In January 2018, a group of students from St David’s participated in an exchange with the Ferdinand- Porsche Gymnasium (FPGZ).
We lived with our host families and had wonderful week experiencing life as a teenager in Stuttgart, the capital of the Baden-Württemberg region in Germany. Stuttgart is Cardiff’s twin town, and the cities were officially ‘twinned’ in 1955.
On Monday morning at 7:30, we gathered in the school to have breakfast together. Whilst we had our bretzels, a traditional bread baked in Germany, some of the FPGZ students delivered presentations about their school system.
In Germany, there are three options for secondary education. You can attend either a Hauptschule, a Realschule, or a Gymnasium. The Hauptschule provides a more practical education, and the majority of students who graduate the Hauptschule will do an apprenticeship.
The Realschule and the Gymnasium are the more academic options, with students who attend a Gymnasium studying up to 11 subjects before their final year, when they then complete a qualification called the Abitur. This is a bit like A Levels, and the students will study 5 subjects. Both mathematics and English are compulsory Abitur subjects.
The greatly anticipated bilingual debate took place on Tuesday. The St David’s students were challenged to debate in German, and the FPGZ students in English. We debated whether plastic should be abolished completely, and we debated in the style of the British parliament.
That afternoon we took an awesome double-decker train to Tübingen. Tübingen is a historic student hub, and is home to the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen. I really liked the Schloβ Hohentübingen, from which I had a wonderful view and could see the contrast between the cobbled streets of the Altstadt (old town), and the industrial buildings of the newer part of the city.
We learned more about the history and politics of the region on Wednesday morning during our tour of the Rathaus (city hall). Stuttgart is famous for car manufacturing, and approximately 1/5 jobs are associated with the automobile industry. It was really interesting to learn about the influence of these industries on important parts of the city such as the transport system.
Our exchange partners joined us in the city centre that evening. We went to the theatre to see a production of Hӧnig im Kopf, a very funny yet very sad story about a plucky young girl caring for her grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
On Thursday morning, we attended lessons at the school. I had chemistry and art, and it was a good opportunity to experience the teaching style.
After that, we went to Ludwigsburg city and had a tour of the Residenzschloss, a 452 room Baroque palace with its own theatre. It is nicknamed the ‘’Versailles of Swabia*’’ and is one of the largest palace complexes in Europe.
Friday was superb. We spent the whole morning at the Mercedes Benz Museum, which is home to the first car engine, the 2008 McLaren, and the first electric Mercedes. Your tour starts on the top floor of the building, and slowly you spiral down through the decades, starting in the 1880s and finishing in 2018.
As it was our last evening together, we decided to cook dinner as a group. We had a hand-made pasta dish with salad and Apfelschorle, followed by (vegan!) Picau ar y maen (aka Welsh cakes).
I will really miss my time in Stuttgart. I loved the church bells in the city centre; in fact, there were very few times when I couldn’t hear bells ringing to mark the start of the next hour. The abundance of castles and green spaces felt almost like home, whilst the sheer number of magnificent churches, the bäkerei, and the trams were something completely new.
"It was great being so immersed in the language, and I really think my German improved during the week."
We were treated like adults by the teachers from the Gymnasium, and I would like to thank everyone involved for giving us so many opportunities. We all had a super week, and are really looking forward to hosting our partners in March!
*Swabia is a historic, linguistic region of Germany. Swabians speak an Alemannic dialect of High German (Swäbisch).