Germany for the 2nd time has been double the pleasure. Last year I came for the first time and knew I’d be back. Now I am making real effort to learn the language, so in addition to DuoLingo, I have officially enrolled in language class. Twice a week, another counselor and I drive to this class and take it with about 20 other interested students. Most are American, but some are from other countries as well.
There is one small child in the class who keeps up with the adults without a problem. She sits next to her father, who encourages her but never answers for her. Our teacher, a friendly German woman married to an American, speaks beautiful English but uses more and more German as our vocabulary expands.
Sometimes I can tell she is a bit frustrated with us as we strain to count to 10 or to pronounce the word for “I” ( ich), which sounds like a mixture of k and sh, but much lighter or more guttural, depending on which region you’re from.
I take an aerobics class once a week at the nearby gym, compliments of my hotel. Its taught by a hard-body housewife type of woman, who bursts out laughing in the middle of a stretch but who comes by to tell me to push down my bottom when I’m planking. I tell her it doesn’t go down…ever. She responds with a chuckle.
One of the few men in our class habitually talks to us in English and asks strange questions like, “How do you pronounce Z as in zebra in English?” while the teacher keeps one eye on him and the other on the class. The guy at the sports drink bar waves to us as we come in.
At our temporary home there’s no pool, no elevator, no air conditioning, no rhyme or reason to its mysterious layout. It is a labyrinth of hidden passageways and sudden doors and curving stairs. The walls are whitish with green curtains, and the trim is a deep brown wood. The beds are two singles pushed together, a slim mattress atop a wooden platform. Cheerful people come to eat on the regular, and daily customers are greeted by name and kissed as they walk thru. There is a roaring fireplace when it snows, with a life sized knight beside it. Decorative plates, beer steins, and wine line walls and shelves. Fresh flowers are everywhere from spring to fall. The village bells ring four times an hour during the day, and I have learned to tell which quarter of the hour we are on by counting the dings.
I sit in front of the large French styled doors that lead to my personal patio, allowing the sun to drip on my face, and I feel at peace.
Weekends are spent relaxing or traveling, and the camaraderie among the expats at our very German hotel is something like that of a college dorm room. Small items are left behind for others when people leave, doors are knocked on for help or a quick laugh. If a ride is needed someone is generally available to oblige. Travel advice is shared freely over a breakfast of salty pork slices, fruit, eggs, and nuts. The staff engage with laughter, kisses, and hugs. They know most of our names. Occasionally, there is an argument between associates, but it normally ends as suddenly as it began.
Trails behind our building lead up to the ruins of a castle. Looking down, there are rows of German houses sitting quietly in the valley. A church under construction stands behind us, which we had no idea was a living church until we saw people coming out of it one Sunday. When I had to cross their pedestrian traffic to leave the hotel, one lady appeared grim and irritated at the sight of my car as if I were in her world uninvited. Other than that, Germans can be kind and warm and helpful.
I long for others to experience the privilege of travel. I see my country of origin’s inward-focus, limited global understanding, shameless self-promotion—yet I also feel more tolerant about that. After all, how can you blame us? Studies show most Americans don’t own a passport, and many have never left their native state. I look back at this reality for a moment, then away and out again. What a bright, perplexing, scary, exciting, beautiful, and beckoning world this is. Well, here I come…