In my experience, most British people don’t go to Germany on holiday. Business, Oktoberfest, friends, perhaps, but a German holiday is greeted with faint bemusement. Perhaps people have visions of finding themselves floundering in John Cleese-esque “don’t mention the war” predicaments; or perhaps another practical, grey Northern European country simply doesn’t have the appeal of France or Spain. Either way, the Foreign Office figures say it all – France attracts 17 million British visitors each year and Spain 11 million, but Germany a mere 2 million. Why is this?
Firstly, the obvious, stereotypical objection – Germany is boring because Germans have no sense of humour. As a disclaimer, I work in a German bank, so the people I interact with are more susceptible to these accusations than most. Not only are they untrue, however, but they make us overlook an international and welcoming attitude that embraces foreign visitors. I’ll use Paris as a French comparison. When I spent six months living there, Parisians really did often live up to their standoffish stereotype, even despite the benefits Paris reaps from tourism, being the third most popular tourist city in the world.
At the very least, if you are a belligerent English-speaking tourist, or an unfortunate language student who has forgotten that essential word at an inopportune moment, they are far more likely to be impatient than sympathetic. Of course, the probability of anyone in England spontaneously launching into French or German to help a tourist in need is negligible too. But what makes Germany such a good destination is that everyone, from supermarket cashiers to bus drivers, not only speaks English, but most importantly is very open to foreigners. Not to mention the renowned German clockwork efficiency. Buses and trains really do run on time, in my experience – and almost entirely on obedience, because there are usually no ticket barriers whatsoever.
Enjoying sun, sea and sand in a German setting, though, might seem implausible. However, having taken several family holidays in Spanish resorts populated by sunburnt Brits attempting to drag British culture kicking and screaming over the Channel down to the Costa Brava, I would wholeheartedly recommend the south of Germany as a stunning alternative. Lake Constance, situated at the crossroads between Germany, Switzerland and Austria, is absolutely beautiful, even if the enthusiasm for FKK, or naked bathing, does attract hordes of saggy beachgoers on certain beaches and make a stroll around the lake that little bit more hazardous.
Now to city breaks. Focusing on Frankfurt, my current home for half a year, really is going for the hard sell, it being renowned as one of the most businesslike and grey banking cities in Europe. Indeed, before I arrived, I did have my doubts, having nothing to go on but images of monolithic banking blocks on a bland skyline. The city’s nickname – ‘Mainhattan’, in reference to the river Main which cuts through it – speaks for itself, really.
However, the reality is quite different. Frankfurt is far more friendly than forbidding, and the sub-districts of Bornheim and Bockenheim even feel almost like villages. Leipziger Straße in Bockenheim, where I live, is a bustling, quaint hub of activity. One of my favourite phenomena here, which I have been reliably informed exist elsewhere, but have never seen in England, is the open library, a bookcase stationed incongruously in the middle of the pavement which offers readers free books for the taking, under the premise that they either replace the same book or another one in its stead.
There is also great emphasis on open space in the city, and every second street corner seems to yield to an unexpected stretch of green. My favourite park in Frankfurt, the Grünebergpark, is a gem: the long grass, woodland fringes and bright flushes of wildflowers offer a very welcome relief from the concrete regularity of the city centre.
The city is also famed for its museums, particularly on Museumsufer (by an unfortunate coincidence, even this translates as ‘museum bank’ – a riverbank, I hasten to add), where communication and architecture museums jostle against art exhibitions and even a flea market.
Food is another one of Germany’s less well-appreciated highlights. OK, so one of Frankfurt’s signature dishes is “hand cheese with music” (Handkäse mit Musik), oddly named and even odder-smelling, and another is “green sauce” (Grüne Soße), a herby mayonnaise in an unappetising shade of green. But Germany’s pretzels, Wurst, beer and local specialities are absolutely delicious and fulfil the British longing for equally stodgy, satisfying fare. And this is not the whole story – there is a very strong trend towards organic, vegetarian living, with far more prevalent organic supermarket chains than in the UK.
Part and parcel of fitting in with Frankfurters is investing a lot of your weekend in brunch. The key to understanding this Frankfurt obsession is that almost all shops are shut on Sundays. Although I won’t go so far as to say I prefer it this way, I have learnt to see the upsides. Firstly, you really are forced to do something for your wellbeing, whether sport or leisure activities or spending time with friends and family, when you might otherwise fill the time with mindless errands. And secondly, when you have very little else with which to fill your day, it is unsurprising that brunch becomes the centre of attention, with absolutely everything available from sensible muesli to overwhelming all-you-can-eat buffet extravaganzas for 20€ or more.
