue up and around the winding roads through the snow-covered forest.

Arriving in Weissensee itself, we pulled up to a man waiting next to a tractor. He greeted all of us with a hearty "Servus!" and directed us to pile everything into the wagon behind the tractor. The rest of us slid up the icy hill to the house with farm yard, where a thin woman with a long nose and a colorful apron wrapped around her hips welcomed us to her Gasthaus. She directed the children to line the skis below a patio-like enclosure, and once Daniel pried the students away from the horses, she directed them to their rooms. One house for the boys, the other for the girls, and the teachers spread between.

I was sent to the neighbor's house and given an entire floor-complex to myself, complete with giant bed, balcony, bathroom, kitchen and TV.

The view from "my" balcony, be jealous...the little s-shape carved into the mountain on the left is where we skied each day.

We were fed lunch and then told to suit up for skiing action. Daniel took me and the one girl who had never skied before in her life to the baby hill, where we warmed up and then started learning to zig and zag. It was just my kind of hill with gently sloping curves.

The three of us caught the tiny van-bus that careens back and forth between various ski locations around Weissensee to the Gasthaus, arriving before the masses returned from the big hill.

The next morning, I rode the chair lift for the first time to the top of the big hill with Daniel as my guide to properly riding the lift. At the top, he waved farewell and I found myself with a group of 12-year-old girls and Berthie, a PE teacher at the school, who was in charge of our little group of beginners/those in need of a bit more practice before conquering the "big hill."

Leaving the rest of the class behind, our little group swished over a back trail, following it through the woods, up a teller-lift and towards a smaller hill at the top of the mountain. Multiple times we practiced slowly applying pressure to one ski or the other to turn ourselves down the hill in wide swaths. The first time down, I found myself stuck halfway down, paralyzed by a combination of fear, a pain in my left hip, and a pain in my right knee. Unable to move and the rest of my co-skiers already down at the bottom, Berthie came to my rescue guiding me down to the bottom. After some strategic stretching and many more runs down the hill, we made our way to the "big hill."

(skiing with the much braver than me 2nd class...there's Berthie in red...)

Blindly following the the snake of skiing 12-year-olds we made our way down the hill bit by bit. It seemed like it would never end. At what felt like particularly steep points, I would find myself breaking to a halt with sweat pouring from every part of me, causing my sunglasses to slide off my nose and fog the lenses until I could barely see between the glare of the sun on snow and the fogged glasses. Knees shaking, thighs turning to jelly, I made it to the bottom and gratefully plunked down on the bus, after walking through the sludgy parking lot in heavy ski boots.

A filling lunch and short break later, and we were out on the ice. Weissensee, the town, comes from the name for the giant lake that sits between the mountains. A lot of Dutch skaters come down to Austria just for the ice on this lake. There is an international speed skating competition held here each year, in fact.

Off I went, skating on cleared tracks...

view from the lake while ice skating near sunset

Wednesday and Thursday repeated in this pattern: 7am breakfast, 8am on the bus, morning skiing, lunch, afternoon break, then ice skating, cross-country skiing, hike, dinner, cards with the teachers after the students were in bed, brink of exhaustion, bed.

Thursday morning, I barely made it down the "big hill," and by the time I did my knee was in extreme pain. Limping around for the rest of the morning and after much stretching and resting, the pain eased, but I decided not to go skiing on Friday. Instead, I took walk around the ice and skated one last time.

Me skating on the lake on the last day

After lunch, we bid our hosts farewell, and wrestled skis, poles, boots, suitcases, and another other additional gear on to the bus, heading home at last.

The math teacher once again gave me a ride home and I found myself crawling into bed early that night.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Back in the (former) DDR

The Hilberts whisked me away to Ramsau on Friday right after school. Following curving roads through snowy mountains, we came to a small house, and were instantly greeted by a woman and her two-year-old son, Fabian. I was instantly introduced and she excitedly shook the hand of "the American."

I was ushered upstairs to my own room, where I unpacked and managed to halfway reorganize the chaos of my various bags. In attempting to pack ski gear, every day clothing, school appropriate clothing, and ice skates, I'd managed to acquire quite a few random pieces of luggage.

The first night, we rested and went out to dinner at the Speck Hütte (the bacon hut), where the waitress and daughter of the owner mistook me for the Hilbert's daughter and was fascinated to hear the story.

The next day, bright and early we breakfasted in the designated area of the living room, while the owner-family ate their meal just through the door at the kitchen table. Fabian brought us random trucks and proudly announced "John Deere!" which sounded more like "tsch-on ear!" but, hey, he had the Austrian pronunciation down.

Then, it was off for a day of cross-country skiing. My first time ever on the tiny, toothpick width-ed skis that were as tall as I was. Eventually, I got the rhythm down and was in full swooshing action by noon. After 6 hours, on the skis, I was completely kaputt and we headed back.

skiing in Ramsau

Skiing in Ramsau

Sunday, we began the epic 8 hour drive back to Thüringen and stopped for lunch in München to visit the aunt of Frau Hilbert. The aunt and the long since dead uncle were the only two family members from the west who were allowed to visit Frau Hilbert and her family because the uncle had some sort of handicapped pass. I don't exactly understand why, but through some odd loop hole these western relatives could cross through the barrier and bring presents on birthdays to a little Frau Hilbert.

Before I knew it we were back in the land of the dancing goats...ah, Ilmenau my home away from home...

Monday, I journeyed to Stadtroda with Herr Hilbert and he dropped me off to visit with the bee people, while he headed off to coffee with his in-laws. We beat the head bee keeper there, but once he arrived, I was wrapped in a warm hug and led inside. The entire group surprised me with different kinds of honey to try and coffee to accompany the taste testing. A few young students from the Realschule had even joined the group in my absence.

The next day was skiing in Frauenwald with Herr Hilbert

For lunch we stopped for some traditional Thueringer Rostbraetel...

Wednesday, I was back at school and was hug-mobbed by hordes of overly-excited children. Ah, it was good to be back.
Me with some former students, who are now in the 3rd and 4th years of school

Thursday was once again ski focused, this time with a trip to Masserberg
getting ready to ski...

We just so happened to run into the dog sled races that are held here each year. They'd come up behind us as we were skiing, quiet as mice. Boom! Suddenly they were on your heels and then passing you by in a flash.

Thursday afternoon was dedicated to visiting Herr and Frau Lindemann, with whom I had spent last Christmas. We had coffee, cake, and shared photos. They promised that the next time I visited we could play board games. I can only hope there will be a next time!

Friday, we went swimming, as we had every other day, but just rested for the remainder of the day, as it was a wet, rainy, ice kind of day. The kind you want to go out skiing.

Saturday, the week was already at an end and we drove a good 12hours back to Klagenfurt, where we dropped my things and then headed up to the top of Magdalensberg. We walked around the top, admiring the view, as the sun set, lighting the mountains in hues of red, gold and deep purples.

As darkness settled in around us, we enjoyed our dinner in the Gasthaus at the top of Magdalensberg.

The Hilberts dropped me back home and we wished each other luck.

I put my costume on and got ready to head out to the Fasching celebrations in Villach.

With nobody answering their phone, I was a bit worried about finding people, as I headed off to the train station. Nearing the glass doors, I hit a patch of black ice and slid the last few feet, ramming into the door. Picking myself up, I limped my way home and just went to bed. If that wasn't a sign, I don't know what is.