3.0 The Inlingua School
The Inlingua school in Kassel, December 2001 was run by Mr Harald Klußmann and was on the first and second floor of an office block in a largely residential area in Kassel City Centre, not far from the main station. It had a number of classrooms of a standard size for small groups, and a well-equipped teachers’ room with many of Inlingua’s own branded books. The idea was to sell their method with their own publications and so make more money. They used presentation of language in the direct method style pioneered by their sister company Berlitz in the 1920s and ’30s to demonstrate language to people. Their pioneers used short answer questions to so called, duck and weave and make connections to other facts and cultural curiosities with the intention that they would get familiar with the language. If we adhered to this method the students would be able to notice the vocabulary and activate it which makes it much harder to forget. The book is meant to quickly remind people of what the language is and functioned as an easy homework that was not predominantly intended for use in class. The school also had a locker room and an atrium with two secretaries, the boss’s girlfriend Susanne and Nadine the other secretary. They were the most highly paid of all the staff.
4.0 My Pupils at Inlingua Kassel
One of the first classes I taught in my two months at Inlingua Kassel was a group of army boys from the local garrison. I remember showing them pictures of some groceries and they started making fun of me. One of them asked what these certain pictures were of in English and I said, Eggs or Eier as they were in German. Then they started chatting to each other about me having eggs in English because Eier doesn’t mean just eggs in German, it also means balls. So, we had a laugh about that. I learned that from them.
I also worked in the training department of the huge Volkswagen factory in Kassel. We had to be down there for the start of classes at seven-thirty in the morning. Sometimes Mr Joiner, the American ex-army officer with a German wife, gave me a lift down there. God knows how he started at five-thirty from Bad Herschfeld every day. He set off at five-thirty, drove into Kassel for an hour to collect me and then back out to Baunatal. I was a clueless rookie teacher with no degree and a month’s training who was half their age. They were European-level management and all over fifty. They didn’t take kindly to being taught about stamp collections which was all I had been trained to do. Indeed, viewing stamp collections is seen as a classic excuse to invite a partner home for sex as a tongue in cheek joke in Germany. So, I shot myself in the foot there.
At Phillips, I got called four eyes by the secretaries. She said, You are a Brillenschlange. You are a four eyes. Wir sind hier alle Brillenschlangen. We are all four eyes here! What is Brillenschlange in English? Of course, I had to say I didn’t know and that I would look it up and tell them later like they did in teacher training. I wasn’t impressed when I found out how negative it was, and she wasn’t at all impressed that I didn’t know what the English as she was making a political point.
I think Herr Keller was either after a teacher of his own age, with more experience and an academic prowess similar to his own or he was after spending some time with a young female teacher who was quite pretty. Either way he complained about my lessons, but did compliment me once or twice at having been very well prepared.
Herr Keller had spent some time working for VW in Italy and had learned the whole of Italian in two years and was being asked to do the same at fifty with English. It was a big task for him. He was going to give it a good go, but secretly I felt he was slightly doubting his ability to achieve it. That said, he was a pleasant enough guy, Herr Keller, very polite and nice to talk to.
On the boss’s instructions; I took the company car with Stuart Bean, another teacher, to Pauli Biscuits in Fulda to observe his grammar class. They were nice enough to give us coffee. Pauli Biscuits, we’re great, but they’d complained bitterly about the grammatical focus of his lessons.
5.2 The Teaching Staff
5.2.1 Walter Joiner
Joiner was the classic hard-working American ex-army guy. He was also very keen on playing the field. He once said to me in the common room, Are you interested in an East German nymphomaniac? I can pass her on to you. It turned out to be an East German prostitute who kept texting him that he was having an extra-marital affair with. He’d pick me up every day and took me down to VW, and he also showed me how to improve using diagrams to explain grammar. He was quite a good English language teacher. The other thing I remember about him was his shaggy dog story about when he was stationed in Korea. He said one of his men had fallen for a Korean prostitute and he always went to see her. Joiner had told him not to get too involved because they didn’t want any trouble with the local mafia, so he stationed two big black guys on her to make sure she didn’t go with him again. The punchline was that they all gave out stickers to the American soldiers, so they could collect them and boast about who they’d been with. Joiner had said to him, I hope you aren’t still seeing her, two years later to which the squaddie replied that he didn’t care, because he was “On number eighteen!”