Plus, as a happy fallback, there are always kebabs. If you are a Park-End-goer, you will almost certainly have a regular moment of alcohol-induced crisis in the early hours of Thursday morning when a trip to Hassan’s (other kebab vans are available) becomes indispensable. Frankfurt, however, goes one step better – there is a popular Döner Kebab Boat moored on the River Main. Largely due to the influence of the large Turkish minority, many workers having immigrated to Germany after the Second World War, the stigma associated with having a kebab is also almost non-existent. You’re absolved of any greasy, faintly queasy regret because fifty other people are settling down to kebab-based family lunches around you. If you combine this with the significantly lower tax on alcohol, meaning that you can buy a bottle of quality wine for €2.99 where you would usually opt for whatever acid concoction Tesco’s has on offer for a fiver, I would say that Frankfurt is a fine place for students.
Of course, Germany, sitting securely at the centre of Europe and economically outflanking all its neighbours, certainly doesn’t need me to act as a tourist guide attempting to rustle up some extra income. Its tourism industry is going strong, and some cities – Berlin and Munich especially – have evidently already convinced the British. However, the rest of the country has an awful lot to offer, and if any of this has piqued your interest, I’d urge you to give it a try. Really, what’s the wurst that could happen?
A hard-working, reliable high-achiever, consistently at the top of the Norrington table, Merton is the archetypal Oxford college and so in shoes would be the classic Oxford lace-up brogue. Traditional well-made English high performer with a dash of fancy decoration, elegant and good-looking with a timeless touch of class, the staying power of both Merton and the brogue maintains their peerless reputations as top players in their field.
The indie monarch of Oxford, Wadham would be a pair of Doc Marten boots. Unisex, extremely popular and now universally acknowledged as the right-on footwear of choice for the cool kids, Wadham and Docs are possibly now in danger of looking so self-consciously trendy they could be verging on passé.
Popular, casual vans in monochrome chequerboard reflect the distinctive brickwork of Keble and its sporty, fun-loving nature, yet are still attractive and adaptable enough to match the glamour of formal in the splendid dining hall, the resident artworks in the chapel or the rigours of a night in the space-age college bar.
A little bit preppy yet endearingly straightforward, eclectic and welcoming, St Hugh’s would be a pair of loafers. Down-to-earth and practical, everyone feels at home here but patent leather in navy, bottle-green or maroon and pony-skin uppers topped with tassels give these stylish classics a quirky twist to match the off-beat and definitely over-the-top nature of this college.
Out on a limb, slightly odd, a bit of a pastiche and they shouldn’t work but actually they do, cork wedges epitomise Worcester which has a modest frontage belying a sunken quad and its own lake for goodness’ sake. Objectively they sound wrong and they might be a bit impractical on some occasions but they do look great, and it’s all about the visual at Worcester.
Final bastion of male privilege and supremacy as the last college to admit women, Oriel’s reputation for stern masculinity could only be matched by a thigh-high dominatrix or military riding boot in shiny black with metal-tipped heels for that irresistible reproachful click-clacking sound.
Free and easy, open and airy, St Hilda’s coveted position by the river, its generous lawns and its reputation for relaxed inclusiveness evoke the light touch of the flip-flop, and in turn reflect the open nature and sunshine connotations of everyone’s favourite summer slip-on.
The Scandinavians love their clogs. Versatile and hard-wearing, they appear at the beach, in the garden, to and from the sauna. Eco-friendly credentials and their quirky organic design endear them to wearers, not least for the ease in which they slip on and off. Quietly cheeky but secure in their own identify and confident of their ability, Scandi clogs are surely the podiatric embodiment of St Catz and its iconic Danish design.
The Christ Church shoe would reflect its fundamentally conservative nature, but also the stunning glamour of its architecture and setting; so it would be a high-heeled court, but with the racy undercurrent of a distinctive Louboutin red sole and maybe a peep-toe or sparkling embellishments to add even more panache.
Genuinely egalitarian, relaxed and a little bit earnest, Balliol is well-known for accommodating and encouraging serious political high-flyers. The desert boot equally appeals to a broad spectrum of personalities and views, and serves them well for most eventualities with its no-nonsense flat sole, neutral colours, and versatility from army wear through casual weekend staple with jeans to a smarter look with chinos and a jacket.
