It was 4.30am and all the party had arrived punctually for our journey to Göttingen. This was a promising start and augured well for a successful trip. As we neared our destination, however, nervousness began to set in, giving way to panic as we saw a large group of parents and pupils assembled outside the Otto-Hahn Gymnasium holding a banner welcoming us to Göttingen. (The grammar school is named after the famous German physical chemist, Otto Hahn, who discovered nuclear fission and was awarded the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1994).
The exchange with Göttingen has been in place for 20 years and a deep friendship exists between the two schools. Nobody could fail to be impressed by Göttingen, a very beautiful German university town, boasting many half-timbered houses and elegant buildings. A landmark and popular meeting place in Göttingen is the Gänseliesl. After receiving their doctorate students, mount the statue to kiss the Gänseliesl, who now has the reputation of being Germany's most kissed woman.
After a weekend with the family pupils experienced the early morning start of German schools - 8.00am. A typical school day consists of six lessons each comprising 45 minutes and ends at approximately 1.00pm. German pupils thus enjoy more free time than we experience in England but it was not universally popular amongst the pupils who looked progressively more tired as the week progressed. As it was the last week of school "A" level pupils were in fancy dress, choosing a different theme for each day. On the final day they remembered their first day of school when they were presented with a large cone of sweets.
During our stay we were given a very warm welcome by the Mayor of Göttingen who kindly answered questions about Göttingen and his ambitions for the town. Thank you speeches were given by Georgina Hayes on behalf of Denmark Road and Christopher Cooper on behalf of Sir Thomas Rich's School.
Alongside a trip to the zoo in Hannover, we were fortunate to be able to visit Berlin. The high-speed ICE train was a shining example of public transport, being clean, extremely comfortable and punctual. The highlight of the day was the visit to the Reichstag (the German Parliament) and the Brandenburger Tor. It was interesting to observe the rebuilding of East Berlin and to see the many beautiful and historic buildings of Germany's capital city.
At the farewell party I was pleased to talk to the German parents who were all impressed with our pupils. Although the English boys and girls experienced some difficulty in maintaining a conversation in German, it was clear that they were given every assistance and encouragement by the German parents.
The exchange has given our pupils a unique opportunity - the opportunity to develop their language skills, the opportunity to experience at first hand life in another country within the context of the family, the opportunity to look behind the façade of their own original impressions and to be a part of a worldwide movement to foster better understanding between countries.