Zimbelican Adventures (2): Lost in Translation


Ich bin in der Übersetzung verloren… Ja, I often find myself lost in translation…

sex and the city

GIRL POWER: Ive employed the ladies from Sex & The City to help me out with my German. Completely dubbed, with English subtitles, makes for fascinating learning skills. PIC: online


No, it’s not what you think. Haha… German is a sehr schwierig (very difficult) language, so difficult that I bought the entire Season 1 and 2 of Sex & The City to help me out (besides my official classes, of course). Shortly afterwards, I realised my vocabulary will be very limited. Oops (or Hoopla! as you say in German). It really was the ONLY series they had in the shop. And it was my favourite series ten years ago, so it helped a lot with feeling all nostalgic in a new town.


bus transport

LETS DO THE BUS-STOP: Public transport is amazing in Germany. You can be at any mall, train station, neighbouring village or big town in just a couple of minutes. Just take the right bus-line. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

I’ve finally figured out the public transport system. Hurra! Busline 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 all go in similar directions and eventually back to the student apartments. So, when I had a late night class and none were immediately available, I did a crazy thing and took Busline 1. IDIOT!

I found myself stranded in the countryside on the coldest spring day, in the rain (nogal!). The bus driver shook his head at me and drove me to his final destination, where he swapped seats with a new driver.

The new driver grunted at me, whispered something in German, then Turkish and took me to where I had originally got on. I was patient now and waited for the right busline, which eventually came 45 minutes later.

Cold and wet, it was an amazing feeling to be home again. I may decide to do such future excursions on a sunny day. At least then I’ll be able to see my experiences.


Yes, I had a traumatic experience at the post. No, it didn’t come from the sharp edges of envelopes or the messy desks filled with people’s unwanted letters and bills. It came from the DHL owner. I tried posting 24 postcards (for those who had been kind enough to send me their addresses) and a present. The cost came to 19, 77 Euros. I knew I had the exact amount and started digging in my purse. I couldn’t find the darn 2 cents to make up that 7… He soon lost his temper and shouted at me. In future: somehow calculate what each little stamp and gram will amount to… Really now 😉

internet cafe

GERMAN ENGINEERING: You can wait for your washing, while chatting online. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets


I fell in love with a specific restaurant’s freshly pressed orange juice. I still don’t understand why they keep giving me the wrong one. I’ve given up in trying to explain, but the synthetic one has really left a sour taste in my mouth. Arghhh, and asthma attacks at night.

Rule here is: once it’s placed on your table, you can’t send it back. Keep your eyes and oranges peeled…


Do not invade people’s personal space. In South Africa, it may be good manners to help a little granny across the road, but here I would advise you not to. I was at the Internet Café, when the granny next to me couldn’t find the print button. The owner showed her once, but she soon forgot.

I put my hand on her mouse to show her the difference between right-click and left-click and she scratched it quite viciously!

I was in shock. She then printed her stuff and walked away. Not even a ‘Vielen Dank’ or an apology.

German sunset

TASTE OF AFRICA: The beautiful sunsets of Tübingen remind me of home and make every day worthwhile... PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets


Despite these unpleasant few incidents, I have managed to find English classes which more or less fit into journalism. The one on War Photography I’m enjoying very much. We have to write response papers, do a presentation and do a written or oral exam (depending on what your major is). It feels great to know lots of background info on the topic and inform the class about the amazing foursome from South Africa known as the Bang Bang Club. Can’t wait for the movie this April! Sigh…

The other class is called Technological Utopias and asks us to see the pros and cons of living as part of the Technocratic Generation. I was thinking of doing another class on Shakespeare’s poetry and one on racism, just to fill up my time. But, a better idea would be to work for the local newspaper and finish my children’s stories. Yes, it has taken me nearly 12 years to tell the stories I used to tell my brother before he would go to sleep. Nothing leaked about the subject matter just yet 😉

Oh, and not forgetting these Zimbelican stories too… Time to check out the clubbing scene and blog about that, now that all the admin is finally done! PROST!

Zimbelican Adventures: Herzlich Willkommen in Tübingen!



FAR FAR AWAY: Tübingen is a beautiful student town 20 minutes from Stuttgart, filled with miniature castles, canals and dozens of bakeries. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Why Zimbelican? Well, Tintin was already taken… I’m a Zimbabwean Belgian South African. Confused? Yeah, so is my passport. My Belgian parents had me in Zimbabwe (it was paradise in the 1980s), but I’ve lived in South Africa since 1991. And now, I’m back in Europe on a German scholarship…

Tintin would be proud 😉

Tübingen is a beautiful, quaint little town 20 minutes out of Stuttgart, in the BadenWürttemberg province. It’s a real student town, a lot like Stellenbosch through its dozens of coffee and clothing shops, except the apartment buildings are blue, orange or yellow. And the main town is set up in Medieval architecture. It feels like I’m walking in a scene from Joan of Arc as I buy airtime. Absurd feeling.

