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Monday, October 25

And So To Classes

What with me being a student and classes having started this week, I figure that I'd better write something about them. I'm clever like that.

German universities are very, very different from English universities. Here, students are expected to be a lot more self-reliant and independent. For example, you have to sort out your own timetable the week before classes begin, so that you know which ones you can attend, and work around any clashes before they happen.

Luckily, one of the few things that I attended during the Orientation week was a 2-hour session going through the entire booklet which listed all of the lectures, seminars and other classes in the law faculty. This was extremely helpful for us foreign students, as the tutor pointed out which classes would be suitable for us, and which we would have absolutely no chance of understanding.

Armed with this information, I put together my timetable last Thursday. Yes, I was in fact sufficiently organised to do that. Don't worry, it won't last.

My original intention was to do as little law as possible whilst out here. It's not that I don't like law. OK, yes it is because I don't like law. It's taken me two years to realise this fact, but at least I now know it. I don't want to go into law as a career, and I aim to take the least amount of actual law modules in the next two years, both here in Heidelberg and in my final year back in London.

Of course, it didn't quite work out that way. I wanted to do Criminology whilst I'm here, but to do that you need to know German Criminal Law first. Hence German Criminal Law finding its place on my timetable. Hopefully, Criminology will be offered again in the summer semester, so I can do it then.

European law was the next entry, mainly because I already know it like the back of my hand. It was my highest score in the exams at the end of the first year at King's, and I still remember the vast majority of it. My reasoning for taking it again now is that it will help my language so much, because I won't really be listening for meaning whilst in the lectures. I'm even getting my mum to bring over my old notes and textbook when she comes to visit for my 21st birthday (19th November, put it in your diaries).

I then added German Civil law to the list, because it is a 5-hour per week module. I have to get a certain amount of Credits each semester, and these are awarded corresponding to the amount of hours you study each week. I need 20 credits per semester, and a 5-hour per week module gives you 8 of those credits. Oh, and it's supposed to be the foundation of most further modules too. I guess that's important as well.

My next choice was Latin for Lawyers. I really want to study a language whilst I'm here, and unfortunately that Spanish class I registered for has fallen through. And by fallen through I mean that you have to pay quite a high fee to do it, one that I'm not willing to pay.

By doing Latin, I can make up for not doing Spanish, and it also counts towards my 40 Credits target for the year. The Spanish class wouldn't. Two birds, one stone. The problem with the Latin module is that it isn't every week; instead it is in a block of classes over the space of about a week, sometime in December.

The plus side of this plan is that my weekly timetable becomes even less packed than it already is. By squeezing an entire semester's worth of classes into a small block, it frees up some more space in my usual timetable. Maybe for classes, but probably for procrastinating. Hurrah!

My final choice was German Constitutional Law. Again, I've already done a bit of this, which should help me somewhat, but it was very basic, and it was taught in German back at King's, when my language skills were, shall we say, slightly lacking. At least I know the basic material.

The fantastic thing about this timetable is that somehow I ended up with Mondays and Fridays off. Yes, I have a 3-day week! How fucking brilliant is that? Oh, and call me a lazy, layabout student, I don't mind. In fact, I subscribe to that stereotype in a big way.

I thought that it got even better, since my Tuesdays didn't start until 3 in the afternoon, but it turns out that that was an error on my part. I'll explain why in just a second.

I'll just note here that I am only doing lectures this semester, no seminars or tutorials. This isn't because of any laziness or fears about the quality of my language though, but instead because the tutor in the Orientation Week explicitly recommended us to not do any seminars until the second semester. Suits me fine, I have to say.

And so I launched myself into the first week of lectures. My first was Civil Law at 3 on Tuesday. Suffice it to say that I was bricking it. Would I understand most of what the lecturer was saying? Would I understand any of what he was saying? Would I wish I'd never moved out to Germany? Would my trousers fall down as I walked into the room? You know, the usual kind of worrying.

The lecture was only an hour long, and the guy spent a little while explaining which textbook we should buy, and what the course roughly entailed. He then launched into a 35-minute piece about how you should love law if you wanted to study it, and that if you found yourself being bored by it, or not enjoying it, after a semester, you should drop it immediately.

He carried on in this vein for a little while, waxing lyrical about the role of law in society, and about how it wasn't a given that you would make loads of money by doing a law degree. Just before the end of the lecture, he asked how many Erasmus students there were in the room. Erasmus being the exchange programme between European universities that I'm on.

Myself and about 10 others put our hands up, out of around 150 people in the room. He then asked how many other foreign students were present. Another 90-100 hands went up. Then followed the LLM (Law Master's Degree) students. Another 30 or so people fell into that category. Being a little confused, he asked how many students were actually in their first semester (i.e. just starting university).

