6: The Police Raid

It’s not every day on your year abroad that two men violently bang on your bedroom window at 7am. Well, I suppose it depends on what language you study, but for post reunification German students, we thought we were safe.

Assuming it was a few drunks, I chose to ignore the disturbance and continued getting ready for school. After another five minutes of relentless banging, however, I eventually left the flat and cautiously opened the front door to our apartment block.

I was greeted by two men wearing what looked like tracksuits bottoms and scruffy jackets. They were shouting (in German) “police, police, open up”. Whilst I have had little experience of the police back in England, I’m pretty sure they are required to wear a uniform, show an ID and maybe even a warrant before they demand entry in to someone’s home. They certainly wouldn’t bang on a girl’s window at 7am on a pitch black winter morning.  Call me paranoid but somehow I felt a little suspicious.

I asked to see an ID and when I was hastily flashed a dodgy looking key ring, I immediately went to close the door. Before I got the chance to close it, however, the two men barged past me and ran in to the apartment block.

Oh my god, I thought, I have just welcomed two burglars in to a building full of families. Well, maybe not welcomed, but I had granted them entry to rob and murder all my neighbours.

I screamed and ran back in to my flat shouting for help. This prompted my flat mate, Jenny, to rush out of her room and she too demanded to see an ID. One of the men now showed us the courtesy of flashing an actual card from his wallet with ‘Polizei’ (police) printed at the top.

Yet this ‘ID’, designed in the style of a Nandos loyalty card, was far from convincing. They muttered something about refugee smugglers and, before hesitating at the suspicious sight of these panicking foreign girls, ran to an apartment upstairs.

Naturally I have slowed down the pace of the action so as to relay it to you step by step, but this whole exchange probably lasted under a minute. They were well on their way upstairs before we (two English speaking young women) even had the chance to take these German criminal masterminds down.

Locked in the safety of our own flat, Jenny and I discussed the two possible scenarios that might have just unfolded.

Scenario 1:

  1. The flat upstairs is genuinely housing illegal immigrants.
  2. Undercover, scruffily dressed police decided that an urgent raid was necessary at 7am.
  3. They happen to choose the only non-fluent German speaker in the whole apartment block (a young looking girl about to set off for school) to bear the brunt of the raid.
  4. The psychotic, foreign child who answers the door randomly starts screaming for help, slowing down the effectiveness of their raid.

 Scenario 2:

  1. Two drunk men identify a vulnerable school girl through the window of an apartment.
  2. Presuming her to be a gullible idiot, they were even more thrilled when she turned out to be foreign.
  3. They claim to be looking for ‘illegal immigrants’, a nice touch considering this girl clearly isn’t a German national.
  4. When she proves to be slightly less gullible than they initially hoped, they quickly flash a fake police ID (an exact copy of the design of their Nandos loyalty cards) and opt to rob and murder the people in the flat upstairs instead.

Whilst potential theft and murder was obviously a weight on my mind, an additional worry was plaguing me all the more strongly; if I had just permitted two criminals entry in to apartment, I would inevitably have to be a witness in a court case. Do my language capabilities stretch that far? Maybe if they would allow be to read out a pre-written statement but, even then, the inevitable grammar mistakes would surely undermine the strength of my account? Would my inability to articulate myself properly in German allow two criminals to get off scot free?

Before I let my mind run away with itself, however, I realised that I would have to leave the flat now if I didn’t want to be late for school. Neither a confrontation with criminals nor an emergency police raid would be justifiable excuses for being late to school and so, despite the panic of the last 15 minutes, I set off for the train station.

To my relief/humiliation, I noticed a man wearing an actual police jacket emerge from the car parked outside our apartment. He recognised me and apologised for the disturbance, finally explaining that they suspected that someone in our flat was housing illegal immigrants. Terrified much more by the consequences of being late to school than the potential criminal activity that was being carried out in my home, I didn’t ask any further questions and rushed off to school.

So, in the end, scenario 1 held true. The good news is that no horrendous German court case is on the horizon but, on the other hand, I am a paranoid psychopath.

The funny thing is I remember words like ‘Razzia’ (raid) being on my A2 German vocab list and complaining that those type of words would never come in useful.

From unexpected police raids to unexpected niche vocabulary…nobody is safe.

5: The Dresden Weekender

Magaluf, Aiya Napa, Kavos, Malaga.. the choices for a Brits abroad weekender were endless. After much deliberation, we opted for Dresden, famed for its Christmas markets and far-right tendencies. The ‘we’ refers to Jenny, Anna and Katie, who are the friends I went to Dresden with. I wrote that sentence purely to confirm that I do have friends as I realise that, despite this being my 5th blog, I have yet to mention the existence of any. They are real, I promise.