YUMMY: Around Nonnenhaus, you can find a selection of restaurants and shops amongst Medieval architecture. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

On our way to buy groceries, my mom and I met people from China, Gabon, Spain and the Netherlands… My mom was kind enough to join me for the first week of my “big move” overseas.
It’s really like being thrown in the deep-end. I have a few German words to keep me afloat, but once I’m asked to say something, I hesitate. Maybe after a few glasses of Gluhwein, I’ll be speaking fluently.

Not that they’ll be serving Gluhwein this time… It’s spring, which means it’s the equivalent to South Africa’s winter: a mild 10-20 degrees with birds chirping and beautiful cherry blossoms.

Tubingen kitchen

WHATS COOKING? Sharing a kitchen with international students has its highlights: a different countrys delicacies every night? PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

My room is half the size it was in Stellies, about 3X5 metres and I have to share a bathroom and toilet with the others on my floor. They seem friendly enough. A guy from Yemen and a Taiwanese girl were cooking up a storm in the kitchen as I arrived.

Well, the BIG QUESTION: why am I here of all places? My essay on values for the “Projekt Wertewelten (Global Values)” held by various academics, researchers and government members from this region was chosen amongst ten of the best worldwide. Here is their site: http://www.wertewelten.net/schreibwettbewerb.html I wrote about the value of life in Zimbabwe, where I was born.
For those who haven’t read it, here it is: https://vsmeets.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/the-value-of-life-in-zimbabwe/

wertewelten team

GREAT VALUES: The Wertewelten team and winners have breakfast at the Irish Pub. The contestants wrote about how values affected their various lives. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

During the week, I will meet the other students from Japan, Canada and Russia. There’s even a blind girl from India who wrote about the value of her parents since her birth. The other two South Africans, American girl and guy from Ivory Coast have not arrived yet.

We have been given six months to explore, mingle and merge with other students. I will be staying till the end of August, until my next adventure begins (destination will be revealed only in blog 6 or 7). This is a great test to see if I’m ready to ever work or live in Europe.

Also, I finally feel like the journalist Tintin (Tim) was: far away and free to do as I wish. Yet, having a Snowy (or, as they say in German, Struppi) to protect me from potential harm would be nice. I keep looking on the wrong side of the road while crossing it, for instance.

Tubingen walking distance

QUICK WALK: Across the bridge, students can find the supermarket, bank and even an indoor swimming pool. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Everything is in walking distance from my flat: the supermarket, the bank, the stationery shop. Yip, everything except the actual university. I haven’t quite figured out the public transport system yet. And my course is in German! Oh
my, I will be spending hours doing an intensive language course. Thank goodness I don’t have to write any tests or exams.
I’m dreaming of weekends away though: the beerhalls in Munich, the Batman mural in Berlin or the Beatles ex-flat in Hamburg. Wait a minute, it’s closer to just take a train to Switzerland or Austria. Ahhh, the perks of living in Europe 🙂


Strange sights

STRANGE SIGHTS: If you take a bus, you may find yourself eating Italian while watching horses perform at show jumping. Take a bus, any bus... You bound to find something new! PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

  • Registration fee: 103, 50 Euros
  • Clubbing: 3-10 Euros (50 Euros if you have an ‘unlimited’ drinking card)
  • Semesterticket (unlimited bus access): 58, 50 Euros
  • Rent/ month: 230 Euros (if in a ‘studentenwerkhaus’)… Up to 500 Euros+ privately
  • Beer: 2,60+ Euros
  • Learning German: from 120 Euros per semester at the DAF (Deutsch als Fremdsprache)
  • Getting a German sim-card: 15 Euros (O2 is supposedly the cheapest network, although you have to buy various bundles before you figure this out. Internet bundle: 3,50 a day! Phone bundle: 20 Euros)
  • Opening a German Bank Account: FREE (as long as you show your living contract and student number)
  • Getting Health Insurance: FREE (then 15 Euros a month)
  • Becoming a resident: FREE (although you have to fill in various papers…all in German)

Auf wiedersehen, meine Liebe: Das ist Berlin


Berlin cabaret1

VERLORENE LIEBE: husband and wife realise they must separate during World War 2. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets


If you struggle to understand German, you may not understand this beautifully written cabaret Das ist Berlin to full effect.

It was on show the 9th of March at the Sanlam nagKAT, as part of Stellenbosch University’s Woordfees. Directed by Niel Rademan, it stars Chris van Niekerk and Elizabeth Frandsen as husband and wife forced to separate during World War 2. The hidden talent is Rika Vermeulen, playing passionately on piano in the background.

