Essen and the Ruhrgebiet
Essen is a city in the so called Ruhrpott or Ruhrgebiet. This is a municipality roughly the size of LA in which about 5.2 million people live. The entire population of this area is greater than that of Berlin by about two million. There is so little free space between the cities they are in effect one industrial municipality. Bochum and Essen and Mullheim and Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund on the Eastern side. It is about seventy miles across. When I first travelled there I had to go on the old RB (regional) train with a single line track up through Neviges and Velbert changing at Wuppertal Vohwinkel from Hauptbahnhof, but mid way through my career there chaos was cause with a bus replacement system going up there as the line was gradually widened to a two line S bahn or urban express train line. So we got the modern air conditioned S-bahns then which were a lot better in the summer and they very rarely check tickets on those ones as well, they had a conductor on the other one. Not that it mattered because I had my student pass. Essen has a musical community with quite a famous music college called the Volkwangschule where both Karsten Zündorf (Kammerchor Wupperfeld) and Charlotte Hake (Gesamthochschule Kassel Choir. (See My Time in Kassel) both studied. It also has an opera house and orchestral hall as well as the cathedral and cathedral choir school. It was bombed out for England during the war being the centre of the coal mining and steel making region. This applies to the whole of the Ruhrgebiet. So many of the buildings were concreate and modern including the main shopping precinct and station. They have their own working class dialect which is also a sociolect to a certain extent in the Ruhrgebiet for example they greet each other by saying “Glück auf” and not “Guten Tag”.
The scenery on the way in
The scenery on the way in on the train was quite interesting first of all passing through Vohwinkel and a fairly flat plain up into Neviges and Velbert with huge great hemlock flowers and rolling streams and wild flower meadows to rolling hills and finally the post-industrial mining landscape of Essen Kupferdreh with is mining lift. Then finally a huge railway junction that lead to Essen main station.
Suffering racial abuse on the way in
I don’t’ know whether the person sitting next to me was this guys wife or not but I was chatting to an older lady on the train about a possible move to Italy at the end of the year and the guy on the opposite side of the isle clocked that I was English and started to take the Mickey saying “Geh, mach platz!”. “Go to Italy and make space for someone else”. What a racist German miner. I didn’t react or clock him one. I was really passive in those days.
The Dragonfly on the bus replacement service on the way home.
The other thing I remember of traveling in and out of Essen is coming back late one evening and there being a dragonfly fluttering around the bus and someone trying to catch it to let it free. Dragonflies are surprisingly noisy, very large and strong as well, especially when flying around the driver’s head. I felt sorry for it because the person trying to catch it probably fatally injured it anyway. It couldn’t get away but and it was trying to get away, but it was amazing to see one up that close though without it being able to dodge you in the air. They are so beautiful and colourful but really scary flying at you in confined space like that. It was an adult one and it was huge.
Kern AG Essen
I had a few 121 classes and small groups of 221 at Kern AG Essen a chain group of language centres that specialise in teaching and translation all over Germany and beyond. Once you were on their computer system they could employ you at any branch of the PLC which is what AG means in German or Akitiongesellschaft. Kern AG Essen were the first to react. They were always small offices with one or two translation staff working alone and running the franchise also known as project managers. Usually nice people to work for. These classes took place exclusively on a Saturday morning. I popped into the Wuppertal office told them I was qualified with a CELTA and they put me on the system as a teacher. Later I persuaded the lady in Bonn to test me as a translator and I got work all over the world form them as a translator too. At first though I just worked for them as a teacher in three locations Essen, Wuppertal and Bonn. They were a reliable key client that I was with for a total of ten years from 2003-2013 and got a reasonable reference from.
Frau Katja Schreiber
Katja Schreiber was my boss at Kern AG in Essen in the Ruhrgebiet. She was a thin tall lady, who had studied Japanese. She could be irritable and she was a very lovelable boss at times because she made so many mistakes and tried to blame them on you and all and sundry. I think there was a little bit of mutual attraction on her part; I could take it and get on with her and I did need the work.
