EVS life: First weeks in Dresden

A month ago I started my EVS. Well, technically it began many moons past when I was looking for a project, a sending organisation and general volunteer inspiration, but on 5 January 2018 bright-eyed—or wearied-eyed I should say since my plane from the UK departed at an eye-wateringly early hour—and bushy-tailed, I landed in Berlin-Schöenfeld airport. I had only previously been to Germany for a short holiday but nevertheless was looking forward to the prospect of improving my fragmented school-day German, stuffing myself with Kartoffeln, Wurst und Bier, and learning more about the country that was to be my new home.

Dresden street art.
Dresden street art.

The first weekend flew by. A scenic Flixbus journey to Dresden later, I was welcomed by my temporary host-a girl from my hosting organisation who had offered me to stay at her flat until I was able to find a flatshare of my own. We ended up going out for some beers with a group of her friends and, with the help of a Club-Mate (a scarily caffeinated German soft drink), I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite my sleep-deprivation! One of the current EVS volunteers had also messaged me just before my arrival and we’d arranged to meet the following day for some touristy sightseeing and coffee. It was so lovely to spend a weekend exploring Dresden before I started work on the Monday, and even lovelier to have such a warm welcome!

Monday-first day in the office. There’s a new girl in town!

My first week at work was hectic! There were so many projects and events to familiarise myself with and since I am the only native English speaker, I spent the majority of it correcting the English of project descriptions, reports and on the new website etc.

There are currently three other EVS volunteers in the office which is great because we all go to lunch together and when the sun decides to shine down on Dresden, we go and eat by the Elbe river. In my third week, Marie, a German girl doing an internship at JKPeV, left Dresden to begin her ERASMUS semester so I am now managing the project she was working on— its called ‘You Are Welcome’ and focuses primarily on combatting Hate Speech and the stigmatisation of immigrants and refugees. I can’t wait to get my teeth into it, since it’s such a relevant and topical project— but at the moment, I’m still getting to grips with the basics! Expect an update later!

Dresden Neustadt by Night.
Dresden Neustadt by Night.

However, it hasn’t all been work work work! The other EVS volunteers have been showing me the best of what Dresden has to offer. I didn’t really know much about what the city itself was like before I arrived but I was so pleasantly surprised. Dresden is a mismatch of architecture— Baroque, Renaissance, Modernist, Post-Modernist etc and it’s a colourful city too. There is always something going on, you just need to know where to look. I spent my second weekend just wandering around and trying to take it all in.

Finding a lunch spot by the Elbe.
Finding a lunch spot by the Elbe.

Iva, an EVS volunteer from Croatia, held a Croatian dinner party which was definitely a highlight of the month—not only was the food DELICIOUS but also it was nice to learn a little about a culture I know nothing about. I can now confirm though, that Balkan hospitality is unbeatable. We stuffed ourselves silly with good food (including home-made salami) and Croatian liquor, attempted to sing some Croatian songs and generally made merry.

I, in turn, took the opportunity to display a little Scottish hospitality and invited everyone to come sample a traditional Haggis, tatties and neeps supper and celebrate Burn’s Night. Burn’s night— 25th January— is a Scottish national celebration where we celebrate the life and work of Robert Burns, a famous Scottish poet and writer, its full of singing, recitals and traditional ceilidh dancing. The only thing that was missing was Scotch whiskey and real Haggis. Without going into too much detail, a haggis is the lungs, heart and liver of a sheep mixed with oats and pepper and then baked in the sheep’s stomach casing, it doesn’t sound appetising but it is delicious! However, when I ventured out to the butchers in Dresden to buy the ingredients for the Haggis, I was met with blank stares and complete confusion as I tried to explain what I wanted. Apparently Germans don’t eat sheep’s innards! So, I ended up cooking a ‘Vegetarian’ Haggis, sans sheep but with lots of lentils, peas and pepper!

haggis
Our international group all enjoying Haggis, tatties and neeps!
Our international group all enjoying Haggis, tatties and neeps!

I can’t say that I have liked all of the German foods I have tried so far though. I was on a food shopping adventure in Lidl and came across the strangest-looking potato balls, or Grüne Klöße to Sachsens. I, of course, had to try them! With the help of Google Translate and a little perseverance I managed to decipher the cooking instructions and was rewarded with…very little. I can only describe it as a giant, gluttonous, chewy gnocchi ball. A little too chewy, bland and un-potato like for me, but when I told a German friend about my disappointing Grüne Klöße experience, she said that they taste so much better when they are home-made, so maybe I will have to invest a little more effort and attempt to make them from scratch. Watch this space!

My first month has, of course, also been filled with the unavoidable practical tasks that everyone needs to do when they arrive in a new place—flat hunting, city registration, opening bank accounts, finding a language course etc. This is one thing that I am glad is nearly done, since it is always the most stressful part, and now that it’s nearly done, I can get on with making the most of my EVS year!

Written by Braoin