Steve was the nice American guy from the Midwest with a German girlfriend called Susanne Justus, soon to become his wife. He did a bit of work for the University of Kassel in their language teaching department. He was close to me like Sebastian. He had a degree and was thinking of doing the Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom. (Minor Diploma in German language from the Goethe Institute as it was then). It was from him that I learned a nifty phrase in German. He looked it up for me and I’ve never forgotten it. In that sense, he must have been quite a good language teacher. Über eine Einladung zu einem Vorstellungsgespräch, würde ich mich freuen, which means; I would gladly accept any invitation to an interview. I used that on every email to schools and universities I applied to in Germany to great effect ever since. At the end of my time in Kassel in August 2002, Steve and Sue got married and they travelled to America and he did an MA at Bloomington University in Ohio.
Martin was a Scottish guy from Glasgow with a German wife. It had gotten too expensive for him to live at home, so they had reluctantly taken the move to Germany, although he always complained about the situation of being around the ex-pat camp fire that was the school and how much he’d rather have been in Scotland. He was a nice person. Martin did most of his classes at VW where he was quite happy.
Debbie was a Canadian girl and probably the best and hardest working teacher in the school. She was doing about forty hours per week plus in the classroom. Her needs clearly weren’t being met because the only reason she was there was that she had a Cuban boyfriend who was a real sweetheart and wasn’t allowed to enter Canada. She hardly ever got to see him apart from when she went back to her one-bedroom apartment in an old house in Kassel City Centre. However, North Americans are generally willing to work very hard for their money and she didn’t mind Harald. She told everyone she didn’t have axes to grind against him like some of my other friends from the school.
Debbie was a lovely girl from Vancouver.
Sebastian was an Australian guy with a degree in nursing. Indeed, he had met his German girlfriend Bettina working at a hospital in Manchester in the UK where she had also been a nurse. He had gone back over to Kassel with her because she was from a small town about an hour away on the train called Rothenberg an der Fulda. However, it wasn’t working out between them and he had just turned thirty. So, by this stage, he was on the lookout for a new girlfriend and to change his life again and move on. He left telephone numbers with a few girls in bars when we went out and asked them to call him, a habit I picked up from him. He was very good with people. Sebastian lived in a small one-bedroom flat he wanted me to have off him, but sadly the landlord opted for a girl who was more organised in renting the flat than me. A really kind Aussie, he was responsible for introducing me to Schöfferhofer Weißbier for the first time, which is the local Hessen Wheat Bier. Back in December 2001 one month before the introduction of the Euro, that set you back five Deutsch Marks (DM).
Stuart Bean was an old and wise teacher who didn’t let anything bother him. He was a hippie and had once taught a class at Berkeley and then travelled extensively in India and become a Sikh. His wife lived in Prague and he had worked for the famous Inlingua in Frankfurt before helping set up the VW classes in Kassel and deciding what books to use to teach towards the LCCIB exams. He focussed most of his lessons on doing grammar from the Murphy grammar book, which is one of the most famous grammar books. He was an older man in his forties or fifties with a VW camper van and a big bushy beard which he didn’t bother colouring. I just remember him arriving at Pauli Biscuits with me and saying, Where’s coffee? having got a little impatient at waiting for the service he was normally provided with before his class. There were some who would have a rather unfair giggle by calling him Mr Bean.
Brett was an all-round nice guy. He had been employed by Inlingua Kassel to earn money for a post-masters trip to Germany to see all the sights connected with the Nazi revolution which he had studied for his degree. He studied at the University of Ontario in Canada. He and I were quite close. He was also a very talented organist and choirmaster which I thought was great. I thought he was the best friend I’d been looking for all my life, that he was really my type of guy. He mentioned that he was gay shortly after I’d met him. This totally confused me. The funny thing is because I was so attracted to his personality and I hadn’t ever had a fully sexual relationship before I thought I must have homosexual tendencies. I’ve now decided against it, but I’m still gay friendly. I’m just too nervous with men. I’m very attracted to bisexual women as a result of my friendship with Brett.