‘As with all these things, there is always some elements of truth in what is being said, but they are extrapolated for effect or exaggerated to create a better story from the media’s point of view’. Owen Jones cites this quote to support a core element of his argument – that the media, the inevitably middle class journalists, manipulate certain stories (here he refers to the Shannon Matthews case of 2008) to deprecate the working class. Ironically, in his book ‘Chavs: The demonisation of the working class’, Jones is guilty of the same crime.
He claims that mocking the working class is perhaps the only socially acceptable form of prejudice found in modern society. He begins by recounting a joke made at a friend’s dinner party, “It’s sad that Woolworth’s is closing. Where will the Chavs buy their Christmas presents?” This leads him to ask how it is that the ‘hatred’ of the working class remains socially acceptable. The argument that follows responds to the notion that Britain is now a classless society, but for Jones, the British class system is well intact, with all of society’s hatred, fear and blame directed towards the ‘feral underclass’: the Chavs.
Jones, a twenty-something year old former trade union lobbyist and self-proclaimed ‘lefty’, presents his argument through contrived facts, figures and twisted examples. To give him credit, he does make some interesting, relevant and insightful comments. It is here where my problem arises: his use of unrelated examples frustratingly distract the reader from the essentially valid points. In his attempt to cover a lot of ground, Jones loses sight of what is relevant and what is not.
Despite his success in presenting his argument fairly persuasively, Jones does little to acknowledge that class hatred is more than a one sided social phenomena. While this is understandable given the premise of the book, the views on one side are highlighted, with the equally extreme views on the other side ignored completely. It made it difficult for me to follow what was written without some scepticism. Jones stresses the viewpoint of zealous right-wing politicians for dramatic effect to sell a shocking story, and this does little more than undermine the class issue that he is trying to prove still exists in society. It would have been more beneficial to present this prejudice more realistically, as a process that demeans everyone, with some emphasis on the view that it may demean one class more than another.
Nevertheless, despite his representation of the working class as mere victims, his generalisation of the working class as one singular undivided body and his romanticised depiction of the working class before the Thatcher years, I found ‘Chavs’ to be a highly interesting read. He revives an important historical debate, which, in the light of the summer riots, is of great relevance. Somewhat well-reasoned, amusing and not too demanding – if you are looking for an intelligent and thought-provoking read, ‘Chavs’ fits the bill.
‘Is catatonic boredom your usual facial expression?’ asked my tutor in our first meeting. This is not how I expected this occasion to go; I used to be the bright-eyed, most enthusiastic pupil at school and yet, looking around the room, I was the only one lacking in head-nodding and fake laughter. Then again, I had not expected to be kidnapped by third years on my first night and taken to an ‘after party’ where I’d be forced to play extremely complicated drinking games. No, sitting in the study of a leading scholar with a splitting headache on my second day of university was not exactly what I’d prepared for.
Needless to say, in glossy prospectuses and formal presentations, the realities of student life are somewhat neglected. You hear the words ‘hard work’ but you don’t expect this to mean every single book for your first essay to be taken out of the college library on the fourth day of Freshers’ Week, meaning you sneak around the desks to see if anybody has abandoned one in the hope that they ‘just forgot to put it back’. Really helpful advice would be some indication that the most valuable skill in your first week of Oxford is being able to recover from a hangover by nine ‘o’ clock in the morning because, it seems, everyone else can…
I had also heard the phrase ‘work hard, play hard’ bandied about by students at open days but had never realised this sometimes means at the same time. Walking past a third year in a club with three drinks in his hand who leans over and slurs ‘I’ve got an exam tomorrow morning, ha ha’ revealed the truth about the mysterious interview process; they’re not looking for someone who works the hardest but someone who can still work the hardest after a night out. It suddenly became clear to me why I’d been chosen over people I considered far intellectually superior to me; as I was handed another Sambuca shot, two of my elder college-members looked at each other and said ‘I think she’s got potential’.
So even if I wasn’t the first to rush to the college library, I learnt quickly that at Oxford there is always another way. In this instance there are at least 99 other libraries to try within a two mile radius, as well as the marvellous creation of the ‘e-book’. My expectation was that everyone would take things very seriously and, looking around the eager faces of the other freshers, this appears to be true. But take a look at the attitude of the second years and I am reassured that this place is not another world of people and expectations at all. The first pearl of wisdom my college dad gave me was ‘History is not a real subject. Politics is not a real subject. I went to four lectures last year, one of which I didn’t make it to, actually, and I got a 2.1’.
Though I still have every expectation that the standard at Oxford will be higher than I could even imagine and the workload even further beyond comprehension, it seems as if, more so than I would’ve thought, people stay in one piece. And they do it with a drink in their hand and a smile on their face.