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An authentic GDR experience

Well, the plan was go to Dresden, anyway. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually find any available accommodation in Dresden and ended up booking a youth hostel in a town called Radebeul, a twenty minute train ride away from Dresden.

You thought you understood what I meant by ‘youth hostel’, but you were wrong. In Germany, a youth hostel does not mean the kind of modern, value for money, sociable hub that Hostel World might refer you to. This is the East. The ‘Jugendherberge’ (youth hostel) rather refers to the kind of accommodation school/youth/scout groups would go to for a training weekend away. Consider Germany’s history for a second, and then imagine the type of youth group that might also have stayed in this 60s-esque facility.

Its exterior looked unsettlingly like the care home in Tracy Beaker, whilst the interior resembled an interesting hybrid of a boarding school and a half-way house. Whilst this might sound like I am complaining, on the contrary, I was thrilled to be experiencing an authentic GDR experience; there was no heating or hot water on the first night, there was one toilet to share between us and our corridor of school children and we were told off (twice) for arriving late to breakfast.

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Pulling Capital of Europe

Yet our big ‘Brits abroad weekender’ certainly didn’t disappoint. I arrived a bit earlier than the others to get there before check-in closed (20:00) and, having espied several young people, assured them that Radebeul was the “pulling capital of Europe” over the phone. Whilst they assumed I was being ironic, just as they arrived, we were approached by three guys of our age. Well, one guy (Sasha) looked about our age, the second looked about 12 and the third about 32. Sasha explained that he was here with his football team and seemed a bit confused as to what Dresden tourists were doing in a residential German town. After deeming our holiday to Radebeul to be a ‘coole Story’ (whilst speaking German) he invited us to have drinks with him and his very under-aged and overaged football team, boasting that they had a whole four beers between them. Although the prospect of some German conversation was tempting, we opted to return to our non-heated bunker instead. Sasha and his prepubescent/middle aged friends will forever be the ones that got away.

Happy 21st birthday to Dresden’s cake festival

Prior to this weekend, the only thing I knew about Dresden was that it has the highest concentration of Neo-Nazis in Germany. So when hundreds of people descended on the city’s main square on Saturday, you can imagine my first thought.

Fortunately, rather than incite racial hatred, these people came out in force to celebrate Dresden’s 22nd Stollen Festival. Whilst I’ve been to a number of festival before (music, fringe, literary, Jewish, etc) I have never been to one which chose to exclusively celebrate a specific type of cake. As a mini Stollen bounced off my head and in to my arms, I questioned whether we had in fact chanced upon heaven, rather than Dresden.

As processions of Stollen bakers and marching bands paraded through town, the Dresdeners lined the streets, desperate to catch a glimpse of the tantalising finale: the ‘Riesenstollen’ (giant Stollen). As if awaiting a monarch, we cheered, applauded and waved our flags as she glided past us in all her 1800 Kg glory. Determined not to miss a piece of the action (or cake), we decided to join the parade and soak up the atmosphere from the inside. Ten seconds later, however, we were dragged out the limelight by a raging Dresdener, furious that we had the audacity to walk side by side with these elite bakers.

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I was impressed not only by the size of the Stollen, but also the people of Dresden’s sheer enthusiasm for this rare breed of cake. I couldn’t help but imagine my name in lights as I pictured myself introducing a festival of a similar vein back home. Could this be my future? Rebecca Heitlinger: founder of Great Britain’s regional cake festivities. Then again, if a giant Victoria Sponge was paraded around Finchley Central high street every year, I’m not sure it would have the same charm.

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The festival culminated in taking the ‘Riesenstollenwagen’ (carriage used to transport the giant cake) to the Striezelmarkt, the most famous Christmas Market in Dresden. After a number of lengthy speeches and an opportunity for the press to pap the 1800 Kg beauty, she was then cut up in to thousands of pieces, ready to be purchased by the insatiable crowds. As €5 seemed a bit steep for a piece of royal Stollen, we bowed out of the mosh pit gracefully and admired the festivities from afar.

In true ‘Brits Abroad’ style, this ‘Stollenfest’ was the closest thing we came to culture on our mini-break; the rest of the time was divided between eating, browsing the Christmas markets, eating, drinking ‘Glühwein’ (mulled wine) and eating.

On leaving Radebeul, I decided that it was a shame that Dresden has been somewhat tainted by its far-right reputation. Mid-reflection, however, I spotted Neo-Nazi graffiti out of the corner of my eye.  On second thoughts, I might hold off on returning for a while.