Harald Klußmann was the boss. He was a clear addict of some kind with a history of criminal or proto-criminal activity. For example, he apparently used to grow his own grass. He came into work in the morning looking as though he’d had no sleep or was pretty high on cocaine or something harder, in an aggressive manner with distinctly red eyes. On the other hand, he could sometimes be calm. Apparently, according to some of the others he needed to keep happy as he had been an unsuccessful undertaker in the past. He was proud of the fact that he had always had money though. In the first few years of him taking over the business, having completed a two-year course at Inlingua world headquarters in Bern, he had grown the business substantially. However, because the teaching staff were proving to have other aims like seeing the world and Cuban boyfriends, for example he was in trouble. In general, he had not made accommodation for our needs and many staff had left or been discontented. They may also have been complained against and he was asked to discipline them. However, Sebastian had given him the nickname Colonel K. because he had some less than traditional ways of balancing the books: working with obsolete books so he could sell them, charging the secretaries for English courses they had received as a perk when they had left the firm, docking people’s pay for any excuse under the sun and unlawfully dismissing anyone who stood up to him.
Nadine was the main secretary and person who welcomed us all into the school. The secretaries got paid a fixed salary and were the best off of all the staff, including Harald because they had a fixed monthly salary. They knew they were onto a good thing with Harald so they often backed the boss in situations of conflict. They were fiercely loyal to him. He said he couldn’t do without them.
Susanne was a good-looking woman with a child from a previous marriage. She and Harald were now living together as boyfriend and girlfriend. Susanne once mentioned how hard Harald was working and how difficult it was for him with all the teachers wanting to be there for different reasons and the firms complaining about them. She said he was also paid the least of anyone because he was only allowed to lay claim to what was left over at the end of the month. I and the others had little sympathy for this at the time, but in fairness to him, when I started my own ELT business later on, people in German firms are murderously difficult to keep on the right side of.
Hanna was a male teacher who had just left the school when I arrived. He was a somewhat naïve UCL graduate who thought the job of professional ELT was going to be easy. He didn’t get on with Harald but he didn’t particularly like me either for having the job with a CELTA course and no degree, but he was quite supportive during the troubles with Harald when we visited his place on the outskirts of town. He had already started working for someone else and was good with her at that time, but fell out with her as well later. Harald asked him to do some interpreting for him which he said he could have done, but refused. After a while though he disowned me and was a real snob.
6.0 Memorable Events and Places
6.1 St Nicholas Day
On St Nicholas Day, December 6, 2001, we all got chocolates from Harald, Nadine and Susanne to eat in the teachers’ room. Our bags of sweeties were laid out on a tray for us by Nadine. That was really nice of Harald. I think Susanne’s little boy must have appreciated them as well.
6.2 Nudel Nudel
Nudel Nudel was a great little Spaghetti bar we all used to go to for lunch. You could choose between fresh brown whole-wheat pasta, green pasta, yellow pasta or orange pasta, and tortellini as well and there were a variety of sauces of which I found the cheese sauce the best. They had it all cooked for you already. The simply tossed it back in the water for twenty seconds and took it out again to heat it up for you. So, it was effective fast food suitable for business lunches.
The Joker Bar was an internet café I visited because computer laptops were still too big and cumbersome to carry around with you in those days. You paid for a pass which gave you a certain amount of credit. It was an internet café and also a casino so you had to put up with all the fruit machines whirring in the background, the stench of alcohol, cigarettes and a rather sticky carpet as well as a brilliant white screen in a darkened room. One time, when I was coming back from the Joker the 2002 world cup was on and Germany had just dispatched Argentina. A guy laid his head out of a first floor window waving a German flag singing, Tschüss Maradona, and There’s only one Rudi Völler, who was the manager back then, a rather defensive one, it has to be said. They got to the final and lost to Brazil. Miroslav Klose scored a few goals though.
6.4 Kassel Weinachtsmarkt
I went to the Kassel Christmas Market with Sebastian and Brett from the school. Brett introduced me to hot chocolate and Amaretto which was really nice on such a chilly winter night. We went a few times.