The first run in with Katja
This was when the Polish girl who was supposed to hand me the key on Saturday morning that she liked went home before I arrived. I wasn’t obliged to be at the school before half past and I was twenty minutes early and I went for my favourite coffee with maple syrup from Melchior Coffee on the way there and it’s just five minutes from the station. When I got there the Polish girl had already cleared off and I had to tell my pupil I couldn’t teach her because I couldn’t get in the office. I suppose we could have gone to a café but they didn’t want to. I got the full brunt of that she said she didn’t believe I turned up on time and the Polish girl was lying through her teeth. In fact, Polish people have a massive reputation for being crooks in Germany, but that one very nearly lost me Katja's attention. She liked the Polish girl and trusted her more than me at that stage, but she did like me enough to keep me on.
Riyadh Kassaneh begging me to steal Katja’s class.
Riyadh Kassaneh my Saudi pupil decided that he would like me to move his class from the school to his office. Katja was reluctant to do that because he was wangling it from her for free when that service normally costed more. Katja quite often blew it with people like that and it turned out he didn’t like her at all and wanted to cut out the middle man. It was an opportunity to steal a firm but they weren’t the most reliable of people and Riaydh eventually just lost interest, but I was offered more money for cutting Katja out, but Katja did motivate him to come. She was good at getting the pupils to turn up that’s why I regretted it and she remained loyal to me. There was talk of setting a couple of classes up for the staff there just me on my own but it never got off the ground. They were too busy being rich.
Frau Metze Fiasco
I can’t remember the exact context of how this happened but Katja ended up very nearly wetting her knickers she laughed so much at one of our misunderstandings. She asked me to phone someone about getting my pay transferred to my bank called Frau Metze in Frankfurt. I misunderstood her name and repeated it as Frau Hotze and I think Katja thought I said Frau Fotze which means Mrs Cunt in German. I said Hotze Frau Schreiber not Fotze, but it only made the situation worse. If I’d touched her we would have had a very long day in the office indeed I’m sure because I did find her rather sweet.
Frau Katja’s cock up and me stealing the class to save her reputation
When my East German pupil wanted to come in for some interview English Katja had already decided she didn’t want to go ahead with the class because she hadn’t paid up front. Unfortunately, I’d turned up to teach her. She felt she was lying about payment, but she was crying and seemed really genuine. Katja was really horrible to me and said she wasn’t going to pay my travel expenses and asked for her to sort it out with me personally hinting that I might like to not charge her for travel expenses. I talked to Katja and said I thought she was okay and she said she didn’t want anything to do with her, because she could only afford very few lessons she wasn’t paying for. I took the risk and thought she was genuine and as she was distraught because Katja had been so nasty to her I bought her a coffee and said I’d teach her anyway in the café again behind Katja’s back. I probably helped save the reputation of the firm by doing so.
Locked in the office after class on Saturday with a female pupil
One Saturday I merrily took my pupil upstairs to the Kern office in Essen for her lesson. We were just leaving and went downstairs when we realised that security had come and locked the roller shutter door and I only had a key for the main door. I was locked in there with a female pupil with me longing for her boyfriend on the other side, her poking her hand through and him holding on wanting to go out on a date for lunch. I panicked. I didn’t know what to do I went back in the office and I thought we were going to have to be there until Monday. Luckily there was a phone outside Katja’s office because the door to that was locked and I wasn’t allowed the key for that. I picked up the receiver and got through to Mr Kern himself in Frankfurt the big boss of the global organisation and said I’m stuck in your office and it’s Saturday what can I do. He said just sit tight and I’ll call the security. Might take an hour or two. So, I was stuck rather embaressingly preventing boyfriend and girlfriend from kissing as if I was some kind of molester that had done it on purpose. Eventually they did release us from jail and Katja gave me a key for the blasted thing so it never happened again. Mr Kern was just about to leave the office and was only there by a sheer fluke of nature to check over something on a Saturday morning and had stayed until lunch.
The fury of the Midwives.
