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Joanna: A week in Winter

Learn German and Skiing Basically I wanted a break.  January was getting me down and I felt I needed a week in the snow AND I’d promised myself all the previous year that I’d brush up my German language skills – so I decided to call CESA.  After that it’s was just a question of packing.

There are no bad weather conditions, there are only bad clothes.  So they say, and my down filled ski jacket certainly seemed lovely and warm despite it being -5°.  I’d just got out of the taxi and was standing in front of my new home for the next week a Pension in snowy Kitzbühel.  It looked a lovely place, really chocolate boxy, exactly as I’d imagined it to be.  The lady of the house opens the front door and smiled at me.  Then she begins speaking German…  “Guten Tag,” I said hesitantly in reply.  What have I let myself in for?  My smile turned to a waxen grimace as doubts about my ability to survive the week threatened to overwhelm me.  Thankfully her encouraging look and kind words gave me the strength to cross the threshold and I found myself wafted into the warm building and a cup of coffee thrust into my hand.  My room turned out to have lots of yellow pine and white linen and turned out to be the perfect retreat for homework and sleep!  Outside my window there was a balcony and beyond that snow, snow and yet more snow.  Yesssssssssssssss!  Suddenly the week didn’t feel so daunting and my spirits lifted.

Fun in the snowThe next morning I walked around the house and down the lane  in the snow (one of the shortest and most enjoyable commutes I’d had for a long time) to get to the German language school.  I even had a companion – Stefan, a 35 year old Swedish computer programmer who stayed at the same Pension as me.  He’d been to the school before and warned me about  the College Director, who turned out to be quite a character.
“He’ll tell you a woman’s place is in the kitchen, but he’ll shut up when you get the accusative and dative right in the test,” Stefan grinned.

A test!  Seems cruel, but actually it wasn’t too bad, and only took around 40 minutes.  I fetched up in the Director’s class and braced myself for the Austrian style of humour Stefan had warned me about.   I remember being asked about my journey and how I’d settled into the Pension.  I managed a few replies (not totally monosyllabic thank goodness) and was frankly just glad I could understand what he was saying to me. I’d been promised by CESA staff back in the UK, that there would be a maximum of 6 students per class, so I was prepared in advance and had expected to have to work hard.  Classes were certainly small and truly there was NO WHERE to hide!   There were 4 in my class, aged 26 yrs to 42 yrs of age and of different nationalities. We were expected to speak German at all times.  Jokes were made (mostly they were bad) but there was definite progress and my confidence in myself grew as the week went on.

After lessons each day we would walk back to the Pension together and got changed quickly.  After German grammar, endless discussions and the inevitable pronunciation corrections our heads were reeling and we were keen to grab our skis from the ski room and rush out to the bus stop.  We headed up to the famous Hahnenkamm lift station and then the slopes.  The great thing was that we could all get on the bus without paying as anyone wearing ski clothes could travel for free.

When I needed to hire skis etc, at the beginning of the week, the group waited for me (and the other new girl) while we were kitted out and someone from the School was on hand to help with translating to ensure it all went smoothly.

The lift up the face of the Hahnenkamm was SO steep, with breathtaking views over the town and the range of mountains surrounding it.  The shock of all that fresh air at the top always galvanised us, as we followed our ski leader to the first ski lift.  After about an hour on the slopes, we’d generally stopped for a late lunch.  Occasionally a student would choose to eat a sandwich or something in the lift up and then they could just keep skiing straight through (but I wasn’t that serious a skier, and most of us enjoyed a chat over lunch before heading back for a second ski session).  There was enough snow during my week to ski down to the valley, so at the end of each afternoon we ‘d snake down the mountain and always seemed to gravitate towards the beer and gluhwein stands, can’t think why!

Learn German in AustriaA couple of students would head back to the Pension after the skiing, but I generally joined those who stayed on, and caught a later bus back.  It was great to chill out,  investigate the restaurants (great food by the way, terrible for the waistline, but thankfully the skiing solved that one for me) and chat with the rest of the students.  Aprés ski was alive and well in Kitzbühel!  I normally headed back to the Pension after dinner out with the group, to complete my homework, others weren’t always so dedicated (and it wasn’t unknown for homework to be completed over breakfast prior to school!).

On the Thursday after lessons it was quite windy so I skipped the skiing with two fellow students (two Italian ladies) and we hit the shops (I felt the need for a pair of moon-boots), then finished up in the local cinema.  It was great to see how much of the German spoken in the film I could understand (not all of it sadly, but certainly more than I could have at the beginning of the week).

Having to pack up on the Saturday and fly home to the UK was hard – the slopes were still calling as I headed back to Munich.  If I get the chance to go next season I certainly will.  Frankly if you want to stretch your German skills beyond the typical, “Wiener Schnitzel und ein Bier bitte”  then I’d recommend you invest in a week in Kitzbühel.  It was fun, I loved the people and the German lessons really worked for me!