A first-hand account of studying German with Cactus in Berlin: Ich bin Laura und ich liebe Berlin! By Laura McCombe
In December, I travelled to Berlin to learn German at Cactus’ partner school, GLS Berlin. I had already visited Berlin – in fact, this was the second time I had visited in a year. However, the previous trips I had taken to Berlin were only for a weekend at a time and were spent hopping from one tourist attraction to the other before flying home. This time I would spend a week in Berlin and learn German along with a friend with equally as little knowledge of the language as I.
I arrived in Berlin on Sunday afternoon, and as I had booked shared apartment accommodation with the school, made my way directly to the GLS reception which is conveniently open 7 days a week. After an effortless check-in, we walked the 5 minutes to apartment and dropped off our luggage.
The location of the school and apartment was fantastic! Set in the popular Prenzlauer Berg district, this area is an upmarket alternative to grungy Kruezberg and is surrounded by great bars and restaurants. As soon as we arrived, we made our way to the sprawling Mauerpark market at the top of the road to check out its unusual wares and to get some cheap food (€1! For everything!)
As tempting as it was to while the evening away in one of the area’s ridiculously cool bars, we headed home for an early night, ready for our first German lesson the next day. Our first morning started with an amazing breakfast (one of the benefits of booking accommodation through the school), an orientation tour and class registration. Most students have to complete a placement test to ascertain their level but as I had never studied German before, I was automatically placed in the complete beginner class.
My classmates were from all over the world and were all learning German for different reasons – we had a Portuguese air hostess who was learning German so she could speak to customers, a Polish engineer who needed German for his career and more unusually, a Korean cheese-maker, who was in Germany to discover more about cheese making.
The classes were completely immersive – not a word of English was spoken. If you have never participated in an immersion course at beginner level, I understand that it can be difficult to imagine how it can work. Sure, you can’t understand a single thing when you arrive (well, if you have zero vocabulary like I did) but even by the end of your first lesson, things start to make sense. The teachers at GLS were excellent and made the lessons fun and engaging – I cannot recommend the school’s style of teaching enough!
Outside of lessons, Berlin offered lots of opportunities to practice my new German skills. GLS offer a wide range of social activities such as a Sprachaustausch (language exchange) every Monday and discounted visits to some popular and some not very well known museums and galleries in Berlin. They also offer trips over the weekends to locations outside of the city, such as to the lakes in the summer months or even further afield to neighbouring Poland. I hope to continue learning German for a while and am currently enrolled on a Cactus German course in Brighton. I plan to go back to Germany this year but maybe to Hamburg, Cologne or Munich this time – well, if I can avoid the temptation to go back to my new favourite city, Berlin.