I think there were less than 5 people in the room. He realised that he'd just wasted a big rhetorical speech on people who already knew all of that bullshit, and were a good few years into their law degrees. There was a good deal of smirking and sniggering going on in the room, I can tell you.

As we made our way out at the end of the lecture / waste of time (waste of time is going to be a running theme), he said something about repeating this speech tomorrow in our next lecture, when hopefully more first-timers would be present. I didn't quite catch it, since I was in a hurry to get to my next lecture. Yes, in a hurry to get to a European Law lecture. Who would have thought?

Of course, the room was too small for all of the eager, budding Euro-lawyers. And when I say too small, I mean that we needed about another 50 seats. It was fucking hot too, because there were so many people crammed into a small little lecture theatre. After about 25 minutes of sitting around, we were led up to what I guess must be the Great Hall at Heidelberg. A fucking massive place, it is.

I spotted the one other girl from my home university, and sat down next to her. I don't really know her, and she was never one of my friends back at King's, but any port in a storm. We exchanged our impressions of the preceding lecture, and got ready for 2 hours of being talked at by a thoroughly old lecturer, about something which we already knew. Joy of joys.

I was pleasantly surprised to both stay awake for those 2 hours, and to understand most of what was being said. Admittedly, as I've pointed out, I know the material, but it was interesting to hear it described in German and from a German perspective, because it can be very different from the English point of view. They were in the EU from the start, after all, whereas we gatecrashed the party a lot later in the day.

All in all, I felt pretty damn good after the day's classes, since I'd understood a lot more than I was expecting to, and also because the lectures themselves were fairly interesting. Another bonus was the coherence of the lecturers. My worst nightmare would be to have a lecturer that I simply couldn't understand. It would be so difficult, and would persuade me to not turn up at all.

The only negative that I can draw from the day is that I realised that I absolutely have to concentrate solidly for the entire duration of the class. As soon as my mind wanders, whether it be in English or German, I lose the thread of the lecture completely. It then takes a minute or two to pick it back up. I suppose that I should be concentrating anyway, but I've never had to do it to this extent. It could be a case of 4 espressos before each lecture.

Boy did I need some espressos on Wednesday. That and a large mallet to bludgeon the inept bureaucrats at the law faculty. Fucking unorganised idiots.

I had (supposedly) a 9am lecture and an 11am lecture, which meant having to get up at a ridiculously early hour. 7.30, to be precise. The 9am lecture was German Constitutional Law, followed by the second lecture of the week in Civil Law.

I managed to make it to the lecture on time, which is in itself an achievement worthy of note, but the room was decidedly empty. There were a few people dotted about, so I grabbed a window seat (force of habit) and watched people come in.

By 9.10 the room was still mostly empty, maybe containing about 30 students, but the lecturer was nowhere to be seen. It was here that I began having doubts as to what the fuck was going on. In the module guide book this particular class was scheduled for a Tuesday, but there was also a slip of paper with all of the late amendments inserted, which said that there was an additional class on a Wednesday morning.

I'd figured that this was to avoid clashes for students with other modules, and that there was in fact two seperate classes for the same module. When I looked a little closer at the listing in the book, the module was in fact for 4 hours each week. i.e. both lectures were for the same module.

It then dawned on me, and just about everyone else in the room that we hadn't gone to the lecture on Tuesday, where they were all probably told that the Wednesday lecture wasn't happening. Fucking great news. They could at least have put a note on the door or something! Stupid German bureaucratic incompetence.

I now had an hour and a half to kill before the next lecture, so I bought a couple of textbooks that I needed, before heading to the student cafe to chill in there for a while. I surprised myself by understanding the vast majority of a newspaper I picked up in there, which is always good. I really do think that my German is half-decent now, although my speaking probably lets me down a bit.

It was then time to head back into my uni building for the second lecture of the day. I was already irritated that I could have stayed in bed for an extra hour or two, so having the second lecture cancelled did not leave me in a great state of mind.

The room was packed, busier than it had been for Tuesday's lecture, and it was really loud, with German voices rising high from all around me. The lecturer once more wasn't there on time, but I've come to assume that this is normal here. I contented myself with looking out of the window and trying to listen to various conversations in my vicinity. This is definitely the best way to pick up German, just sitting and listening.

After about 25 minutes, a random guy came into the room and went to the front of the class. He explained that he was from the law faculty, and that the lecturer was running late. He then said that the guy was just going to repeat yesterday's lecture, aimed at first years, so the rest of us could leave.

Yeah, cheers for that. Why didn't he fucking tell us that at the end of yesterday's lecture?! Fucking incompetency. I could still be in bed! Mmmm, bed.

