Twenty students from Herzog Christoph Gymnasium in Beilstein, Germany, are in the city on an exchange programme

Germany comes calling on the city this week. A group of 20 high school students and two teachers from the Herzog Christoph Gymnasium, a 600-year-old high school in Beilstein, a picturesque town known for its vineyards, and situated in the Baden-Württemberg region in the southern part of Germany, are on a two-week visit of Kerala. The teenagers are here in the city as part of an exchange programme supported by the Bosch Foundation. Earlier, a group of students of the Trivandrum International School (TRINS) had visited Beilstein in July. When MetroPlus caught up with the group at the Goethe-Zentrum where they were attending a reception in their honour, all of them seemed to be having a merry time in Kerala.

First impressions of Kerala? “Loud, full of people, warm, charming, beautiful, colourful, humid, rainy, cars honking, as soon as we stepped out of the airport there was music in the air blasting from loudspeakers….,” say Katharin Ritter, Esther Jaskorski, Jessie Schwarz, and Nicole Huber, four of the students in the group. “It’s everything that one would expect India to be. It’s everything we wanted India to be…,”quips Nicole, as her friends nod their heads in agreement. Surprisingly, all of them seem to be proficient in English. “We are taught English as well as other foreign languages such as French, Spanish and Latin,” says Jessie, who like most of the others in the group is dressed in white T-shirts embossed with the logo of their school. “Unlike school children here in Kerala, we don’t wear school uniforms. So like everything we’ve seen here this is a novel experience for us,” she says, which, naturally, prompts a discussion on the differences between schools in Germany and Kerala.

“Well for one, our school is five minutes away from home and we don’t have to travel for an hour as we do here to go to TRINS. We don’t have a school assembly every morning. High schools in Germany are entirely separate from primary schools and secondary schools and we don’t see the younger students at all. And the biggest difference, strange as it may seem, in primary level itself, we have to make a choice what subjects we want to learn for our future careers!,” say the quartet.

The group have been here since Monday and have been staying with host families. “Everybody has been very kind to us,” says Kathrin, recounting how her hosts ensured that she drank lots of water when she became dehydrated shortly after reaching the city. “We are not used to humidity at all. It is autumn now in Germany and the day before we left, it snowed for the first time this year,” she adds. The group have been visiting places such as Saigraman and Navaikulam temple on the outskirts of the city, mostly to collect information about their common project – Old Age Care. “It seems to be a relevant issue for Germany as is in Kerala,” says Nicole. “We also have individual projects such as religion in Kerala, food, education of girls in India, and so on, which we have to submit once we get back home,” adds Marie Helliwell, another student. Marie is dressed for the occasion in a dirndl, a type of traditional dress worn in Germany which consists of a bodice, ruffled blouse, full skirt and apron. “The dirndl is worn for special occasions. Just like the sari is worn in many different ways, the dirndl has many regional variations. I sometimes wear it to fairs or for concerts,” says the youngster, who is all set to play a song by German composer Bach on the violin as part of the cultural programmes for the evening. “I’m really enjoying the visit. The culture of Kerala is so amazing…” she adds as Nicole on the guitar and her schoolmate Karl, on the vocals, present the popular German number An Tagen wie diesen, wunscht man sich Unendlichkeit… (On days like these, you wish they would never end). Willkommen in Kerala (Welcome to Kerala).