Berlin was the centre of cabaret during Nazi rule in the Third Reich, inspiring movies like Cabaret (1972), starring Liza Minnelli. Frandsen’s voice, even when her mic failed her, had incredible power, bringing some audience members to tears. Both van Niekerk and Frandsen slipped from Afrikaans to English to German songs with ease.

berlin cabaret2

WAHRHEIT: the wife foreshadows her husband's role in the Reich. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Van Niekerk plays the torn soldier who must leave his wife to serve in Hitler’s regime. Even when they are alone, Hitler’s voice screams to them from the radio, foreshadowing the husband’s inevitable future. At first, their love seems unbreakable. In several scenes, they look lovingly into each other’s eyes for alternatives. There are none.
Instead, they are haunted by the words:

“Two moths around a flame,
If their wings burn,
I’m not to blame…”

Berlin cabaret3

MEIN KAMPF: The couple struggle to see eye-to-eye when the husband is sent to war. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets


They separate and the wife sings in the cabaret, dreaming of her husband’s return. He sends her a luggage case filled with gifts from cities the Nazis have invaded: lace from Brussels, a dress from Paris, new shoes from Prague and a black shawl from Bucharest, anticipating her role from wife to widow. She now sings about the children they never had, more soldiers that have gone to war and the graveyards being built in masses.

The cabaret features the works of Aucamp, Blumer, Hollaender, Weill and Brecht.

E Tsamayile: World Cup Aftermath



MATCH MANIA: Over 6000 appeared in Hatfield, Pretoria, for the opening match: South Africa vs Mexico on June 11, 2010. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Ke nako – it is time! It is here! Or, so it was. I remember starting varsity in 2004 when we first got the go-ahead to host the Soccer World Cup.

Ex-president Nelson Mandela’s smiling face was plastered all over our newspapers. We had done it. We were to make Africa proud.

Here I am overwhelmed by the aftermath. The first World Cup on African soil is over.

My phone doesn’t ring anymore with thick accents on the other side. My Argentinian and German friends have all gone home. What a fiesta we did have! I even miss the sound of vuvuzelas waking me up in the morning or my fish lips after blowing mine.

Even my granny (88) was caught in the soccer hype, humming Shakira’s soccer anthem “Waka waka”. Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, it would probably be her last World Cup. My deceased grandfather’s wish had come true: “One day, my darling, South Africa will host the World Cup. People will sing and dance as one. Mark my words.” His words haunted me till the opening ceremony. Everything fell into place. The foreign media rated us 9/10. Only the Uruguayan team complained about our beautiful country, diverse people and interesting culture.


FUN MASCOT: Tourists had fun with mascot Zakumi in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Back in Pretoria, my brother, friends and I were ready to party with the French, Italians and Brazilians. They all exited the World Cup quite quickly. 2010 was to be the year of the underdogs. Unfortunately, “our boys” Bafana Bafana didn’t get passed the first round.

But Bafana Bafana did make us proud.

For Malte H, a German tourist I befriended, they were perfect ambassadors of our rainbow nation:

“They showed the world what they were capable of: a united identity, capable of stirring so many emotions. They were not just players; they became ambassadors of a wonderful host nation. One capable of miracles.”

My passion for Deutschland (Germany) became an obsession. My mom knitted black, red and yellow legwarmers, beanies and scarves. Seemingly, it paid off. Once again, they secured third place. The “virgin final” (neither team had won the trophy before) between Netherlands and Spain was long and dirty, with a record breaking number of yellow cards.

Holland fans

HUP HUP HOLLAND: Of all fans, the Dutch ésprit was the most unforgettable. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Like a Mexican wave, the Post-Traumatic Soccer Disorder spread to most of us. Jeremy Nell, a South African cartoonist, commented on his blog: “Sadly, everyone has gone home. The Spaniards back to Spain. The Dutch back to Netherlands and the Nigerians back to Hillbrow.” His words may have overshadowed the xenophobic attacks that, unfortunately, were to follow.

Madam & Eve’s cartoon on our beloved soccer mascot Zakumi (a yellow leopard with green hair; the colours of our national team) was sadly funny. Zakumi ‘after 2010’ holds up a placard: “No work. No job. No food.” This was the cause for our present state of limbo: what about our enormous stadiums? What about all those jobs? What about our spirit of Ubuntu: does it just disappear?

Now, I tell my Zakumi doll peacefully asleep on my bed: “E Tsamayile!” It is gone! But, the memory lives on. As do the photos, t-shirts and vuvuzelas resounding all over the world! Viva Afrika! Viva!