I wandered back to the cafe, since I'd bumped into a friend who was making his way there just before my (missing) lecture. He was there with another friend, a Swiss girl who did law too. We talked for ages, mainly about EU law, because she was studying it but didn't understand what it really was. The Swiss, the perennial neutrals, aren't members, you see? We were flitting between German and English, because she wanted to improve her English, and I wanted to make sure I knew some law vocabulary in German, but I think we managed to understand each other. At least that's one friend in the law faculty. They're like gold dust at the moment.

The rest of the day was a bit of a washout, if memory serves. A friend came round so that I could fix her computer (I'm the resident computer genius / geek in my group of friends. This is the third I've had to sort out so far), but I can't think of anything else that happened. Boring, I know. Sorry!

Thursday was another 2-lecture day, one at 9am and one in the afternoon. Only one of these was fucked up, which is a half-decent ratio, all things considered. Ooh, cynical.

The 9am was German Criminal Law, which I knew absolutely nothing about. Once more the room was over-full, with people standing along the walls on both sides. I lucked out, managing to get a seat somewhere near the front. No window to stare out of this time though, mores the pity.

The lecture was once more a bit of an organisational and introductory affair, with no mention of the law itself just yet. I managed to understand the vast majority again, which is always a bonus. I think I've been quite lucky so far in that none of the lecturers speak incomprehensible German. They're all quite clear and relatively easy to follow. Of course I don't understand everything, and some sentences lose me completely, but a 75%-ish amount isn't too bad. Hell, that's about how much I understood at the start of the first year back at Kings, and they were all in English!

One thing which I did notice this week is that German students are really obnoxious and rude towards the lecturer. They constantly talk throughout, and not always quietly either. One example is during that lecture. We had a break halfway through for about 10 minutes, yet when the lecturer returned it took him another 10 minutes to get his voice heard above the rabble. Even when he did begin talking, there was still so much noise around that I could barely hear him, even though I was only 3 or 4 rows back. It took a big "shush" from someone in the middle of the benches to quiet everyone, which I think must have embarrassed the lecturer somewhat.

I went home for a couple of hours between classes, and then headed back into town for my 2pm lecture. I'm getting bored of that bus ride, I swear. Same old, same old. At least I have my iPod. I'd be at such a loss without that thing.

This lecture, or lack of was a comedy of errors, to say the least. It was my final Civil Law lecture of the week, so I went to the usual room. I wandered in, sat down (by the window, hurrah!) and looked around. After about 5 minutes, I realised that I didn't recognise a single face. Admittedly, I know barely anyone in my lectures anyway, but I know enough to recognise some faces. There was simply no-one I could remember in the room, so I pulled out my timetable to check where I was supposed to be.

Naturally, I was supposed to be in a completely different room. Were you expecting anything else. I grabbed my bag and coat and left the room without looking back, perhaps fearful of a room full of people smirking at me. I didn't hear any raucous laughter as I walked away down the corridor, so perhaps it's just my paranoia.

I found the lecture room I was supposed to be in, but once more it looked a little empty. Sure, there were people there, but nowhere near as many as for the other Civil Law lectures earlier in the week. I sat down at the end of a row, next to some random guy, and was just getting my things out of my bag when a stack of handouts were passed around.

Seeing references to Criminal Law on them, I asked the guy I was sitting next to if this was a Civil Law lecture. Nope, he replied (in German, of course. My German's not so bad as to force me to ask this kind of thing in English), this was a Criminology seminar for 3rd year students.


Once more I grabbed my stuff and practically ran out of the room. As I left, I checked the timetable on the door, and sure enough the scheduled lecture for that room at this time was the one I was supposed to be in. I tried to figure out what the fuck was going on, but to no avail.

As I went downstairs, I bumped into the one other law student from Kings who is over here in Heidelberg with me. She was equally lost and confused as to the whereabouts of our lecture, but we asked the Hausmeister (secretary / handyman for the building) if he knew where it was. He mumbled something about our lecturer being around from 11 to 1, but wasn't any more forthcoming with information.

This left us even more confused, but I made the executive decision to say "fuck it" and go home. That was my week finished, after all. Not bad at 2.30 on a Thursday afternoon. I couldn't be arsed with chasing around the building, trying to find my class, especially since I'd already missed 30 minutes of it. Yeah, so I'm lazy.

And that about sums up my first week of classes. Of the 6 I went to, only 3 actually went ahead as planned, and one of those was wasted on me. Two lecturers didn't bother to turn up, and the other was simply nowhere to be found. Hopefully this week will be different.

On a positive note, however, I still have a 3-day week! I can cope with 3 9am lectures if I get a 4-day weekend. It's all about giving and taking, right?

It leaves plenty of time for drinking, which is always a good thing. As I proved to myself on Thursday night. Stay tuned for that write-up.


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