The other run in I had with Katja was with the midwives class at Düsseldorf Hospital on one weekend. I rang them up, asked what they wanted and they gave me the German for Amniotic fluid = Fruchtwasser, Have you any bleeding? Haben Sie geblutet? and all the rest of it. Translated what they needed to know and made some materials myself. Unfortunately, they were so fussy they’d messed Katja around so much she’d pulled the plug on the class. I said for them to go through the boss already, but we’d made a date for the weekend course to take place. Katja had pulled the plug without telling them only me! I got the wrap for not turning up having been woken at 8am by a very rude ward sister asking where in the hell I was that day. I told her to get in touch with her about it. It wasn’t my problem and I wasn’t allowed to go to the class on her explicit instructions. They thought I was cocking them about naturally with her presentation skills.
Classes that went well at Kern AG Essen
Riyadh Kassaneh and his brother at Swedex GmBH
Riyadh was a very cheeky younger brother of a rich Saudi businessman in Essen whose company Swedex made office laminating machines. I taught Riyadh one to one at Kern AG offices using the book business basics. He enjoyed my lessons, being a rich Saudi businessmen he commanded respect and had a lot of charisma. He wanted his English for liasing with day to day clients in China and the middle and far East in order to head up his brother’s Dubai operation in the Dubai free zone. When he’d had enough he’d just had enough. He said right I know enough English now! He said he didn’t need to be perfect because his clients English wasn’t perfect either, but he liked me and we did about fifty hours together and then renewed for a further ten with me on my own going into his company and being paid by his brother directly. They cut Katja out of it eventually they liked me and not her. They were really sexist though. We used a book called Business Basics by OUP.
One day I went into the office and Riyadh whispered to a secretary. “Hey”, he said pointing at me “he wanted to cover you in chocolate and lick it all off” in order to try and make trouble for me with his brother. I think it was getting near to the end of the contract but what a jerk. He was such a cheeky little swine.
When Riyadh really had had enough of me he said. “Let me drive you down to Neuss and you can tell me the name of this other machine we’ve got in the office there”. So, I got to ride in the bosses custom designed BMW cabrio, with a rear he designed himself, playstation in all of the passenger seats, Porsche wheels and so on. He just wanted to take me for a ride and tell me about his womanising. He really did drive that thing like a bat out of hell. He just said don’t worry it’s safer if you have more poke you have more control over reacting to situations.
East German Uranium Miner’s Daughter.
The lady whom I taught in the café was from Halle. Her family were drawn the short straw in communist times and told to go down the Uranium mines without any protective equipment. It meant that their entire family were irradiated with alpha particles and goodness knows what other types for radioactive materials with a million-year-half-lives. They were given compensation by the East German government for the loss of their father’s life to cancer and they had all had similar growth and health defficiencies and disabilities so that she found it very hard to find work. Let alone due to the lack of education available to her and her family under communism as workers. Despite the fact that they had actively attempted to drive the living standards of the working class upwards and that that process ha been actively controlled in areas like so called HaNeu or Halle Neustadt. She was nice but was left with nothing in life poor soul and neither did Katja have any time for her I was the only person that cared. She was an Ossi and they hate Ossis or Easterners in the West.
The Hochtief AG Essen girls
I was also asked to take over a class at Hochtief AG Essen which must be the world headquarters of the construction company that builds airports and stadia like the entire London Olympics site for 2012 and Frankfurt airport station. I just had to go there a few times and finish off the contract but it was a great place to go for a class.
The interior of Hochtief Essen was amazing. At that time there was a massive atrium with an indoor garden and ornamental pool in black marble and you had to go across a series of stepping stones to get to the offices on the other side. Very plush I loved that but when you got to the offices themselves they were just the bog standard open office in other words; they were a bit of an anti-climax.
Elsewhere in Essen
Al Mulino’s just outside the school on the opposite side of the lane was a massive Italian restaurant of the highest order. Never have I tasted such great carbonara as that. It was such a contrast to the one I had in East Berlin (See My Little Book of Berlin). It was done to the 1970s Cordon Bleu recipe my mum had at home but with the very best quality pancetta and the finest parmiggiano reggiano I have ever taste really sharp pungent taste and smell. It was fantastic and only available mail order to their chef. I did ask to have some shipped in for me and they declined.